Pope-apalooza Tour 2011 Buttons

Pope-apalooza Tour 2011

Day 4 Sunday October 2, 2011

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The opera house was a block to the left from Hotel Selene.

Termini was three blocks to the right.

I awoke at about dawn, turned on my computer and checked the college football scores on ESPN.com. Wisconsin had had a surprisingly easy time with Nebraska. Michigan State beat what was left of the decimated Ohio State team. Illinois won another squeaker against Northwestern. UConn lost to Western Michigan, the team that had conceded defeat to Michigan in the third quarter of the lightning-delayed opening game.

As usual, we broke fast with the Corcorans. Someone at the desk had told Patti that she could have her eggs any way that she wanted. However, the people in the breakfast room informed her that they only did boiled eggs. The two pieces of information were not necessarily in conflict unless she wanted something other than hard- or soft-boiled. Italians do not eat much for breakfast. It is vaguely possible that they could not imagine any other way to cook eggs.

Rooftop gardens across the street.

The Corcorans had decided to cancel out of the formal tour that was scheduled to start on Monday. It was obvious to all four of us after Patti’s difficulties in the catacombs that she would be unable to participate in the tour. Tom had arranged for airline reservations for himself and Patti to fly to Boston on Monday. It was the same flight that we had booked for October 15. So, he only had to make arrangements with his sister or her husband to pick him up at Logan. He would then drive Sue’s car to Wethersfield and pick us up there when we arrived in two weeks.

The nice people at Optissimo fixed my sunglasses.

Five items were on my checklist for the day: fixing my sunglasses, purchasing a computer mouse, and three tourist destinations: the Ara Pacis, St. John’s Lateran, and the Caravaggios at Santa Maria del Popolo. The Ara Pacis exhibit was not yet constructed when we were here previously. Sue and I had visited Santa Maria del Popolo in 2003 but not St. John’s.

I found a cheap wireless mouse in this display case ...

The original plan for the day called for Sue and me to go to the Galleria Burghese. However, we had never gottten around to making the required reservations, and the reservations office was not open on Sunday. So, that idea was definitely out.

... at Conad Drugstore.

The Corcorans did not evince much interest in anything on my list, and Sue expressed a desire to find a Methodist Church[1] in which to attend services. A Methodist church in Rome! I wished her good luck with that quest and once again set out on my own. I had heard that heretical Protestants were seldom summarily burned in the public squares any more, but I was astounded to learn that they were allowed to build churches in Rome.[2]

The young lady reading Rick Steves’ Rome guidebook is not likely to go through the front door of Babington’s Tea Rooms.

I set off for the Ara Pacis. No cheap and easy way to get there seemed available, but the A line of the Metro came within a few blocks of it. So, I hustled up to Piazza Cinquecento to get my tickets. I was a little alarmed by the rather strong smell of urine. I then called to mind the image of those homeless people who had apparently been camping out there on Friday evening.

The Spanish Steps in autumn.

While I was in the vicinity, I decided to stop into the train station again to see if I could do anything about my sunglasses or my mouse. I found the stairs to the basement that Tom had told me about. There was indeed a mall there, and to my amazement I found an optical store named Optissimo that was open even though it was Sunday morning. A very nice lady there fixed my glasses in a trice, gave me a cleaning cloth, and did not charge me at all. What a pleasant way to start the day!

Trinità dei Monti and its obelisk.

I then continued my perusal of the stores. Almost at the very end of the line of merchants I discovered one called Conad Drugstore[3] that had some computer monitors on display. I quickly found several wireless mice in a locked display case. I approached the man behind the nearby counter. I had difficulty getting his attention, which was fixed on a fellow on a ladder working on what appeared to be a light fixture in the ceiling. After I let him know that I wanted to buy something in the display case, he got his key. I pointed at the one that I wanted. He opened the case, extracted the mouse, and took it to a cashier[4] who was in the middle of another customer’s large order. She quickly processed my one item, gave me a receipt, and I was on my way.

Many Roman churches have domes.

I was one really happy guy. Experience had taught me that looking for replacements for lost or broken items on vacation could be very frustrating. I would have reckoned the chances of removing the first two items from my list this rapidly on a Sunday morning at less than one in a thousand. Once we left Rome, the probability would have been even lower.

If you like authentic Egyptian obelisks, go to Rome, not Egypt.

The next order of business was to buy my Metro tickets. I figured that I needed two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I could have bought a one-day pass for €4, but I decided that the likelihood of changing the plan for the afternoon was greater than the probability of needing to purchase more than four tickets. So, I just purchased four individual tickets.

