Tuesday, 8 April 2008

When in Rome....

This is what it has come to: There is so much history in Rome--so many classical statues, so many hunks of fluted stone and finely-worked pieces of bronze--that a marble likeness of some Caesar or other is stuck in a corner of the Vatican Museum directing tourists to the cafeteria. In any other city he'd be in a place of honor. In Rome, he's lucky he isn't in a broom closet.

Yes, it's possible to overdose on the art and beauty here--possible, but unlikely. I haven't even started processing it all yet but it's nice when foreign places are, well, foreign, when they do things differently.

But I suppose stereotypes are nice, too. For example, in a way it's reassuring to know that all that blather about Heathrow's ill-fated new Terminal 5 and how the English can't build anything was actually spot on, as the Brits might say. We checked our four bags 90 minutes before our flight left then watched in Rome as only two of them spun around on the baggage carousel. Yes, the carousel repeatedly broke down and bored looking Italian airport personnel would kick it occasionally and then disappear, but after 45 minutes it was clear our bags weren't coming. Nor were the bags of half the other people on the British Airways flight. We waited in line for an hour to file our claims, cursing our folly at departing from Terminal 5. My bag came the next day; My Lovely Wife's the day after. But that's why hotel rooms have sinks, right? To wash your clothes.

What can I say about Rome that hasn't been said before, except maybe that it's possible to have too much Sistine Chapel. We went there first thing yesterday, shuffling in the interminable line that leads to Michelangelo's masterpiece. It's been cleaned since I saw it last, 20 years ago. It gave me a shiver, despite the room having all the ambiance of a bus station. Rome is much more crowded than last time I was here. We made our escape then tried to see what are known as the Raphael Rooms, a set of rooms painted by that master artist. But the Vatican Museum is like Ikea: It's set up to take you through a predetermined route from which you may not deviate. Every route includes the Sistine Chapel. What I mean is, to get to the Raphael Rooms we had to go through it again: the same meandering route, the same preparatory rooms (the tapestry room, the map room...), the same lines. It's enough to make you convert.

That's all I have time for now, blogging as I am from the lobby of a hotel with spotty wi-fi, listening to the rain on the cobbled streets outside. Yes, the rain followed us from Blighty, though yesterday was glorious and sunny.

Here are some photos to frighten you:

If that Medusa head doesn't turn you to stone, maybe this will:

Wow, it's so lifelike.

Pull It, Sir
News travels slowly here, so belated congratulations to all my colleagues who cleaned up at this year's Pulitzer Prizes. Six of U.S. journalism's top honors were awarded to The Washington Post. The nice thing is, each one was richly deserved.


Jo said...

None will e'er dare call you impious now, sirrah! You have proof!

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I don't think I have ever heard anyone compare the Vatican to IKEA before. Develop that idea, and maybe you'll walk off with a Pulitzer next year.

And I'll tell you the truth - I love Gene Weingarten (I'm the one who has read both his books); but I never, ever thought of him and "Pulitzer" in the same breath. Can we be sure this isn't one of his and Tom's jokes?

mark from alexandria said...

I can't help but think Richard Branson must be getting some great satisfaction out of BAA not allowing Virgin flights into T-5. I, for one, will look upon the interminable walk from the Virgin gate to the Customs Hall in a much different light next month.

I have to agree with Suburban Correspondent. I have compared the Vatican to many things in my long and storied life as a Cafeteria Catholic, but never to IKEA.

wiredog said...

"the English can't build anything"

The great English engineers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are spinning in their graves.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

The week I spent in Rome in 1974, walking all over the city, I must count among the most memorable in my life. I found the Sistine Chapel surprisingly uncrowded.
One cannot but notice that St. Peter's has the place of supreme honour in Rome, while the Basilica of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, large though it is, is subordinate.

mary said...

Ummmm, I think the black eyeglass frames gave it away, don't you!

Anonymous said...

That's not Mr Pius Vii. That's Elvis Costello.

Anonymous said...

Pius Uii? Pivs Vii?

John Kelly said...

I don't meant to say that the Sistine Chapel reminds me of Ikea. I'd never want to LIVE in the Sistine Chapel but I wouldn't mind living in an Ikea. But you know how when you get off the escalator at Ikea you're directed through all the model rooms, with all the furniture neatly displayed? If you want to just buy a soap caddy or a bud vase you have to go through all creation to get there. It's the same with the Vatican Museum: If you want to see the Sistine Chapel you have to go through all these preparatory rooms. And woe to those who forget to go to the Raphael Rooms right after that, as we did, because you have to REPEAT THE WHOLE PROCESS. This may not be the case if you visit in JAnuary but it certainly was when we were there.

@Wiredog: I think even the English think they lost the plot somehow. The land that brought us Isambard Kingdom Brunel now has problems with little footbridges (like that one in London that had to be reinforced) and airport terminals. The Terminal 5 problems may prove to be, um, terminal for BA. I wish we were flying Virgin back to the US this summer but we already have tickets on that blighted carrier.