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The Vatican

I should start by saying that I’m not Catholic, nor am I at all religious. I would also tell you that its impossible to visit the Vatican and not be a bit overwhelmed at what religion can do. A bus drops Louise and me off across the river Tiber from the Vatican. As we walk across, we are accosted by street vendors selling everything from cheap paper hats to ladies’ kerchiefs. We need one of those, since ladies are not permitted to show bare shoulders in the Vatican no matter how attractive those shoulders might be. Looking around, it occurs to me that cleavage is not a problem, but let’s cover up those shoulders, girls. Louise and I have a Go To The Front Of The Line ticket, which also provides us with a tour guide to try and explain the unexplainable to us. It seems to be almost half a mile to get to the front of the line, and we pass literally thousands of people who didn’t spend the extra twenty euros to avoid standing in the hot sun in a line that’s not moving. We of the privileged few who have an extra couple of euros head right to the front, just in time to join the thousands of other people trying to get in. We follow our guide and elbow our way into the Vatican. There are actually fifty-four museums in the Vatican, and if you lined up all of the artwork it would stretch over nine miles. That’s a lot of artwork, no matter how you figure it. That works out to about 70,000 works of art, most of which are priceless. I don’t care who you are, no one can absorb that much art in a couple of hours. I certainly couldn’t. When we got to the Sistine Chapel all I could think was Yeah, yeah, yeah, another painted ceiling by some guy named Michael, or as the Italians call him, Mr. Angelo. By the time we get to St. Peter’s Cathedral I’m jaded enough to say to Louise that I don’t need to see it because I’ve seen St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and as everyone knows, if you’ve seen one cathedral you’ve seen them all. I wait outside for her while she wanders around staring at everything with her mouth open. I will say this: the bathrooms at the Vatican are among the cleanest I have ever seen. I guess I should have expected that since the Catholics tell us that cleanliness is next to godliness. I will admit that I did go outside St. Peter’s, stand at the railing overlooking St. Peter’s Square, and imagined myself giving the Christmas service. I spread my arms as I imagined the cheering crowd and solemnly nodded my head in an implied blessing. I would have been one hell of a pope. After our massive dose of Catholicism, we need refreshment. We find a lovely little restaurant off a side street and plop ourselves down at a sidewalk table. Cappuccino for Louise and Diet Coke for me. I know the waiter’s looking down his nose at me for drinking Diet Coke, but I really don’t care. It comes in genuine glass bottles, and there’s no better way to serve a Coke than in a glass bottle. Italy is truly civilized. Its really not about the Romans, the food, the beauty of the land, etc. Its about Diet Coke in a bottle. It’s the simple things that really matter. Back to our Hop On, Hop Off bus, where we can ride around the city and get on or off whenever we want. In about an hour we drive by the Vatican, the Palazzo Venezia, a bunch of fountains, uncountable statues, the Spanish Steps (which really are just a bunch of steps), the Coliseum, the Forum, Circus Maximus, and a lot of other stuff I can’t even remember. There are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants, almost all of which advertise pizza. It’s time for me to speak a little bit about food in Rome. If you think you’ve eaten Italian food in the United States, trust me, you haven’t. The worst restaurant we ate in while in Italy was as good as or better than anything I’ve eaten in America. The pizza is crisp with very little sauce or cheese, and not at all greasy. This isn’t Dominos, and you simply can’t stop eating it. It’s that good. We watch them build fires in the brick ovens in the morning so they can start making pizza for lunch. Cooking pizza in a nine-hundred-degree brick oven is rare to find in America. So if you know of a place that does that, please let me know. A small restaurant up the street was recommended for lunch, so we grabbed a table and ordered a couple of beers. I decide to go simple and order spaghetti al Ragu, which is simply spaghetti with meat sauce. Louise orders mussels with pasta, and we watch the people and traffic go by while sipping our beers. The food arrives and it looks like a masterpiece. One taste and I know I’ve never in my life had pasta like this. Just barely covered in sauce and only tiny amounts of meat, it is simply the best-tasting spaghetti I have ever had. It even beats Franco American canned spaghetti! If you’ve read my blogs you know that Franco American is at the top of the spaghetti food chain in my opinion, but I have to say, spaghetti in Rome is even better than that. Throw in a little crusty bread with some EVOO and I will stay there all day and eat until I explode. I almost did, but Louise said we have to get moving and climb more stairs to work off lunch. It was purely by chance that I discovered that a high school classmate of mine was going to be in Rome at the same time. We were able to connect through Facebook and made arrangements to meet that night for dinner. Another wonderful Italian restaurant and several bottles of wine allowed us to catch up on several missing decades. His wife was an absolute delight, and the four of us got along as if we’d known each other for years. It was a magical night, and we all agreed to stay in touch. Perhaps they’ll come visit us should they ever return to Cape Cod. I think we should all make a point of getting together every forty or fifty years no matter what.


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