A week ago today was my last day in Rome. Now that I am just about rested up from jet lag, I can share that experience with you. But first, a bit about getting home: it took a while. At JFK, the flight I was to get on to go the Minneapolis to catch the connecting flight to Missoula was delayed by a full two hours so no connecting flight in Minneapolis for me to catch as it had already gone by the time I even left JFK. The airlines claimed it was due to weather but we were hearing all kinds of stories so who knows. But because they claimed weather, I was on my own paying for a hotel in Minneapolis and arranging transportation to it. The airlines did give me a little bag of stuff to tide me over for the night, none of which was of the nature of a spirituous libation. I was on the next flight in the morning which was at 11:30 but I had the great fun of going through the whole TSA thing again. It was good to be home and be greeted by family, friends and two very happy little dogs. Thanks to all of you who kept me in your prayers as I traveled, read my postings here and have been patient with nothing being posted here while I rested up from my travels this last week.
On my last day in Rome it was a totally pleasant ramble through the streets. Map in hand, I headed out about 9:30 in the morning and did not return until 4:30 or 5 p.m. I wanted to visit some sites that were on my “bucket list” and I also wanted to make one more visit to the Piazza San Pietro. My first destination was the San Carlo Quattro Fontane, the church of St Charles Borromeo sitting at an intersection of two very old streets with a fountain on each corner of the intersection. As I made my way there, it was in the midst of many Romans walking to work. I like to watch people just doing their thing and this was no exception. These are such good people, hard working and so patient as their city is invaded by many, many tourists. I had begun to ask all kinds of service staff and business people if they like Papa Francesco. “Si, si” was the answer. Then I would ask if he was good for business. “Oh, Si, Si, Si” was the answer with a very large grin on the face. The more “Si’s” there are the more emphatic is the response. I recently read that just prior to Benedict’s abdication/resignation, many shops catering to tourists and restaurants were closing in Rome with many people out of work. Now, it is a different story with the tourist load more than doubled and, at some times, like during the recent Synod and for the Paul VI beatification, the load is tripled. Yet, I only encountered one rude clerk in a grocery store in my entire time in Italy. People were generous and seemed deeply respectful of me, an older woman traveling alone. Many times I had people wanting to help me with my bag getting on or off a bus or train. And they were not someone trying to scam me, but men traveling with their families who took the time to make sure I was doing OK. When I got to my destination walking to the San Carlo Quattro Fontane, I realized that Richard and I had walked past this point previously when we walked to the US Embassy after his wallet was stolen. The reason I knew this was the presence of the plywood around each corner of the intersection. The fountains were under renovation. When I got home in the evening, I looked them up on the internet. They are very beautiful and it must be quite a sight to see them all running. The church itself was smallish and one of those that is getting a bit ragged around the edges. As I checked my map, I realized I was not too far from the Spanish steps so off I went. I came in at the top of the steps where the large church sits. It too was under construction but is open, except on Monday and it was Monday. The area was really loaded with tourists and people trying to sell things to tourists. There were a lot of artists with booths set up at the top of the stairs. Some of these street artists are fantastic. A good view of Rome is to be seen from the top of the Spanish steps. After taking my time getting down the steps, another rest and checking the map, I realized I was not too far from a road that paralleled the Tiber. That became my next destination. To get there, I walked the Via Condotti. I had not gone too far when I realized this is where the wealthy come when they are in Rome. All the shops were exclusive designer shops: Gucci, Cartier, Givenchy, etc. The air was thick with the smell of expensive cologne. I was just about the only grubby looking person around, in my clothes that had seen the end of traveling for almost 21 days. I was not deterred….I figured they smell like I do under that cologne and as my dad used to say, put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning just like I do. Besides, it was the shortest distance to my destination. I stopped occasionally to take pictures of courtyards that would be visible after a Mercedes pulled out from between gates. Very lovely. The streets looked like they had been swept and washed that morning. Not so in most of Rome. Life in Rome must be quite good if you have the right amount of money. Not so for those of us on those peripheries Papa Francesco talks about and I am not even close to that kind of edge he has in mind. Once I got to the road along the Tiber, I realized I was not too far from the Vatican. It was a tree-lined street and so a pleasant walk. I had lunch tucked into my bag, some leftover pizza from the night before. I purchased a coke from a small neighborhood shop and, leaning against the stone wall