Sep. 6, 2015

The Vatican City

Sunrise was half an hour ago and my coffee is on the stove, everyone else still asleep.  Back in Greece now for over a week, we are fixing to get home, but still with three days to go, there might be another jaunt to somewhere new.  For now, I have time to reflect on the majesty of Rome.

Day two in Rome and our plans were to see the Vatican City for the day.  We had heard that the lineups would be atrocious but off we went and we are glad we did.   We printed our tickets to see the Museum and the Sistine Chapel and grabbed a bus from our hotel, flying past the centre of Rome and then across the river.  From where the bus dropped us off, we were to walk around to the right of the massive wall, to find the entrance to the Museum.  Right at the corner, were a bunch of people telling us that we needed to 'upgrade' our ticket to see inside the Basilica, but the Basilica is free!   Then they said that it was actually to bypass the long line.   I tugged on Aris's sleeve and said "Let's go" and we ignored the sales pitches and went into the museum.   We would decide once we got to the Basilica, whether the lineup would be too crazy.
Upon stepping into the Museum we were surprised that no one asked us for ID, nor for a Passport, and there was a minimal security checkpoint.   You can choose escalators to go up to the starting point, or the spiral ramp...and we picked the ramp thinking we needed the exercise after last night's dinner.  We didn't need it, because what lay ahead was an unforeseen amount of ambling and walking aplenty. 
The first chamber took us into a room filled with beautiful statues and frescoes, so much to take in!  We are not meticulous museum viewers, stopping at each and every display to read everything about what's there, but rather, we seem to pick what attracts us and make a beeline to that monument or display.  I lose Aris often because he meanders to another spot, and I have to start looking for his hat.   Thankfully he stands a cool 6'-0" and I can usually spot him fast.  I quite liked the statue of a woman holding a mask and she was the Muse of Tragedy.   We also noted with much interest, the statues of Hercules,   Aris now has some new poses to strike, hahaha!  
What befuddles me is the business of painting on a ceiling.   It is one thing to paint on a canvas in front of you, tilted so that it is easy to work on, and so that you can step away to review it, check your perspective, etc.   But a ceiling??  You are stuck up there,   on a scaffold (or likely something much more rustic at the time), and even if one is lying down to do the work, I imagine having to remain within a paintbrush's length of your surface, with not much chance to step away, not to mention getting dust, plaster, and paint in one's eyes, or being stuck in one position for long periods of time.   How then, did they manage to build in such realism, shadow & depth, and stunning 3D effects, in muscle tone, colour and artist's dream.   Not only the people are painted this way, but a huge amount of Tromp L'Oeil is in use, to add perfectly proportioned Architectural detail that is not really there!  This is what separates the Renaissance from earlier times, when paintings were very one dimensional.
It's easy to think that Michelangelo was the only one who painted on ceilings but good lord, the number of churches and spaces that have incredible frescoes could not all only have been done by him.  There were countless others, in the Vatican alone, each one not only a painter, but a sculptor, an engineer, and sometimes a poet.  [We learned that DaVinci did not paint ceilings, but that his Last Supper was on a wall, and using a technique that he thought would last, and finding it did not, meant that he had to spend much longer doing the work, and, that a massive restoration took place, many years later.   The use of perspective in this painting was not just to make it look real, but also to bring attention to important details, Jesus perfectly at the centre and other elements aligning exactly, and with a purpose.]   At least 12 to 14 other artists contributed to the Sistine Chapel, painting the side walls, but Michelangelo did the entire ceiling and also the full end wall, depicting the Last Judgment.  
I was disappointed to see so many people who did not respect the guidelines of entering this space.   First of all, Silenzio is requested.  Secondly, one must be covered appropriately.  Thirdly, no devices are permitted, such as the Audio Guides, and finally, people are not permitted to take any photos at all.  I am sure you can guess that in various modes, each and every one of these rules was broken.  What I would give, to go back, and to be the only one in the room, able to gaze at each and every scene, in absolute silence.  Even with the crowds, I fought back tears and feel so very blessed that I was able to stand there at all.
After this space, there were more galleries, now of more modern art, included in which we saw Rodin's "Thinker" and this was a sight to behold in itself.    Also a few works by Salvador Dali which were interesting, one painting of Jesus in which his face is actually not visible at all, but every other part of him is.   We don't often see Jesus' privates, do we?!  
On we went, and by now I was a bit worn out, complaining to Aris that all I wanted was to sit down and have an Espresso.  But there were still hallways upon hallways of incredible exhibits and paintings and tapestries and frescoes to see.  (Who pays that much attention to decorating their hallway?  Gives me a few design ideas!)  We stumbled through and finally found a spot to sit and breathe for a bit.  (The writing was on the wall, for the next day being almost a complete write-off, but thankfully, I got up and at 'em by about noon.)
After our espresso it was time to seek out the Basilica and so we exited the museum, walked all around front bit of the exterior wall again, and found St Peter's Square.   The line was about 3/4 of the way around, so Aris lined up while I found a shady spot to sit. I would have passed out, standing in the sun the whole time, but as it was, after about half an hour of missing him, I managed to find him and joined him in line, this time, my white gauze wrap shielding me from a burn, but still feeling far too hot.   It was after 45 minutes of total wait time, that we stepped inside the Basilica.   
At first it is dark, adjusting from the brightness outdoors, you really can't see much of anything.  Then, after a minute or two, the eyes become aware of the unbridled glory that awaits inside.  Since we are allowed to take photos, (without a flash), I took many.   What struck me with the most awe, stupidly enough, was how the sun was streaming through the windows from the huge dome, and hitting a particular statue.   This to me was the ultimate in 'the second coming', and I think I get more out of a looming thundercloud with the sun's rays streaming past it, than most any other divine illustration could provide.   But inside this space, columns reaching to the sky, we were feasting our eyes on the most opulent church of all.  It is more modern than Florence and Siena, and bigger by far.   Barrel vaulted ceilings and multiple domes, columns adorned with Cherubim and Seraphim, the fat little baby angels...  the statues of Saints and of Popes past, seem fierce and demanding, and in contrast, the Mary is demure, as she should be.   At the far end, the light sends your line of sight to a stained glass window where it focuses on a single dove, with radiant beams emanating from it, overlooking the whole Nave.   
In a side wing, we were able to go a few steps before we found closed doors and no entry, but not before we found a carved piece of marble that denoted every Pope that has served since the beginning.   And then, a gift store, where I bought (of all things) a lovely bar of soap.   Why is there soap in the Vatican, as a souvenir?   
We finished our visit by finding a restaurant nearby and sadly, it was one of the worst meals we had while in Italy.   They count on the crowds and worry not about quality.   
Yes, we took the bus back to the hotel, much to my chagrin, because by now I was ready to collapse.   And collapse I did, until the next day.   But my head was filled with grandeur and awe.