Sunday, October 10, 2010

Visitting Churches in Rome on a Vespa Motorcycle

We slept in this Sunday morning.  We'd planned to go to St.Peters to see the Pope wave from his apartment at noon. We weren't sure where his apartment was or if he was going to wave at all.  Any uncertainty in early morning ventures is sufficient excuse for rolling over and going back to sleep.
I did carry on with the day's plan when I finally got up at 8:30 am.  That was to go out and rent a Vespa Scooter for the day.  This I did from Bici Baci Scooter and Bicycle Rental, Via Del Viminale, 5 Tel.06/48.28.443.  The guys there were terrific. The machine was the best. 250 cc.  Given the hills of Rome anything under a hundred with two people wouldn't do well.  250 was just right.  I returned to the room and Laura was still in the bath.
So off I went again for a spin around the neighbourhood.No one dresses differently for scootering. The girls are all on motorbikes wearing high heels or sandals while the guys wear short sleeve shirts.  All that seems to be required is a helmut. I had on my jeans and sneekers, Tilly sports jacket and picked up a scarf to keep my neck warm and leather dress gloves for hand protection.   
The police stopped me when I scooted across a courtyard to take some pictures.  I'd vaguely noted a lot of uniforms and guys with guns but another car had driven on the courtyard before me.  The police said I couldn't drive on that courtyard. I mentioned the other car.  "That was a federal minister," he answered. I said I was sorry.  He kindly asked me to move along. 
When I returned Laura was getting dressed. It was 11:30 then by the time we were on the road.  I later learned that the courtyard I'd driven across was the President of Italy's home. 
There 's a movie , Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck on a Vespa,  I think Audrey Hepburn was on the back.  Anyway I played a good Gregory Peck dashing about gleefully on the scooter, keeping us alive in the chaos and high speed circular traffic of Rome, 50 years after the movie was made. I think there was a little more traffic.. The only problem was that Laura was screaming in terror at the Roman drivers while grunting when the cobble stone fell away into manholes. Some of the romance was missing.  She didn't appreciate when I told her to suck it up as romantically as I could.   I told her we were only going to churches that day so she should pray but I really think she was pill seeking for benzodiazepines.  There was one moment when I had to evade another car and almost lost her sideways before she'd found out where the foot pegs were.. 

St. John Lateran surprised and disturbed her as well.   She was really impressed that the guide book said, "The Sacrosanct and Patriarchal Lateran Archbasilica is the Roman Pontifical Cathedral, and also a mother church, but above all it was the first building of public worship erected in Rome and in the entire Christian world: a model for all that followed." If it had stopped there Laura would have been happy.  However we learned that the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul were kept above the tomb of Martin V in silver urns.Laura couldn't get it out of her head how they got there. "We're Catholic. We're supposed to keep our bodies in tact for the resurrection. What's going to happen to St. Paul and St. Peter when they come back and have to go looking for their heads," she said.  St. Francis came to this church to visit the Pope and get support for his new Order too. 

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme was closed when Laura needed it.  She perked up though when we had spagetti across the street in a little cafe. I had the catelloni and enjoyed the sunshine and blue sky.  The church opened and we went back in and prayed in the basement shrine, just the two of us alone, for a few moments, before the two busloads of tourists joined us in the small space.  Upstairs there was a room with bits of the crucifix in gold containers behind glass. An early pope had actually sent slivers of this to a Visigoth King.  Another room was devoted to Antonietta Meo's remains, "Nennolina" the church's youngest venerated mystic who died at age 6, 1937. We liked this church.
I got lost driving on the equivalent of a freeway that ran along the river. There were cars coming in every direction and then the scooters would buzz past if you didn't  keep going at high speed.  I got proficient at zipping in and out of the cars to get to the front of the line too.    It was all a bit disconcerting but dooable.  I'd not try it on the Harley Electroglyde with all the people darting across the road at any given moment but the Vespa seemed built for this urban work.
My mistake took us to Tiber Island where I'd wanted to go anyway. We walked across a bridge to get to St. Bartholomew's which was built on the Temple to Asclepius. 
After that we headed on to St. Paolo fuori le Mura, Via Ostiense 190. I didn't have a map outside the centre of the city but with a compass I veered across the city till I hit Via Ostiense.  Laura found this all particularly challenging.  I later found that one guidebook  said "Roman traffic makes scootering dangerous, although bikes are a great way to get around the city."  It was a good thing that Laura hadn't see this. Thinking grissly thoughts of beheaded saints her faith was a little stretched.
I personally had been thinking of St. Peter all day. He was an apostle I could certainly relate to. Jesus walks on water and invites him to. He does then thinks about what he's doing and begins to sink.  Later he's promising Jesus he'll always be true but before the cock crows morning he's denied Jesus three times to save his hide. I figure with saints like Peter there's hope for the rest of us. 
St. Paul's a different sort.  He's Jesus PR man and works tirelessly to promote the brand.  I absolutely love some of his writing and teaching while on other passages I think his rabbinical intellect gets in the way of true inspiration.  That said it would be easier if I could just accept St. Paul.  I was praying these sorts of thoughts at his graveside in the centre of the magnificent basilica for him. I thought it best that I didn't get caught up in the details like maybe he didn't have a head because it was at the last church we'd visitted. That would be a real stumbling block for the sort of man I think St. Paul was.
Laura and I first arrived during a service and sat in.  Padre Nostre, means our father.  Ave Mary and a few other words were recognisable.  The rest would have been Greek but it was Latin to me. There was chanting and hymns and kneeling and praying.  I liked that.  Great organ music.   A comforting service. The priest ate the bread though. In this service he didn't share.  At a later service he might have.  The service we were at seemed more an appertif.  The following service looked like the full meal.  Alot more people had come into it just as we were leaving.  We prayed at the tomb and picked up an official indulgence for viisitting this church.
Night was coming on and Laura was happy to hear me suggest that I get the scooter back.  Despite the indulgence I was finding the lights and dusk particularly challenging.  Turning the machine in and walking away alive was exhilerating. We'd been to three churches and attended one service. Not bad for a Sunday in Rome.
When I got into the hotel I asked if the Pope had left any messages for me. That made the night attendant laugh. I told him, "I told God I was coming to Rome. I just wondered if he'd told the Pope."

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

St. Bartholemew's on Tiber Island

San Paolo fuori le Mura

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