between the street and the river, enjoyed a picnic lunch. Had to stand to eat my lunch, but the view was magnificent, just like something on a postcard with the Tiber in the foreground and St. Peter’s Basilica in the background and a stone, arched bridge in between. However, the Tiber does not look anything like rivers here in Montana. It is a sickly green and has a distinct odor along some stretches. Not surprising when you consider how many millenia of people have been living along it sometimes using it for the city’s sewer system. I came to the Vatican from a totally different direction than on the previous visits during my trip. This time, I walked right past the Castel San Angelo, an ancient fortress like structure right on the shore of the Tiber. Its history is entwined with the Vatican. I have read stories that there is a tunnel that goes all the way from it into the Vatican, a matter of probably a half mile or so, and the popes used it in times of war to escape to this fortress. It looks like something one would see in a horror film but something that would be interesting to tour. There was a guy outside on the sidewalk dressed up like the grim reaper, scythe and all, trying to make a Euro or two having his picture taken. You will see things like this all over Rome. I saw a guy one day looking like he was levitating, sitting on thin air, dressed up like a Hindu. I spent my time this visit at the Vatican wandering around the piazza, taking pictures of the Swiss Guard, pilgrim’s feet, and pigeons. I also spent a lot of time just watching people, wondering what they were experiencing, listening to all the different languages. I kept thinking of the first words from the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes. Here is that quote in full: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.” I wondered what the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of all these pilgrims were as I watched all their feet moving past me and felt something of those “deepest bonds”. Being the sort that likes to wander around bookstores, I knew that the Vatican had its own and wanted to browse there. Not finding it, I approached one of the Swiss Guards to ask for directions. I had seen others going up to them with questions. He certainly was a nice looking young fellow but I wondered how scratchy that ruff around his neck got on a hot day. His English was passing as I later found my way following his directions. He was standing guard at a gate outside the south colonnade. As I was talking with him, I looked beyond him into the Vatican proper to see the roof and front of the Paul VI audience hall. Above it and beyond it were the top floors of a nondescript, utilitarian looking building painted a kind of pale yellow. Having spent some time looking at a map of the Vatican before my trip, I realized that this was the top two floors of the Domus Santa Mart, the building where the pope lives on the second (or our third) floor. It felt kind of unreal to be seeing Papa Francesco’s “home” as he himself calls it. I am kind of glad he didn’t find the Apostolic Palace “home” as I think he is safer and happier living with others around him. He has a kind of family around him in the others who share living quarters with him and with whom he can share meals. I have read articles speculating that the next few popes will not dare live in the Apostolic Palace as Francis’ example will be a hard act to follow. As I left the Vatican, I found I had a few tears in my eyes knowing I would be leaving the next day. No coins into the Trevi fountain for me. It was under renovation encased in scaffolding anyway. Tears seemed fitting somehow as this pilgrimage was very emotion laden many times along the way, from singing in St Peter’s “Square”, to singing in 17th century churches, to seeing the pope up close, close enough that if I had stretched out my hand he could have easily reached me, to visiting personal family history and swimming close in my family gene pool, to enjoying lovely dinners at street-side restaurants on warm Roman, fall evenings with good friends. I took a bus back to my hotel, having finally figured out how to read the bus system. I got on it as it was ending its route before it turned around to go back to my stop at Termini station. That was pleasant as I was the only rider for some time and could put my now tired feet up and just enjoy the scenery. Rome is a big city for certain, but each area has its own distinct character and all of it soaked in history, visibly present. But the adventure did not end with just going to bed. I was awakened at 2 a.m by someone, a woman, on the street below the window of my hotel room, yelling at the top of her lungs, chanting the same thing over in over, sometimes in very broken English, sometimes in her African dialect. She would wander up and down the street. It was 45 minutes of this poor woman crying out in the night. No one went to her assistance. To me she definitely represented one of those on the peripheries that the pope, the Bishop of Rome, talks about that we must go out to. Female, she is probably destitute, probably has a drug and/or alcohol problem and I wondered about her freedom as it seemed to me she chanted in English at times “I am no longer your prisoner”. My heart went out to her but that is the only thing of me that went out to her. Papa Francesco has his work cut out for him changing our hearts so that it isn’t only our hearts that go out to ones like her. After her “serenade”, sleep was not possible for me.