Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Roma (continued)

NOTE:  This is the second part of the previous post, which was written on Monday evening Venice time.

When we got to the line for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, we were told it was at least a three-hour wait to get in (Christine heard five hours), and that the place was closing in two hours.  That math didn't work for us, so we listened to one of the hucksters selling us a guided tour that would bypass the line, and paid her our 25 Euros each.  We were told the company did tours in English, Italian and Spanish.  We were told that the guide would have a little microphone, and all the tourists would have little earpieces through which the guide's voice would broadcast.

We were not told that it would be one guide doing the tour in all three languages, so that after she finished with one language, the people who didn't speak the other two just had to stand there and wait for it to end.  We were also not told that the guide would spend the first half hour standing outside the walls of the Vatican, waiting for more people to show up and pay, and repeating over and over again (in all three languages) that this was the wall of the Vatican, which is a nation unto itself.  This was one of three things we learned (even though I guess it doesn't count because we already knew it) from the guide that day.

We were also not told that the guide's English would be essentially indecipherable.  I appreciate anyone who can speak more than one language, but if you're advertising yourself as being able to guide a tour in English, then the English speakers in the group should not have to guess when you've switched from a foreign language to our own.  

We were not told our guide was crazy.  She spent a lot of time arguing with several people in the group who spoke Spanish, and who apparently wanted their money back because they were tired of standing and there and waiting for the tour to actually start.  After these arguments ended, no one knew why we were still waiting at all, and eventually it came out that we were waiting for some other employee of the company to bring the disgruntled tourists their refunds.  Yes, the entire group had to wait for that.  

To make a long story only a little bit shorter, eventually we got into the museum.  After Christine confirmed with one of the gift shop employees that we could get into the Sistine Chapel easily from where we were, we turned in our headsets to the guide, got our deposit back, and raced for the chapel.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the other three people who turned in their headsets at the same time were all English speakers.

And now just an aside to the rant from above.  Walking through the endless corridors one has to traverse to get from the entrance to the museum over to the Sistine Chapel (seriously, it's insane; we must have walked a mile, indoors, through extravagant hallways and rooms, just to get to the Vatican's most famous room), I was struck again by the sheer audacity of the Catholic church.  They put all this on display, some of which has to be the spoils of a war fought long ago (why else does the Vatican have a super impressive collection of Egyptian relics?), and everyone comes to see it (and pay a pretty penny to get in most days), but we're still talking about a church.  A church that believes in Christ and the ideas that he embodied, most of which were about helping your fellow man.  It doesn't help anyone to know that the Vatican has billions of dollars worth of history inside its walls, and that's just the part they let the public see.  Can you imagine what the Vatican storage room must look like?  There's a reason the church has been able to pay off many, many victims of sexual abuse over the years, and yet not really take a hit financially.  And it's all kind of gross, if you ask me.

There was so much to see in there, but we were worried we wouldn't make it to the Sistine Chapel before everything closed, so we rushed.  We stopped in the Egyptian room because that stuff was awesome, and for some reason the Vatican has a mummy, as well as other artifacts from those non-Christian heathens we calls the Egyptians.  We looked up at the ceilings and over at the walls as we walked through as quickly as the crowds would allow.  We spotted a Dali in the "modern religious art" section, so we stopped for a second to look at that one.  But our singular goal was the Sistine Chapel.  And we eventually got there, and the place is as awesome as one would think.  It was super crowded, of course, and you weren't allowed to take pictures (though Christine surreptitiously did anyway, and I'll post it later), and there is no way I saw every detail of everything thing that's in there.  But I can now say that I've seen the Sistine Chapel.  And perhaps I'm a better person for it.

Back in Venice, on my walk to the market today, I passed through a nearly empty square.  In the center, near a well that was covered up long ago, were two little boys,--one brunette, one blonde--who couldn't have been more than three years old.  Despite their age, they were having quite the profound disagreement, and I recognized it as one I've had many times over the years.  And it made me think of the way the Catholic church approaches the modern world.

Brunette:  Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!
Blonde:  Nooooooooo!



Orel said...

It's nice to see the U.S. hasn't cornered the market on bureaucracy. Great trip report, Erin.

Bruce Paine said...

The Vatican is also the heir to the western Roman Empire, hence the abundance of Egyptian art. Egypt and Italy were always vast trade aprtners as well because the Italian farmers were rather poor at growing cereal grains and did not have access to arable land on the scale of the Nile River delta. One of the other interesting things of note you can find in the Vatican is artifacts from Constantinople. The 4th Crusade sacked the city in 1203 using floating siege towers to attack the weaker seas walls (The land walls of Constantinople were indomitable until the canon became a battlefield issue). Indeed, this was a Christian Crusade attacking the seat of Christian authority in the east. It is easy to damn the Catholic Church, I know I do. But from an objective point of view one must remember that they were also responsible for the development of western art after the Dark Ages and they were responsible for bringing education to the middle and working class. If they would stop pretending they are better than others, admit their falability and not harbor pedophiles they might not be so bad.