If New York is the city that never sleeps then Rome is the city that never shuts up talking. Ever. (photo - Pope Benedict XVI...at the cinema?)
Rome is a city wired up to the eyeballs on amphetamine-strength coffee. It’s probably why Italians talk so much.
I was in a taxi yesterday with a driver who was in the middle of a long monologue that covered such diverse topics as: why the Church murdered Bruno; the egotistical nature of the modern day Italian; and the disrespect and delinquency of his 14 year old son. While he talked his eyes were not often on the road and where he was going but on me in the back seat. His arms followed the intricate patterns of his stories, waving around all over the place. At one point he was driving the car with his left elbow only - I am not joking - as he debated, with himself, the pros and cons of the, latest, Burlusconi government.
Thursday morning I went to a special mass at the Basilica overlooking St Peter’s Square in honour of the 30 year anniversary of Karol Wojtyla becoming JP II. There were thousands of people in the huge church, about one in five of the pilgrim-tourists were from Poland, many wearing Solidarnosc scarves or t-shirts.
After the mass I went for a stroll, agog at Rome’s teeming traffic. Small cars - the Smart is a particular favourite at the moment - whizzed in and out of the lines of scooters and motorbikes. Horns honked and Italians shouted and waved their arms at each other.
Small cars are essential in Rome as the parking of these vehicles is …creative and inventive. Any tiny space not colonised already by one of these vehicles is backed into, with varying degrees of success. Many cars show signs of bangs and prangs, dents riddling bodywork as a testimony to past parking attempts gone wrong.
Just as parking is a mysterious Italian art so is crossing the road. There are traffic lights and stuff but they are treated as optional extras by both drivers and pedestrians. People wait at the side of the road for a moment and then suddenly dive into the middle of a stream of traffic. Some cars and bikes then skid to a stop, some swerve to avoid the person who is now in the middle of the road. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to try this, but once you take the plunge it seems to work. As you stroll - and Italians stroll everywhere, they never simply walk - through the traffic you hear the babble from within vehicles, the sound of horns and the scrapping of metal-on-metal as yet another parking stunt doesn’t quite make it.
I was in Rome for the premiere of the film version of the memoirs of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Testimony, recounting his 39 years serving John Paul II. The film itself is not all that great although there is a lot of good archival material I never saw before. We also get the revelation - if that is the right work in the circumstances - that JP II survived not one but two assassination attempts. Not just a mad Turk tried to have a go at him - with the help of the Kremlin, or not: who know? - but also a mad Portuguese priest stuck a knife in him, in 1982, on the anniversary of the first assassination attempt. They covered the incident up in the hope that trying to kill the Pope would not become a fashionable thing to do for the world’s loons.
But the premiere itself - in a theatre slap bang in the middle of the Vatican - was something I will never forget. Six thousand people from all over the world sat down to watch the movie in the company of Lech Walesa, Jolanta Kwasniewska, and…Pope Benedict!! I never watched a film with a pope before, just a few seats down the isle.
The photo above I took as he made a little speech after the film. He was very moved by what he saw, obviously. The movie does have a very sad, although predictable ending, and someone told me they saw Pope Benny crying at the end.
Afterwards, people were milling around outside the theatre with the Swiss Guard looking on in their fancy dress garb. One photographer saw former first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska chatting away to the woman she took over from, former first lady Danuta Walesa. When the photographer asked if he could take a picture of them together, Jolanta started to pose, while Danuta - probably under strict orders from her husband - refused and quickly moved away. Relations between the ex-Solidarity leader and ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski may have warmed a little since the 1990s, but Walesa still does not want it to be seen that both families are best of buddies. That’s one miracle that JP II never got around to making and won’t be used in the evidence for his inevitable canonization.
Later I went for another stroll in Rome and after 20 minutes got completely lost. I quite like being lost in cities new to me. Soon, however, I wandered into an area where a succession of African guys seemed delighted to see me. They gave me high-fives and complicated handshakes and were very keen to sell me…something, I know not what.
So it was obviously a good time to get out of there. But how to get back to the Vatican? I stopped a nice looking old lady to ask the way. Understanding no Italian I just planned to follow the direction she was pointing in. Unfortunately, being an Italian, as she described the shortcut back to the Basilica her arms waved around all over the place. If I followed the directions of both hands I would be still be wandering around Rome in ever decreasing circles. So I set off in the direction she was facing, as she talked and talked…she’s probably still giving me directions even now.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Posted by beatroot at 10/19/2008