The week followed in the spirit of what I can imagine is everyone’s first visit to Rome: The Colosseum, Parthenon and Ancient Rome. Almost passing out from sunstroke in the queue into the St. Peters Basilica, where we missed the pope’s “Hello world” by minutes. Mememto mori in the surrealistic presence of the bones from ~3700 Capuchin Monks. After queuing to the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, we were pushed around by masses of people who did not seem particularly pleased to be there. In between sightseeing and walking around on sore feet in old town, we devoted ourselves to Italia=eatalia by eating pizza and drinking coffee, learning the valuable lesson that the quality of an Italian restaurant is not measured by cost, but whether or not there is a toilet seat.
All over town Indian-looking men tried to sell us “selfie-sticks” by screaming “selfie, selfie, selfie” and occasionally shoving the thing in our faces (I doubt that ever works). African men sold ‘Frada’ and ‘Pucci’ bags on the streets in the expensive shopping districts, followed by running like”ou-so-fashion-fabulous” Olympic champions when the police showed up. The tourist assault continued by “Hop-on and off”-bus salesmen that did not only make us feel like bunnies every five meters, but actively lied about public transportation. And if anyone tells me to “skip the line” again, I intend with full seriousness to punch them in the face. At every tourist shop the same mass produced “made-in-China” items could be bought, and from each of these stands/shops the young pope was kindly staring at me with his possibly-the-most-handsome-man-ever smile. It bothered me to no end – confused at my dislike for what he represent and my own difficulty to fight the beauty-bias. He was posing as the cover-boy for a 2016-calender featuring another twelve of the most genetically blessed catholic priests imaginable. (CORRECTION: The calender cover-boy turned out, after some source criticism, not to be the pope, but some random hottie priest. Which really explained a lot – I mean, otherwise: talk about aging “un-optimally”…) While being all on board the concept of wanting something you cannot have, this particular fetish does not really float my boat.
Aside from the tourist perspective, Rome provided a mixed impression. It is a pretty city, despite much of the decay. The religious grandeur of church after church in excess wealth, with priests, monks and nuns everywhere is unfamiliar but impressive to me. The imposing impression of the Vatican with its creme-de-la-creme of the catholic church living the life of ‘poverty’ in decadent luxury while wearing the purpur dresses of kings of old, left a sour aftertaste as ‘real’ poverty showed its bitter flavor everywhere. Large parts of the city stank of urine and people were sleeping all around the train station. I do not know the border for when immigrant workers become modern-time slaves, but I can imagine that in Rome the line is thin. Outside every church or tourist attraction there are a bunch of beggars and in corners the hopeless homeless sit in their filth, not even bothering to beg anymore. Breaking the heart, that broke a long time ago.
The best part of the trip, was to spend time with my mother. When she was fast asleep in the early evening, I was fighting ferociously with the air conditioning that occasionally decided that we wanted heated air rather than chilled. Walking around downtown she told me that “The best thing about traveling with you, is that I get to sleep so well”, leaving me laughing guiltily over the fact that I drag my mother around so much. The trip was filled with much laughter of this kind.