Roma e San Pietro

On the way home from the evening airing we give ourselves to try and beat the jetlag, a brilliant gypsy band playing by the Trevi Fountain: percussionist, with bass drum slung around his neck supporting wood block, cymbals, hand drum and snare; tenor sax man; bass sax man; upright bassist, bowing as well as plucking; and a bandoleon player. Not looking like Roma at all. Although all of them strange body shapes, especially the bassist, no fat on his face and limbs, but a huge belly. All of them looking like they’d just got out of bed and thrown on whatever was closest to hand. All of them could’ve been Kiwis, pasty-faced geek Kiwis pretending to be gypsies, except that they were all great musicians, with that special slightly detuned sound you get from knowing exactly how much to punish your instrument. In an enormous evening crowd at the Trevi, they were out of place and didn’t look like they were going to sell any discs. Which were beyond our budget today, at 10 Euros. And the only coin we had to give them would’ve been an insult.

The morning we went to Peter and the Catholic Factory. Thankfully early enough that the queue to get in through security did not reach beyond the embrace of the colonnades which come out like great callipers or ice tongs. By the time we left the basilica, it did. The security check a reminder you are entering a separate state, signs were posted to say what could and could not be brought in, knives and penknives being an obvious no no.

But I had in my backpack a whole melon, so we’d put a sharp knife in, from home, to cut it open for morning tea. We debated as to whether this was going to be sufficient for the guards to make an exception. They’d probably laugh. A knife? for a melon? Go on through! It’s only dangerous knives that are prohibited. Not melon knives for morning teas.

There would also be the delicate problem of the presentation. Unless I could get in quick with a punchy and effective explanation in Italian, it would be unlikely that they would not try to wrest the knife from us, manhandling us to the ground, or worse.

We ditched the knife. For the rest of the day a tempting melon in my pack. Which was not remarked on by the smoking guard with his head in a shade box whose job it was to watch the bags going through x-ray, or whatever it is that shows their contents. He didn’t leap to his feet and demand, A melon?! How in God’s name are you going to cut that up for morning tea?! The guards were in fact all quite grim and solemn about their duty. Removing the choices of ordinary people as to what they might enjoy for morning tea.

I’m still not sure quite what damage you’re supposed to be able to inflict on St. Peters with a penknife. Carving your name in a column? So long as its not marble. Prying loose a piece of mosaic?

Or threatening the person of il Papa … by brandishing your short blade in the middle of enormity that is St. Peter’s. Attacking the Pieta is one thing but an axe was involved. And I can understand the need to restrict the brandishing of knives on planes, since pilots are susceptible to them, since there are pilots in overall control of the destiny of potentially several hundred passengers. However even if the Pope should show and be threatened with a knife, I can’t imagine the assailant asserting his control over the Catholic Church and flying it into… hell? OK, Papa, now I’ve got you, I want you to say yes to the rights of gays, yes to abortion in the last resort and yes to contraception. Ha ha ha ha! What’s more I want you to allow priests to marry! And admit women as priests. And you really gotta spend more on improving the lots of Catholics in this life. Take away the excuse that in the next life they get to inherit a world from which in this they’ve been excluded, marginalised. A penknife could do a lot of good. A melon knife would be good to cut melon.

The basilica is too too much. So so much that it has the effect of self-phasing, operating on so many different frequencies at once that it becomes a negative space, cancels itself out, cancels out its own preposterous extravagance, becomes humble. It has that strange intensity of a negative space where what is unseen is all, is that to which the sensible effect can be attributed. The fervour of the millions of believers works like a spiritual marinade, softening the material support of the architecture so the light shines throw it. Like TV again. And the Church has no qualms about committing its psalms to media. Or to plain old kitsch. Even unto the sentimental variety of rosy-cheeked children replicated in ceramic in Chinese studios for sale in Vatican souvenir shops. Were better a Chinese superhero pope reading the book of nature.

There’s something about St. Peter’s that doesn’t stick, doesn’t quite hit the mark. It inspires awe. But after standing around in it or queuing now to climb the cupola it’s something like the scale native to the building being the most lasting impression it makes. An internal St. Peters. Perhaps it’s because it is unassimilable in total the overall sweep of it is recomposed in the memory but as feeling of space … even more so than an airport. There is to my mind at least also the 19th century quality to it. I wonder if anyone could claim to have taken taken on the place in the terms in which it addresses itself to us?

We rose to a great height by lift to visit the cupola. And went no further than the beginning of the dome, while the other thousands went right on to its top. Vertigo, certainly but also the press of bodies in narrow stairwells, their cumulate ectoplasm, like the prayers downstairs, a presence felt if not seen, or seen in series but felt in sum. As if all those even that day who had and would go further up the tight winds of stairs were there all at once, even with their encouraging words, Don’t worry! If I can do it you can! And something about having made the decision being unable to retrace one’s steps if one changed one’s mind. And chickened out.

We chickened out. Went out onto the roof. Where we assured ourselves the view was just as good. As if good views are what you can really use in Rome. Where there were the odd things that roofs of great buildings have, like light vents, windowed towers poking through the skin of the roof to take the light back downstairs.

Got into trouble here for eating, despite there being a cafe and souvenir shops, with a postbox outside for Vatican State’s own stamps. Understandable I suppose. Imagine if all took their picnics up to the roof of St. Peter’s. We posted a card and headed back down, were deposited back into the basilica and had to walk away from it to find a convenient spot to stop and eat.

That done we headed off to find the Sistine and perhaps take in some of the other attractions of Vatican State, museums, galleries, etc. Around the corner away from the now fat long queue to get into the basilica another just as hungry and loud and unpleasant to get into Vatican State. We walked away.

Got ourselves by Metropolitana to Villa Borghese park, which resembled where the exit we chose came out a post-apocalyptic landscape with a gelateria. Everything dusty with dry weeds.

Here we hired a risco, I think the spelling’s correct, a multi passenger adult pedal car. This thing also had its own means of locomotion. Electric aided pedalling. Certainly helped on the hills. Was fun in actual.

I wanted then to visit the villa Medici. Which we found. Doors not being unlocked one way. Having to turn around and try again. And discovering on finding our way in that the rooms decorated by Balthus were not accessible and only the gardens and ginoteca(?) were. Disappointed. We descended the Spanish Steps where there were thousands of tourists visiting it as a place to visit. Because on the list.

Bought some delicious roast chestnuts. Found out that another desired rendez-vous with the past was not to be since de Chirico’s museum closed at 1 pm which was now several hours past.

Walking the intervening distance back to our Trevi pad did us in. Even though so close on the map. And shots of espresso had to be had along with the ritual splitting of the melon at home before we were able to venture out again.