Sketch artists.

Perusal of the street map had led me to calculate that the Ara Pacis was roughly equidistant from the Spagna and Flaminio Metro stops. I decided to get off at Spagna so that I could explore the Trinità dei Monti area at the top of the Spanish steps. We had spent one delightful evening in 2003 sitting on the flower-decorated steps, but we never ventured up to the top. We probably did not even realize that there was much up there to explore.

I was more than a little disappointed with the experience on the steps this time. It was October, so there was no floral display. When we came here in May of 2003 the steps were awash in flowers. Just as it had been eight years earlier, the weather was fantastic, however, and plenty of people were hanging around doing nothing.

A second later it was spherical again.

Tom had told me about the street vendors who hawked gelatinous toy figures that turn into a pool – splat! – when they are thrown onto a smooth surface. I saw them for the first time in Piazza Spagna, and they were pretty amazing. I could not understand how it was possible for them to return to their original form so quickly. This was much too close to being practical for me to comprehend. I generally deal strictly in theory.

The Basilica of Sts. Ambrose and Charles.

I noticed that one thing had definitely changed since the last time. No one seemed to be selling the rainbow-colored peace flags. Sue bought one in 2003. That was right after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and Berlusconi had provided some troops as part of the “coalition of the willing.”

Parking tickets are rare in Rome.

I climbed the steps to the piazza in front of the Trinità dei Monti church. A few artists were creating sketches on the side of the piazza near the steps. I really did not feel like peeking into the church on Sunday morning, and I did not see much else to do. So I took a few photos, descended the steps, and then strolled down Via dei Condottieri toward the Ara Pacis. I remembered seeing sneakers being offered by Christan Dior for one thousand euros here eight years ago, but my pair of Wal-mart Dr. Scholl’s still seemed serviceable, so I did not do any window-shopping this time.

The entrance to the Ara Pacis is like nothing else in Rome.

I took some photos of the façades of some churches on the way and found the very modern building that houses the Ara Pacis without exceptional difficulty.

The model.

Visiting the ancient altar costs €7.50. This was surely the biggest ripoff of any public museum in Rome in 2011. There was almost nothing to see. The altar was huge, and there were some models, a family tree, and busts of emperors on display. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine anyone spending more than ten minutes there. That amounted to a charge of €45 per hour! They should probably consider prohibiting people from taking photos just so they can guarantee retaining the ripoff title for the foreseeable future.

The real thing.

All of the guards/guides in the museum were female. I was not certain what their function was supposed to be. It was not likely that someone could steal this monstrosity.

From the back.

Thinking that I must have missed something, I looked this site up in the Rick Steves’ 2011 Italy book. It gave this block of marble two pyramids without much of a justification. The closest it came was “Imagine the altar as it once was, standing in an open field, painted in bright colors – a mingling of myth, man, and nature.” I am willing to admit that the fault might be my imagination deficit. Even with the fully operational imagination of my youth, however, I probably would have only spent fifteen minutes, which would still be €30 per hour. I suppose that I should be thankful that they did not charge me the €9 that the guidebook said was the rate for 2011.

You can walk inside.

The detail was rather impressive.

A griffin.

On the positive side, the bathroom was by far the nicest that I had seen at any public institution anywhere in Italy. I had to go downstairs to use it, and once I was down there, I had to traverse a hallway or two, but it was positively sparkling and spacious.

The bookstore was pretty good, too. I did not buy anything, but I saw at least three interesting games there, all in Italian.

Ruins along the Via di Ripetta.

Tobacco and salt are only available at these stores.

I walked up the Via di Ripetta to Piazza del Popolo. Some people on Segways were going up the road in the same direction. Not for the first time did I wonder why in the world anyone would rent one of those things. Most of the attractions in Rome were indoors, and the town was not exactly friendly to vehicles. I had to admit that the riders (drivers?) did seem to be having a pretty good time zipping around the piazza.

There are two churches that look almost the same on the south side of the piazza. It was pretty warm out, but I sat on the steps of the church on the left and put my black nylon pants on over my shorts. I entered the church at about 12:15. When I discovered that mass was in process, I made a quick retreat.

The obelisk in Piazza del Popolo.

Santa Maria in Montesanto.

