Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 29: Hello to the Pope

This morning we woke up with one objective: to get some rosaries blessed by the Pope. Dan's family is Catholic and our niece is having her first communion soon, so his mom thought it would be bangin' to get a rosary blessed by the Pope in St. Peter's Square to give her for this event. We were up to the challenge. We retrieved the car from its illicit parking location (no ticket) and Dan began swooping and diving through Rome traffic. The guy who rented us the apartment warned us that traffic on the weekend would be pretty nuts -- wow, he was right. The pedestrians in Rome do not wait for traffic: they just go. They have utter, total faith that motorists will stop. And motorists do stop, eventually, even in the middle of a roundabout. This holds its own terrors.

After driving in Rome, we learned that there are no rules. There are suggestions, given by traffic lights and street signs and whatnot. But these are not rules. The main rule is to go forward. If traffic stops moving forward, horns start honking and people start yelling. As long as traffic is moving forward, no crime offends. You can cut people off, park and get out in the middle of an intersection, stopping to chat with someone on a roundabout, pulling up on the sidewalk to get around stopped cars, wedge yourself into any spot you an fit your car into, all without criticism, AS LONG AS TRAFFIC IS MOVING. They relentlessly move. It's like a river. If rocks rise up in the river, the river runs around it.

Another cool thing we learned about Rome today was that the rumor about spring water fountains everywhere providing free, cold water to inhabitants and visitors is absolutely true. There are little fountains and spouts all over the place. All cold. All fresh. The children love this, and douse their heads and faces and hands and feet and fill up their little bottles and are happy. Thank you, Rome.

So, we were driving from the Coliseum to the Vatican City, following our GPS sort of but mostly my little Frommer's map, and we suddenly find ourselves directly in front of St. Peter's Square and looking at the Basilica! And Dan says, "I guess we better park" and then finds absolutely rock star parking right around the corner -- someone pulled out of a spot, we pulled in, we left the car, we walked like two seconds, and THERE WE WERE buying rosaries on St. Peter's Square. Unreal. The whole entire thing had a very unreal feeling, I must admit, all of it. I've seen this place on TV so many times, and in movies, and being there in the middle of it, seeing it, was otherworldly.

The Pope did the blessing from his apartment window, which was hung with a red velvet flag. When he appeared, people went crazy, waving signs and yelling like he was a rock star. It was very cool. The crowd was full of priests and nuns and other faithful Catholics, as well as spectators and generally interested people like us. He did a liturgy which we did not understand, then a blessing in Latin, and then he did what appeared to be shout-outs in all different languages. He would say something like, "Now I'm going to speak Spanish!" and a whole section of the crowd would go crazy. Then he'd say, "Now I'm going to speak German!" and another section would erupt. And I think he was mentioning groups in attendance from different countries. I have my doubts about the whole concept of "Pope" especially historically speaking, but he sounded like a very sweet, nice little old man, and I get that people refer to the Pope as "Papa" and sort of love him like a grandpa. Which is fine. Why not?

After we'd finished with that and made our way back to the car and through a HUGE traffic jam full of massive tour buses, we zoomed home and parked in another illicit place. Dan put his bike together and went out for the 5 1/2 hour bike ride that he had scheduled. The kids and I hung out here, me doing laundry and hanging it out the window, the kids resting and recharging in their various ways they do that, including a massive, overflowing bubble bath in the huge jacuzzi tub in this awesome apartment. When Dan got home, we went out to look for dinner and fell for a little place with tables out on the sidewalk where we could look directly at the coliseum all through the meal -- appealing! The food wasn't the greatest but the wait staff was very accommodating and entertaining, and all in all we did alright for day 1.

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