I know, I know, it’s been a long time, and I owe you one. I got home from the two-week trip to Italy Sunday night. I’ve been sending reports in from the road to family, but will reread those, boil them down and see if there is anything worth passing along. If it’s worthless, you can be sure I’ll tell you about it. In the meantime, I thought I’d just cover my visit on the last day to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Forty-seven years ago (1967), I was on an extended trip to Europe with a college friend and my cousin, Ed. We had a blast, but unfortunately I picked up a nasty infection in Yugoslavia, so my time in Rome was spent in a hospital. I lay there getting shots of penicillin while my pals “did the city.” Ever since then, I have wondered what I’d missed by not getting to see the Sistine Chapel. So I decided since I had a lay-over in Rome at the end of my cycling trip I’d take care of some unfinished business.
I had pre-purchased a ticket on-line before my trip, and since they are “timed tickets,” I bought one for 3:00pm on Saturday, my last day in Italy. My plane arrived on time, I dumped the suitcase at an airport hotel, took a free bus back to the airport train station, took a train to Termini station in Rome and cab to the Vatican Museum.
Isn’t that a great looking…train? I got to the museum at 3:05, whew!
At the Vatican it was pandemonium. My ticket said to present it to someone at the right side of the entrance. There were probably 500 people there, I think qualifying them as a horde. Tons of tour groups, all getting fitted-out with listening gear, being lectured to by earnest sounding men and women. The tour guides were holding long poles, each with its own distinguishing flag or doodad, so that the guide could be found in the mob.
I finally found a guard, waved my piece of paper and was allowed to enter. I thought, OK, I’m in, no waiting, COOL! I’ll shoot to the Sistine Chapel, check it out and scram. Ohhhh no. This is the point at which the real pain began. After another guy gave me a little ticket and map and waved toward the stairs (I was stupid enough to ask where the chapel was.) I joined the horde INSIDE. This was the beginning of an agonizingly slow, forced march.
Think of the Sistine Chapel as the milk in the cooler at the grocery store. You have to go through the whole store to get to the milk, and on the way, of course, buy other stuff on your way in and out. In this case it’s the Vatican trinkets that are strategically placed along what felt like a one-mile walk to the chapel. Take a look at this little map they hand out, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
The line in fact weaves through the entire Vatican museum. From the cab I had seen it. It covers at least several square blocks, maybe more. Imagine not a line but a mass of humans (some smelling, someone farting constantly, all looking dazed and unhappy) writhing like a big snake through stuffy, humid halls and rooms filled with ancient catholic stuff. Some brought kids, oooo they were the most unhappy of all. Every now and then there was a kind of “you are here sign.” Oh my god, I have so far to go before I get to The Capella Sistine and the blessed cappuccino. Yeah, next to the words, Sistine Chapel, the sign always depicts a nice steaming cappuccino. What the hell is that about?
I spent more money in my two weeks in Italy on cappuccino’s than on any other single thing. They’re really good! I thought, well, this chapel is going to be pretty damn special if they’re equating it to a cappuccino.
On we writhe. You can’t believe how happy I am that, as bad as this is, I’m not being lectured to besides. With the tour guides poles bobbing in the crowd, the place is like New Orleans Jazz Fest, but in a stuffy, tight, old building, and without the jazz, the fun, and the sun. So OK, it’s not much like Jazz Fest. Every now and then there’s a little open space and I am able to slip ahead of a few people, but there are thousands ahead of me before we get to the much-anticipated holy Cappuccino Chapel.
In spots along the way there are opportunities to buy junk, catholic junk for the most part. They don’t have one cotton-pickin thing here for a Lutheran. I’m under orders from the Princess to bring back a good Sistine Chapel book, so I stop for a few precious minutes while many in the horde get ahead of me, damn! I find the book, whip out the Amex card and am surprised, but not really, that the Vatican does not take AMEX. If the Catholics understand anything its money. I move on.
I begin to think I may have missed the chapel. Every room in the place has ceilings covered in frescoes. Who painted this stuff? Oh, OK , I haven’t missed the main event, only some guy named Rafael painted these, plus I still see the cappuccino on the sign. In a brief interlude of “less horde” and more breathing space, I find that I am in the part called contemporary art, which means, this stuff is only about a century old. And, I like the works by Chagall, Diego Rivera, etc, snap a few pics for The Princess and move on. I’m beginning to recognize people in the line every now and then. We are compatriots in our agony, plodding forward. Up stairs, down stairs, narrow halls, wide halls, I haven’t seen any toilette in a long time. No wonder people are starting to get gassy, me too.
But I sense we are getting close. A final few twists and turns and we enter a big room, higher than the others, with stuff painted on the ceiling. Yup, sure enough, right smack in the middle, there is God…handing Adam a cappuccino. Oh, you thought it was God giving Adam life? No, it’s God giving Adam a cappuccino, which, in turn, gives Adam life. Just to prove I was there, here’s one of my unauthorized photos of the ceiling. I think it’s probably to small to see the cappuccino.
It’s funny, the guards are constantly shushing people, because we’re supposed to be respectful. There’s so much shushing it’s not a bit respectful. Of course, no pictures are allowed, so like everyone else, I take a bunch of pictures, and move on. One of the guides for the cycling trip was Italian. He said, in Italy there are no laws, well there are laws, but people treat them like suggestions.
Then, on leaving the chapel it turns out, you can get a cappuccino, and you can get cafeteria food, even visit the separate Vatican pizza parlor. Hell, by this point you’re so worn out you need nourishment of some sort.
But believe it or not, the exit is still many twists and turns away, the halls and rooms lined with books and trinket junk. This place is an absolute, Vatican money machine. The final staircase is a death-defying, circular corkscrew (see map), after which if you can come through it standing, you are put in line for consideration as a Cardinal. It took Michelangelo about four years to paint the ceiling; I think I managed to walk to and from it in just a little less. When I finally hit fresh air outside, I am not kidding, I feel as if I have come through if not hell at least purgatory. Praise God!
I should be leaving for Florida to visit Mom tomorrow, but as punishment for this blasphemous post, God killed our refrigerator last night. I’ll miss you, Mom, and Jim, but know that I am thinking of you.
Thanks for reading.