I should have been prepared for this. Sunday morning was certainly not a good time to visit Catholic churches. I figured, however, that the services would surely end shortly after noon. So, I just chilled on the steps for a few minutes, watched the people, and recorded some notes in my spiral notebook. A really hot Mercedes sports car came into the piazza. I tried to get my camera out and take a picture. A girl wearing very short shorts went into church without thinking twice.

I could tell that the mass was over when the ladies wearing dresses with below-the-knee hems came out. I gathered up my stuff and went inside. It took me about five minutes to determine that I was in the wrong church. It was Santa Maria all right, but its full name was Santa Maria in Montesanto.

Segways on the piazza.

These legs were inside the church 30 seconds later.

So, I went over to the other church, where I was disappointed to discover that mass was still in progress. Once again I waited for attendees to leave, and once again I determined that I was at the wrong church. This one was Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

I looked across the very large piazza, and, sure enough, there was a third church. Three churches on the same piazza, and all named Santa Maria! Needless to say, mass was still in process at Santa Maria del Popolo. I waited for another half hour or so just outside of Santa Maria del Popolo. Since I had told Sue that I would return to the hotel to meet her for lunch, I just gave up and took the Metro back to the hotel.

Santa Maria del Popolo.

My morning had had a very productive start at the mall, but the touristy part had been lousy. I felt as if I had wasted time and money. I placed the blame on inadequate planning.

I gave up at 1:30.

I found Sue and told her about my success at the mall and my failures elsewhere. She had been successful at locating some heathen churches, but she did not actually attend one of their services.

We contacted Tom, and the three of us walked over to a cafe named George Byron’s on Via Nazionale. Tom, who had already eaten lunch, forced himself to order a Guinness merely to be sociable. I was not sure whether he had ever tried this brand before. The waiter said that they were closing the kitchen, but we could get a salad or a sandwich. Sue had a Caesar salad with chicken and iced tea from a bottle. I had a “chicken club sandwich.” I guess that it contained all the necessary ingredients, but it sure did not look like a club sandwich. The Guinness, however, was cold and delicious.

Benino used a straw at George Byron’s.

Sue, Benino, and Tom.

Tom reported that Patti had slept all morning. We all agreed that it was a good thing that they planned to return to the States on Monday.

I won a few Brownie points with Sue on the way back to the hotel. She discovered that she had left her journal at the restaurant. I went back and looked for it, but it was not where we were sitting. I asked for it at the bar, and the barman immediately produced it.

My plan for the afternoon was to visit St. John Lateran and then to return to Santa Maria del Popolo. I only had two Metro tickets left, so I decided to do Santa Maria del Popolo first. I had figured that I would only require a few minutes to see the Caravaggios. My first Metro ticket would not have expired yet (you get an hour and fifteen minutes), so I was counting on reusing it to get to St. John Lateran.

On the outside looking in.

The basilica overlooked the gate.

I was wrong on both counts. For some reason Santa Maria del Popolo was closed every Sunday afternoon from 1:30 to 4:30; maybe they ran a bingo game. Furthermore, you cannot reuse Metro tickets, expired or not. You can transfer, but once you exit through the turnstile, your ticket is worthless. So, I pulled out my Michelin guide to make sure that St. John Lateran was open.[5] Since the hours listed in the guide indicated that it was open, I used my last Metro ticket and took line A toward Anagnina.

St. Francis, one of the two patron saints of Italy, was not treated too well by Pope Innocent III.

I exited the train at the San Giovanni station. When I reached the surface I could not see the church. I could, however see the walls and the San Giovanni gate. I looked at my map and determined which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that the Metro stop might actually be outside the city walls. I walked three or four blocks before I determined that I must have been heading in the wrong direction. I consulted my map again, realized my error, and reversed course. When I got near the gate I could clearly see the basilica on the other side of the wall. How the enormous façade had escaped my notice earlier – when I was specifically looking for it – I will never know.

The piazza was mostly dirt.

The piazza in front of the entrance to the basilica was mostly dirt. It was not nearly as nice as the park that adjoined St. Paul’s. Two kids who were kicking a soccer ball back and fourth between them passed me as I was taking photos.

The façade of the basilica.

The basilica was huge, much larger than the impression given by the entrance area. That fact should surprise no one. St. John’s, not St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, has been the pope’s cathedral ever since Emperor Constantine donated it to the Church in the fourth century. Its layout followed the same basic plan as the other basilicas. There were basically five wide and very long corridors with columns in the middle. In the rearmost chapel on the left side, the Corsini Chapel, a baptism was in progress. An iron gate had been pulled across the front of it. A tourist tried to take a photo through the grill, but a man wearing a suit inside the chapel came over and deliberately stood right in front of the camera. I swore for a moment that I could hear the theme from The Godfather.

