Saturday the 27th -- and now there's some action in our neighborhood. Turns out they really do use that big ol' Olympic Stadium just up the street from the hostel, as apparently there's a soccer match tonight. It's Italy vs. Japan, as far as I'm able to tell from what the hostel staff tells me. It would probably be quite an adventure to go to a soccer game sometime while I'm here, but I'm not sure that my third night in town is quite the right time to be going for that sort of beer-and-riot recreation (or for spending that kind of moolah). The staff tells me to nevermind, there haven't been any tickets available for this game for the past several weeks. Although it's nice to know that the stadium really is just two blocks away from the hostel in case I'm looking for some fun while I'm here. Too bad they don't seem to care about baseball here. That Griffey's really something. Alexi Lalas has cooler hair, but probably can't hit a slider to save his life.
I notice in the lobby of the youth hostel a curious little PC with a screen asking a potential user to insert their "Webby" card to get net access. I ask at the front desk how to obtain a Webby card. I'm told that the machine doesn't work. No one turns it off the whole time I'm there.
Maybe I'll go down to get my upcoming Autumn Quarter classes blessed by the Pope tomorrow.
Sunday morning, and I dressed properly for church. Gray slacks, sublime blue button-up shirt (with some sort of T-shirt underneath -- hey, I'll get used to this dressing-up thing eventually), and, uh, hiking boots. Aw, they don't care what kind of shoes you wear at St. Peter's anyway.
On my way to the bus stop, I notice something most Americans would usually take for granted. The Squeegee Guys. Those streetcorner itinerants with squeegee in hand and bucket nearby, who walk up to cars stopped at red lights and attempt to clean the windshields then ask for spare change for the service. I'd heard that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had been coming down hard on the Squeegee Guys, forcing them off streetcorners. And here they are, popping up in Rome. Giuliani must be more powerful than even he thinks, if he can make the Squeegee Guys flee all the way to Italy. I haven't yet seen that more recent American homelessness development, the offramp sign-holder who silently stands waiting for someone to hand them money or food or a job. I'm sure if I poke around long enough, I'll see them here too.
Okay kiddies, time for your international crime-stoppers textbook. The Rome city bus routes are so crowded that at times moving your elbows can be a luxury. The pickpockets, however, seem to have no problem manipulating their fingers into your bags and pockets and coats and even around your necks. I found this out not by having something stolen from me, but from standing right next to someone who did. Without either of us knowing it.
As our extremely crowded bus (even apparently by Rome standards -- remember, we're heading to St. Peter's on a Sunday) made its way south along the river, a young girl next to me chatted with her friends and made sure she had all her belongings collected before getting off the bus. Except that she didn't.
"La mia macchina!" she exclaimed. Her camera. Gone. She looked around her. She looked at me. I ask you, dear readers: Why, if I took her camera (which I didn't), would I still be standing next to her? But she gave the death stare to my large messenger bag, and I opened it to show her that a whole lot of my crap was in it, but no, her camera wasn't.
"Non é" I say. It isn't here. Why does it seem that my only interactions with people using my limited Italian happen when something is lost or stolen?
I don't know that she really believed me; people in situations like that usually don't know what to believe at first. But I learned right there, before being in town for half a week, that you'd better be dang careful of what you flash around on those buses. Before getting settled in for a bus ride, make sure both your arms are free enough to drape over all your bags, so that when the bus is full and you can't move anymore, you'll at least be able to tell when someone else is reaching for your stuff.
The facade of St. Peter's, like that of many other churches and buildings around town, is partly covered by the scaffolding of restoration as Rome and the Catholic Church prepare for the Jubilee Year 2000. Inside, it must be as sparkling as ever. To keep the pickpockets at bay, I carry less money than would be needed to enter the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. But the church entrance is free all the time.
