Voyaging to the Vatican

This morning’s cappuccino is good… There’s no need to add anything. There’s a good coffee taste there, the foam is slightly sweet, and there’s a subtle chocolate undertone which offsets the overall coffee flavour. Yum.

Now we are walking around the perimeter of the walls of the Vatican. It looks built to keep people out…

The Vatican Museums look extremely well crafted, designed to provide visitors with a certain type of experience – aesthetic and historical wonder? The word for the entrance is ‘veneered’: it is nicely finished, cool and grey and white and marble, a relief from the heat and crowds outside. Luckily for is there is nearly no queue (it takes all of 7 minutes to queue for a ticket, we counted), despite what all the guides saying ‘skip the line’ outside would have you believe.

We see the Chiaramonti Museum, a long corridor filled with sculptures and busts and statues. It is amazing! Over a thousand pieces, all these different materials used for different people. One wonders if certain materials are better suited for people of different temperaments. A pink marble sculpture for a noble lady of cool demeanor? Probably there’s more to do with how you get pink marble but the possibilities of the layers of meaning of that are infinite. These statues speak of power and relationships, for who but the rich could commission such works? Even the most talented and selfless artists need patrons for resources. Is this the final conclusion – that the production of art is shaped by money (a very hasty generalization)? One certainly hopes not.

Statutes and sculptures are cool because there’s the whole 3D layer of meaning. Why some things are more pronounced, more detailed. More scope for dynamic movement. I like friezes, there’s a hive of activity going on within the frozen stone, a message of movement eternally stored in the immovable mass of material.

The Sala Rotunda is huge and impressive. A cavernous hemispherical vault filled with larger than life statues of the Pantheon. An enormous red porphyry bowl spanning 13 meters in circumference sits in the middle. It is huge and looks like it would be good for a bubble bath. Whoops. The gods of the Romans and their emperors look down haughtily upon the mortal masses who pass through. Hercules gazes down upon those who would dare enter his presence… The floor is a super intricate mosaic, superb in detail and carefully striated in colour. The ancients were indeed great! It is now as I behold all these works that I comprehend the meaning of ‘larger than life’ and ‘placed upon a pedestal’. The raw sense of power and majesty that radiates from these statues. Oh my!

There’s a gallery of maps of Italy. Looking at the degree of detail on these hand painted masterpieces it begs the question of how did ancient cartographers map the world? Paper and pen and pack and legs? Wow! To be a real explorer, without GPS and flight…

The Sistine Chapel is awe-inspiring, yet sort of tainted by the touristy mess that enters and leaves. But the artwork that covers the walls and ceiling is tremendous. Everything done in meticulous and loving detail. There’s an undercurrent of bubbling murmured conversation which is terribly irreverent though, and it is magnified by the depths of the hall. But for all the faults of humanity it is still a magnificent place. One leaves with a sense of contemplative wonder, still not daring to utter a sound.

Saint Peter’s Square is huge yet airy. Certainly a place for an enormous assembly, and the appearance of the Pope from an elevated position certainly stands him in literal good stead to address the crowd. It is light and delightful, not quite the solemn pomp that I expected. The obelisk stands in the middle, 4000 years old…it’s age speaks for itself. The columns are enormous and imperious. Strength of the earth, truly welcoming the masses into the rhetorical ‘arms of Mother Church’.

Dinner is more spaghetti: mushrooms ham cheese bacon, tomato cream sauce. Comes served with basil flakes and grated Parmesan. Large substantial chunks of meaty ham. Little crumbly bits of minced pork. Creamy and filling, this is soul food. Tomato cream isn’t easy to get right, but they do it just nice! Tartness offset by the creamy sweetness of it all. My vocabulary is slightly reduced because my tongue is using up all my brainpower, processing how good it is. The earthy touch of the mushrooms complete the homely feel of it all.

Dessert is lemon tart. It arrives, as all dessert should be, as a work of art. Built on a dense biscuit base, then a layer of lemon cream, and topped with a beautiful glazed lemon meringue. The meringue is sweet and delightfully fluffy, while still retaining a hint of lemony-ness. The top of the meringue is especially sweet, and the brown bits are crispy, ooh! Lemon cream is good and sour (though I would prefer it to be ultra sour), and it has a good thick texture, creamy and just a bit sticky. One of the better lemon tarts I’ve ever eaten.

We chance across this mega good gelateria. Gelateria La Romana, on the Via Flavia in Rome. Since 1947. Oh my. It is the most wonderful handmade confection sweet buttery smooth delicate indulgent extravagantly wonderful omnomnom gelato I have ever tried oooooooh


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