Thursday, June 3, 2010

Week 25: Rome.

Here is a side-view photo of St. Peter`s Basilica, as seen from the lst floor of the Vatican Museum. Almost exactly a week ago we arrived in Rome from India (via Doha). Kris and I are now waiting at a bus station where soon we will be on our way for nearly a week in Assisi. We are sitting on suit cases. She is reading her devotionals. I am using a garbage can as a desk for our laptop computer.

In some ways our current sitting scene is symbolic. We have grown used to the relative simplicity (and certainly the lower costs) typical of India. In this regards Italy provides the most severe of sticker shock. During our five months living in rural Pala (India) we were spending $100/month for rent -- while in Rome a (cheap) hotel room for the four of us costs that much in one day! Here also a simple sandwich and soft drink, purchased at the Coliseum, came to 10 Euros (about $13), and we were unexpectedly charged 26 Euros ($48) to have a ``self service`` Laundromat clean and dry about 20 lbs of dirty clothes (which will certainly encourage us to return to an India-style hand washing routine)! At St. Thomas College 20 rupees (45 cents) would buy a simple lunch – while at a fancy wedding we attended 9 days ago in India the feast cost our friend Chummar (father of the groom) a whopping $5/plate (and that included all courses in unlimited supply)! Our daughter Mira and her friend Naomi part ways with Kris and I today – to begin their own trek throughout Europe, hopefully spending most nights with punk friends. If they can keep their total daily spending down to about $50/day each, they should have enough money to cover expenses until we meet up with them again in Egypt – seven weeks from now….

The contrast between India and Italy is also stark in other ways. Two weeks ago the weather in New Delhi was about 110 degrees fahrenheit -- whereas here now people are complaining about a heat wave with highs in the low 80s! The low humidity, by comparison with Kerala, is especially welcome. For us the weather is perfect! Also, as compared to the traditional culture we became accustomed to, all sorts of personal expression is visible here including people kissing and fondling in the parks, women wearing very revealing garb, and folks loudly expressing themselves in an emotional fashion. The landlady at the bed & breakfast place we have stayed at in Rome, for example, seemed regularly to yell at the cleaning woman who, from our point of view, was far too complete in the way she took care of everything (including putting away our personal belongings when we were out)! The ``Vatican`s House`` (where we stayed) was kept very clean (including the bathroom we shared with two other sets of renters). In fact, all of Rome was amazing clean and well kept as compared to most places we visited in India.

Vatican City, including St. Peter`s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, were more amazing than any pictures you may have seen. The Basilica in absolutely massive (the largest church in the world) and ornate (understatement cannot be avoided). It was only with the help of Kris that I was able to distinguish the location of St. Peter himself (just inside the front entrance, to the right): a simple marker completely overshadowed by the Pieta of Michelangelo (the sculpture of Mary holding her dead son). Kris and I both wondered how St. Peter might feel about the incredible wealth amassed by the Church and clearly spent on the opulence of this place…..The Vatican Museum (which includes access to the Sistine Chapel), had treasures beyond belief – from Egypt, Greece, the Roman heritage, as well as all manner of artwork reflecting the two thousand years of Christian tradition. The paintings of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel inspired awe from even our (supposedly anti-religious) daughter. The nearly one hour we spent there could have easily been prolonged to a day – if closing time had not been upon us.

For Kristine and I the most exhausting experience may well have been due to my seeking to avoid the high fares of taxis and navigate the public transportation system. It took us two buses (with much waiting and too much walking) to reach our goal for day: Castel Saint Angelo, a massive fortress not far from St. Peter`s from which panoramic views of the city can be had. Well, the views were remarkable – but it took over 250 stair steps winding among many levels of cut stone rooms – to get to the top. Kris stoically trudged through it all while neither the ticket salesperson nor any guide mentioned that there was a service elevator that could be available (something we discovered later). Connecting with the bus lines for the return trip required also far too much lag work, leaving us both exceptionally sore with blisters for the following day.

The next day we went to the Coliseum, Kris and I purchased tickets on a bus that provided a guided tour throughout Rome (complete with earphone English translation) to all us of tourists riding on board (in the open air second tier). We were able to walk all around the ancient grounds where so many gladiators fought to the death, animals were hunted and killed, and Christians were slaughtered. Oddly, among the many displays of art and fighting garb, the impression was conveyed that most of those who lost their lives did so voluntarily (as if slaves, captured lions, and persecuted Christians had a real choice)! In use for 400 years following its completion in 80AD, the Coliseum was in remarkably good condition – though not well modified for the handicapped. Unlike the Vatican Museum, where a helpful employee took the initiative to provide a wheelchair for Kris and had arranged for free tickets for both her and I, the Coliseum had no wheelchairs available and not even a discount for those who might be unable to navigate the extensive ruins. Oddly, it is seemed to be as if Do or Die spirits inhabiting this arena of death lived on, might be laughing a little at our inconvenience.

Among the many pleasant memories that will remembered fondly, there will be the visiting of Trevi Fountain (complete with the most delicious gelacio/sherbert ice cream ever!), seeing unexpected splendors in the Cathredal of St. John the Baptist (with forty foot tall sculptures of each of the twelve disciples), and time spent in the Catacombs near the Appian Way (the ancient roadway beside which Spartacus and his followers had been crucified following their slave revolt in the first century BCE. For Kristine and I a sunny day among lovely trees and a peaceful meadow, growing above the graves of over 500,000 Christians buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto, provided a lovely setting to contemplate the many centuries of history entombed in Rome. That we were able to share this experience and so many others with our daughter Mira has been for us a great additional blessing. The learning experience she and her friend Naomi have had during these last five weeks of traveling with us, I hope, have been enjoyed as much by them as by us. May safe travels be theirs now, until we meet again in late July before we all return to the U.S. in early August.

Although our access to internet service is not as constant now as it was in India, know that our weekly updates will continue to be posted here, for all who care to follow our ongoing odyssey.

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