The interior of the basilica was awesome.

This was quite a disappointment. This chapel contained Giotto’s famous fresco of Pope Boniface VIII declaring the first Jubilee Year in 1300. It was my primary reason for coming to the basilica.

It would not be Roman without an outlandish baldachin.

There was plenty to see in the basilica, but I did not have the energy to do much exploration. I found the tomb of Pope Leo XIII, but I did not find any of the others[6]. I did not even go to the museum or the Sancta Sanctorum.

A sign near the entrance of the basilica made it clear that shorts were not allowed. While I was resting outside of the church, a group of teenagers entered. More than half of them had on shorts. They walked right past a booth in which a lady was selling books, but no one gave them any trouble.

I took the change out of my pockets and found €1.90. Rats. I needed €2 for my Metro tickets. My smallest bill was a twenty. I was really hot and tired, so I decided to break it and splurge on a Coca Cola Light. A truck parked near the entrance to the basilica had beverages for sale, but cold drinks are rare in Italy. I asked the lady “È gelida?” and she assured me with a simple “.” So I bought a bottle for €3, roughtly five times what I would have paid in the States.

The sign said no shorts, but ....

The Corsini Chapel was occupied.

The tomb of Pope Leo XIII.

I never did learn the identity of the pope with the bread and the chalice.

The baldachin up close.

The mosaic over the apse.

Oh, yeah. One Italian vendor definitely knew how to serve a Coca Cola Light.

I had to admit, however, that it really was cold. In fact, in the middle of the bottle was a little ice. Any colder and it would have been ruined. I was feeling a little depressed about how poorly my day of touring had been going. It really hit the spot.

Proof that at least one Italian family contains two children.

I decided not to go to see the Scala Santa, the famous stone staircase that the faithful have climbed on their knees for centuries. Reputedly these stairs came from Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem. A plenary indulgence[7] was offered for climbing the stairs on one’s knees. Even Luther did it, or at least I once saw a movie in which he did.

It was a stupid decision to be that close and not to exert the little extra effort required to see them and the Sancta Sanctorum to which they led, but I had been on the run for four days, and my thinking that day was less than brilliant. At least my laziness provided me with another reason to come back to Rome.

The Pinturicchio.

Santa Maria del Popolo has six chapels.

Instead, I purchased two more Metro tickets and went back to Piazza del Popolo. The church of Santa Maria del Popolo was open this time, or I should say that at least part of it was open.

I took some photos of Pinturicchio’s Adoration of the Christ Child. Unfortunately, the Chigi Chapel, designed by Raphael, was closed off. A bunch of people were gathered in the Cerasi Chapel in the far left corner, which was where the Caravaggios were located. No photos were allowed back there, but the two paintings of St. Peter and St. Paul were clearly visible. The former seemed just as impressive as it had eight years earlier. The latter still seemed weird. I remembered that eight years earlier I had no idea that the young man on the ground was St. Paul.

After a minute or so, the light suddenly went out. Someone scrambled to find the necessary coin to restore the illumination. Once again I freeloaded.



The most amazing thing about this church was that there was no security at all, or at least none that that I could detect. The artwork in this church must surely be worth tens of millions of dollars. I have always considered myself a rather trusting person, but if I were responsible for the contents of this church I would never get to sleep at night.

Well, at least I got to see the Caravaggios again. It was starting to get dark as I entered the Metro station. On the train I thought about where we should go for supper. It would be the only supper that the four of us ate together on the trip, so we should try and make it a little special. If no one had a better idea, maybe we could just go back to La Famiglia.

I exited the train at Termini and began the familiar walk to the hotel. I was quite surprised to see five or six Carabinieri on Via Viminale less than two blocks from the hotel. A man with blonde dreadlocks was sitting on the curb. His hands were cuffed before him. Suspecting that “there is nothing to see here,” I passed quickly by this unusual scene and never did find out what it was about.

I have always enjoyed writing these journals because they often call to mind pleasant things and events that I had forgotten or nearly forgotten. Remembering this evening, however, was no fun at all.

Since Sue had cajoled the hotel receptionist into letting us have separate key cards, I was able to go up to our room unimpeded. There I discovered that a great deal had happened in my short absence since lunch. Patti had become unresponsive and had been rushed to the Pronto Succorso area of Policlinico Umberto I, the hospital associated with Rome’s largest university, La Sapienza.

