Sunday, February 1, 2009

Finally made it to the Vatican!

After our trek on Friday and then all of the walking we did yesterday, I actually crashed shortly before 11 last night. And when I woke up, it was to sore legs and a sore back. I guess that's to be expected after yesterday.

First, Shannon and I headed out fairly early to get to the Vatican before most of the tourists would get there. St. Peter's Square was as impressive as it was the day before, but yesterday we actually made it past the Papal Swiss Guard inside St. Peter's Basilica.

And wow. It's massive inside, with something on every surface, in every nook, around every corner. Michaelangelo and Bernini were the main architects but inside there is art from Michaelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and lots of other artists. The first thing I noticed was La Pieta by Michaelangelo. The statue shows a young Mary holding the body of the crucified Jesus. There were other pietas (or lamentations as they are commonly called in English) before Michaelangelo's, but his is the only one showing such a youthful Mary. One of the theories (my favorite) is that we are seeing the young Mary holding the baby Jesus, and at the same time seeing the future and what the baby Jesus will become.

We continued around the basilica taking in the many paintings and side altars. Everything about the inside of the basilica is meant to take the visitor's breath away. Each dome has a mural painted or mosaic laid out and there are windows placed strategically so sunlight hits the marble floors at the right places. It was funny to see all the different tour groups walking through and snapping pictures. I wondered how many of the people came for the beauty of the place or just to say they've been there versus people who actually know what St. Peter's Basilica is and the history of it.

When we were there, there was actually a mass going on at one of the side altars. It looked like a pre-Vatican II mass as the priests and the congregation were both facing the same direction, but I couldn't tell if it was in Latin or Italian. Either way, it felt strange that these people were at mass and behind them were hundreds of tourists, some passing by and ignoring them and others gawking. There was also a part of the church sectioned off for confession and another side altar was strictly reserved for prayer--this one had a guard posted to remind people that no cameras were allowed.

The inside of St. Peter's Basilica was amazing, of course, but we weren't finished there. Next we paid 5 euro for the privilege to climb what seemed like a bajillion steps (okay, maybe it was only 550--but the last 320 are up a narrow, winding where if you stop, everyone stops so you have to keep climbing). We were rewarded, though, with one of the most amazing sites in Rome: the view from the cupola, on top of the dome. We saw the square below us, with all the little tourists rushing around taking pictures and on the other side we saw the Vatican Gardens, which are closed to the public so up on the dome is the only way possible for tourists to see them.

Our final stop on our Vatican tour was the Vatican Post Office, which I already love more than the Italian Post. Once I did try to buy stamps at a tabacchi and they were out. What kind of post office runs out of stamps? Turns out that was lucky because then I waited to buy stamps at the Vatican (because it's its own city-state you have to buy special Vatican stamps to send stuff from the Vatican). So I bought some stamps, put them on postcards, and dropped them in the cheery yellow box. And then I realized I never told the man I needed stamps for America...which means I had stuck European stamps on my postcards. I felt like an idiot, but I figured I would ask the man to see if there was anyway to fix it.

I told him my predicament and he sold me six more stamps to make up the difference, but there was still the problem of the postcards already being in the box. He asked me if I remembered the addresses and, because I'm turning into my father, I did. He was pretty amazed that I could recall nearly all of them (with the exception of a random zip code) and said that even just the names would suffice. So I wrote down everything I could remember, plus USA, and he set aside my list plus the extra stamps and said it would be fixed. I was speechless. This guy was really going to find my postcards and add the extra postage? That would NEVER happen in regular Italian post offices. I've only been here for three weeks, but that's long enough to know "customer service" means something different here than it does in America.

Tangent about customer service: our Italian professor has taught us a lot about daily living in Italy. Some of her best advice: do not tip Italians. She said to never tip them at supper or at the bar, which is one of the ways they know to con Americans. Apparently they get paid well enough and sometimes a gratuity is included in the bill. She also said that when you go into a store you need to ask permission to just look around. And when you want to see something, instead of picking it up like we do in America, we are supposed to ask a salesperson to open it for us (say it's a folded shirt, we should not touch it--the salesperson will unfold it for us). In the few stores I've stepped in I've felt very unwelcome. I don't know why, but I guess they consider it a privilege for you to be there? There's a huge cultural difference and I definitely felt culture shock then.

Okay, so back to the Vatican: it really is a blessed place if my postcards make it to America. Now I want to go back and mail more things just so I can see the man and thank him again!

Last night, after recuperating from the Vatican, Shannon and I decided to set out again in the opposite direction, this time to find Santa Susana. Santa Susana is an American church in Rome, but to get there took us about an hour, even with a tram ride. Of course, we did get a little turned around in the Piazza della Repubblica but after putting my simple Italian to use (dov'e Santa Susana?), a lady pointed us in the right direction.

Santa Susana felt like an oasis of English in the desert of Italian. Don't get me wrong, I love learning Italian especially in Italy and I think it's a beautiful language, but after a while my ears get tired and even hearing English with an Italian accent can be tiring. To hear American English for the better part of an hour was refreshing.

The sermon was great, too. Because the gospel was about Jesus getting rid of spirits I wondered what the priest would talk about. Luckily he said just what I needed to hear. Just because we don't talk about "demons" or "spirits" today doesn't mean we don't have them--we all have our own fears and things that are keeping us from living our life to the fullest. And his take was Christianity, by its very nature, is freedom from those fears.

All in all it was a successful day--we started with the birthplace of Christianity, the mecca of Roman Catholicism and ended with a modern American service. Here are my pictures of the Vatican. And what's in store for next week? So far the only thing I know is a trip to Circo Massimo for art history and boring boring stats. C'est la vie....oops, that's French. Cha la vita then.

1 comment:

  1. Love the pictures. Grandma K picked up some Italy brochures and there is a picture of the Papal Swiss Guard and they look like the same guys as in your picture! Vicky C told me she laughed at the reference "turning into my father".