Michelangelo's "Pieta" is now behind thick glass, after being damaged in the 1970's by a hammer-swinging vandal. High Mass is in progress at the westernmost apse, and among the choir and seated congregation are thousands of transients such as myself who try to be unobtrusive. Bernini's Baldacchino, an imposing, spiraling sculptural canopy in black and bronze, rises above the floor where below lay what are believed to be the remains of St. Peter. The Pope is the only person in the world allowed to stand at the altar under Bernini's canopy, above St. Peter. Ringed by eternal flames, a stairway (currently locked) from the main floor leads down to a glass window where a reliquary of former Popes is located. But the side stairs leading down to the necropoli will give a better view, if from further away.
What can you say about Papal tombs? I walk up to the tomb of John Paul I, and I remember that summer of 1978, traveling across the country and hearing on the car radio that the Pope had died; so a new Pope was elected, took the name John Paul, and he too was dead within a month. Another election was held, and a non-Italian was elected Pope for the first time in a reeeeeeal long time (as in 400 years). Karol Wojtyla of Poland took the name John Paul II, and has since reigned as long as any Pope of this century.
I walk past a chamber which has no tomb, and I get the odd feeling that I'm looking at the future burial spot of John Paul II. Maybe it's just my fascination at wanting to see a true spectacle while I'm in town. It's well-known that John Paul II is not exactly at the top of his health, yet he also keeps chugging right along. He doesn't seem to be in attendance at today's mass, but I don't think that he usually is for that matter. There are plenty of bishops, cardinals and altar boys in this place to ensure that things get done without the Pope having to do every little thing himself. Despite my morbid anticipation of spectacle, it would be a shame if John Paul II isn't around in 2000 to take part in the Jubilee he's planned.
I attempt, probably in vain, to capture the shafts of light as they streak across the upper reaches of the dome and transept. Cheap little instamatic camera. But I'm -not- going to put holy water on it to see if that works. Nor do I kiss the worn-down feet on the statue of St. Peter. There are others who probably came here, from further distances than I did, specifically for that purpose, so I leave it to them to furthur rub away a little bit of Peter's massive bronze feet.
The Vatican post office is closed -- hey, it's Sunday, after all! -- so for now I'm unable to send postcards via the Vatican mail system, which I've heard is much more trustworthy than the regular Italian postal system. Yes, the Vatican has its own Postal system, separate from Italy's. They have their own stamps, currency, security force, newspaper, radio station, and their own train station. They have, of course, their own website as well. Heck, they probably have their own proprietary operating system for the computers. Who needs Bill Gates when you're the Pope, the supreme authority of the most benevolent dictatorship in the world? The Pope's word is legislative, judicial and executive gold here. When he says jump, Vatican employees jump first and ask how high on their way up. So if the Pope says the Post Office is closed Sundays, then by gum it's closed on Sundays!
I had already stayed three nights at the hostel, which is the usual limit if there's a waiting list of people looking for a bed. However, I lucked out with the soccer game being last night. Everyone came into town yesterday and left today, so I was fortunate to already have the three-day reservation locked up upon my arrival. Now with the soccer fans leaving town, there are plenty of beds available, so I'm able to sign up for one last night at the hostel. One last cafeteria-style pasta dinner with a side of crisp peppery cabbage, a roll, and bottled water. The Aussies tell me that the price for bottled water at the hostel isn't really that good, although it's still cheaper than anywhere in Seattle. With all the expense of daily life in Rome, if bottled water is this cheap it must be plentiful. I know I won't have to worry about what to drink while I'm here (as long as the bottled water is more readily available than Coca-Cola).
Classes start tomorrow -- the whole reason I came here, although so far there's been plenty to keep me busy on my own. I get to have a bed in a somewhat private apartment, and (hopefully) our own bathroom, and maybe even a neighborhood where something happens once in a while other than cars driving past. In the morning I get to pack up and move again for the second time in a week. It felt good to not have to lug around that fully loaded backpack these past few days. One more big move, tomorrow to the apartment, and that should do it for the next couple of months.
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