Sue told me that the paramedics had a very difficult time getting Patti down to the street.

The guy in this booth was pleasant but not very informative.

Tom had accompanied Patti in the ambulance. He was still at the hospital when I arrived at the hotel. Sue was busy making phone calls to the Corcorans’ relatives and packing up stuff for Tom. We were scheduled to check out of the hotel the next morning. Instead of the nice supper that I had been planning, we consumed the last of the pork left over from our lunch in Frascati and some sausage that Sue had also purchased there. I generally like sausages, but these were much too spicy for my taste.

Tom, who was understandably in a rather distraught state, could not find his credit cards, and he was afraid that he had lost them. Sue found them in the Corcorans’ hotel room.

After our makeshift supper, Sue and I took a taxi to the hospital. I thought that it would be a long shot for us to find either one of them, but within a few minutes Sue located[8] Patti in a bed in a room quite near where we had entered. It took us quite a bit longer to find Tom, who was very frustrated because they would not let him see Patti, and he had no idea where she was. Sue led him to Patti’s bed for a minute, and then the three of us retreated to the waiting room in which Tom had spent the last few hours. Tom was relieved that Patti seemed at least a little better, although that was not saying much.

We went to talk to the man who seemed to be in charge of the waiting room. When we told him that Tom had not been allowed to see his wife, he made a phone call. He then told us that the doctor would come to see us in “five minutes.” This was of course in hospital time, which meant that the doctor would be there as soon as she could. The wait was fifteen or sixteen times as long as predicted.

The doctor finally arrived in the company of another person who just stood there for the entire time. She said that they still needed to do tests, but they thought that Patti’s cancer had metastasized to her brain. Their plan was to stabilize her. It would then be possible to bring her home by air with a doctor and nurse. She could fly by standard carrier.

Taking Lives is not the movie you want to watch by yourself in an Emergency Room.

The doctor made it clear that if there were any charge for her time at Policlinico, it would be a trivial amount. We had to be thankful that we were not Italians encountering the same situation in an uncivilized country like the United States.

The doctor told us that it would be OK for one or two of us to see her. For some bizarre reason I was elected to stay with our stuff in the waiting room.

Waiting for the cab. And worrying.

The television in the waiting room showed a creepy movie named Taking Lives with Ethan Hawke[9] and Angelina Jolie, and I sat through the entire thing. I had viewed very few movies in the previous three decades, but I had already seen this one, although when I saw it Ethan and Angelina were speaking in English. I was effectively forced to watch it because I had stupidly left my computer back in the hotel room. I would have given almost anything to have it. I could have sworn that Tom and Sue had been gone for seven or eight hours, but, based upon the running time of the movie, it must have been only 103 minutes.

Tom had been eating out of the candy machines all day. We gave him all of our change.[10] He was surprised to learn that the hospital was only one Metro stop from Termini.

Tom stayed at the hospital when we returned to the hotel. The man at the desk called a cab for us. The driver sped through the deserted streets and ran a red light. Nevertheless, the ride back cost €2 more than the same trip in the other direction. Maybe there was a premium because it was so late.

I was exhausted and fell asleep immediately. Sue stayed up until three o'clock.

[1]  Sue’s church in Connecticut was actually Congregational, not Methodist, but we learned in parochial school that these heathen rituals are more or less interchangeable. I also heard that human sacrifice is no longer prevalent.

[2]  In the late nineteenth century Pope Leo XIII complained bitterly about how insulting it was that the Italian government allowed protestant churches in Rome.

[3]  I doubted that it actually sold much in the way of drugs. My understanding was that the places in Italy that are allowed to sell nearly all drugs have a state-regulated monopoly.

[4]  Cashiers in Europe often sit down. I wonder why they always stand in the U.S.

[5]  Yes, I know that I should have done that first, but I did not do it, and that’s that.

[6]  I totally missed six complete papal tombs plus a polyandrum that contained remains from twelve additional tombs that were destroyed in the fourteenth-century fires that occurred while the popes were in Avignon.

[7]  A plenary indulgence removes the necessity for time in purgatory for sins that have been absolved by the sacrament of Penance. The concept is explained in more detail here.

[8]  She finds things by following her nose. It made no sense, but it often worked.

[9]  The four of us from Connecticut knew Ethan Hawke when he was a pre-schooler. His dad Jim is an actuary, and we all worked together at The Hartford Life Insurance Company in the seventies.

[10]  The largest coin is worth €2. You can carry quite a bit of money in your front pocket in Europe.