Sunday, October 11, 2009

In which we see the Pope mowing the lawn at the Vatican

posted Mon, 27 Sep 2004

Up at 6:15 this morning. We were not going to wait in a long line for the Vatican Museum. We got there at 8:15. It opens at 8:45. There was already a line half a block long. It didn’t take more than ten minutes for the line to triple in length. Jenny had maintained that she would be able to get to St Peter’s and climb to the top before we went into the museum, but told me she was wrong and I was right. I didn’t even ask her about what – just said “of course.”

The Swiss Guard at the Vatican. They are required to speak four languages, be Swiss, and not be wise in the ways of women.

They have added security features since I was last at the Vatican Museum. You now have to pass through a metal detector and put your bags through x-ray, just like at the airport. But unlike at the airport in M’town, at the Vatican, if the guard isn’t watching and you are waiting to walk through the detector and finally do so without waiting to be called, shrugging your shoulders in that Italian way when he finally does notice you, the guard doesn’t yell at you and tell you to go back, he just shrugs back and smiles. And you walk on.

It was our lucky day. Even though Jenny was as Lot’s wife as we passed through the flea market on the way to the museum, God smiled upon us. The last Sunday of every month is free at the museum – and so was today. It was some tourist appreciation day – no admission fee.

I must say, though – JP, you’re a great pope and I really respect you, but don’t you think Mary would be a little bit unhappy about how long women have to wait to pee at the Vatican? I know that there are not tons of women who work there, but there are a lot of us at the Museum, and even though I didn’t pay an entrance fee, I did throw a ten euro bill into the collection box in St Peter’s and told the guy at the Vatican post office to keep the change when I bought some stamps, so I feel that I am making a financial contribution to the church in Rome, not just to my home parish. I would like some of that money to be directed toward women’s restroom facilities development.

St Peter’s Square

Speaking of Vatican finances – I would love to take a look at their books. Based on the crowds I have seen, the revenues must be pretty good. But there are a lot of people who work there and a lot of infrastructure to maintain, not to mention all that artwork to restore and preserve. I would bet they barely break even. Good thing they are not in it for the money.

To those of you who say the Catholic Church should sell all the treasures of the Vatican and give the money to the poor – if they did that, then this art would be in the hands of private collectors and the rest of us would never be able to see it. And the poor would still be poor – even Jesus said that.

Here’s a hint if you go to the Vatican Museum: skip the modern religious art. At first we were excited because there was almost no one else in those galleries – no tour groups with the mama duck holding an umbrella high above her head and shouting in Japanese – but then we realized that the reason no one else was in these galleries was because the art STINKS. If you like modern art, you might like this stuff, but I myself am partial to representational art – that is, art that looks like something. I also like pretty art. Even the Vatican Museum has as its mission of showing God’s glory through art and beauty (I can’t remember the exact words and can’t find it on the Vatican website, but that’s the sense), including pagan and pre-Christian art.

Basically, if you like the Catholic churches that have been built since the 60s, you might not be put off by the modern religious art in the museum. If you prefer churches that look like churches, skip those galleries.

More Swiss Guards. Aren’t they cute? Every man in uniform we have seen here has been gorgeous. It must be a requirement as well.

In the Sistine Chapel, we saw the two Darryls we had seen yesterday in the Forum. They are these two slack-jawed teenagers with limp, dirty, stringy hair to their shoulders. One guy had a headband tying his hair back. They were wearing concert t-shirts. They did not change expression once in the time we watched them in the Forum. They didn’t change expression one in the time we saw them in the Sistine Chapel. We were so hoping they weren’t American, but today, one was wearing a University of Minnesota t-shirt, which isn’t something that gets a lot of play outside the US. (Sorry, Warren.)


We had our only (I think) experience of being ripped off when we had lunch at a restaurant near St Peter’s. It was a fixed-price menu that stated in four languages, “no cover charge.” In Italy, they charge you just to sit at the table – anywhere between two and fifteen euros. This fee is supposed to cover the silverware and dishes and bread, etc. I even asked our waiter about it and he assured me no, there was not a cover charge.

When we got the check, there was an extra 15% thrown onto it. “That’s the service charge,” he explained when I challenged him. I did not have the guts to ask how the service charge differed from the cover charge and why there had been nothing on the menu about it. Instead, I spent an hour fuming to Jenny about how I SHOULD have asked him these things. That is how I usually handle issues like that.


Jenny finally had her first Nutella-banana crepe yesterday. She decided she needed another one today, even though I told her you are allowed only one of those per international trip. She has not traveled as much as I have and doesn’t know the rules, but we decided to make an exception for her given that she has not been able to eat gelato.


Whoever said that man does not live on bread alone has never been to Italy. That appears to be the mainstay of the Italian diet – bread and its variations. The problem is that it is not (sorry, Italy) good bread. It is all plain white bread – no whole wheat to be found. I need more for breakfast than just a chunk of bread with butter, although that’s a good start. This morning, Jenny got a sandwich while we were standing in line. She at the ham and I ate the cheese. Ah, the advantages of traveling with someone who is lactose intolerant.


I saw a nun in a lavender habit. I have no idea what order wears lavender habits. Anyone? Anyone?


There were no stoplights in Sorrento, yet everyone got along just fine. There are not that many in Rome. Pedestrians jaywalk all the time. Yet I have not seen one single accident and rarely hear a horn. If someone does honk, it is to indicate, “Hey! I am about to do something that most people would consider stupid and/or illegal. But now I have warned you and it is your responsibility to watch out for me.” This is the same technique used in Turkey.

So the way you cross the street is to just walk across it. The drivers will stop for you. But I am really not brave enough for this. I want a stoplight and a little green man walking. I trust the Italians to stop, but I do not trust the other nationalities driving here.


We passed the Hotel Memphis on the way back tonight. I stopped in and asked if they played Elvis in every room. “Elvis has left the building,” the clerk told me.

Well, OK, he didn’t say that, but it would have been funny, wouldn’t it?

Speaking of leaving the building, I fly back to the US tomorrow morning, so don’t look for a post from me until Wednesday. Arrivaderci.

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