Date: Thursday, September 10, 1998
Location: Museo Vaticano, Cività, Florence

Breakfast:  Same as yesterday.

We walk over to the line for entry to the Vatican Museum.  Suddenly, I realize that I've forgotten our binoculars!  I dash back to the hotel to retrieve them, and return in time to catch our group at the end of the line.  The museum opens and we enter through a large double-helix staircase (this is in the tower that is visible from the hotel).

It's humbling to be able to view such an amazing collection of art and artifact, spanning 3,000 years, Such as

  • an unwrapped female Egyptian mummy and her beautifully preserved wooden coffin and lid, dated from 1,000 BC
  • the incredible original Greek sculpture of the Trojans' god, Laocoön, and his sons, as they lose their battle with the serpent
  • the Greek torso that Michelangelo may have used as his model for Jesus i the Sistine Chapel's Last Judgment fresco
  • cuneiform ledgers, Egyptian gods, etruscan artifacts, Roman knockoffs, Nero's outdoor fountain/bathtub...
At the same time, I can't help being disgusted by the message that is woven around this magnificent collection.  The message is that Christianity, and particularly the Catholic sect as driven by Caesar's successor and God's conduit, transcends and subsumes all.  The message is sometimes subtle, as implied by the very existence of the collection (ala the message implied by the British Museum's collection).  More often, it is no more subtle than a McDonalds advertisement, with homages to various popes printed everywhere.

As an atheist, it is natural for me to see this entire complex as a titanic propaganda machine, with the Museum appealing to the intellect, and St. Peter's appealing to the spirit.  I can only be thankful for the elements of good that were spawned by this leviathan, e.g., the inspiration and support it provided for artistic geniuses such as Michelangelo and Rafael.

I start losing interest after seemingly interminable room after room designed to celebrate the omnificence of this religion...

...until Gene lays out the story of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.  (He seems to identify with Michelangelo, to some degree.)  In any event, he brings the [Agony and the Ecstasy] story to life, and does an excellent job of preparing us to see the Sistine Chapel.

I have to admit, the chapel is incredible.  I hadn't realized that the "God Creates Man" panel is but one of many.  The entire ceiling and Last Judgment appear to have completed the repair process, and they have emerged in fabulous color.  Brigid and I study the ceiling and Judgment for 20 minutes, sharing the binoculars.  It's amazing to be enclosed by such work, but any real study can be done with reproductions, such as those in a "limited edition" book that Brig bought a bit earlier, in a gift area of one of the museum rooms, after a very fine sales job.

The Chapel is packed, and this crowd is typical.  Despite signs and periodic announcements that all photography and speech are forbidden, occasional flashes go off, and the noise level increases until an attendant claps loudly, to remind people of the requirement for silence.  Our camera remains in my pocket.  Professional photographers can do an infinitely better job than I.

After a little more walking past exhibits (including Verazanno's 1521 (?) map of the world (India is too small, and southeast Asia too large!), Brig shops a little more.  No sale this time.  We return to the hotel for a picnic lunch prepared by Rick and Gene:

  • pickled olives;
  • olives in oil, pepper, and garlic (yum!);
  • celery and carrot crudité;
  • cheese, mushroom, and ham pizzas;
  • assorted fruit:
    • watermelon,
    • prune plums,
    • yellow plums (very good!),
    • yellow and red pears,
    • grapes
What, no more fruscatti?  (Just kidding!)

Civita de Bagnioregio, an Italian hill town.The bridge/donkeypath/scooter highway to Civita.And we're back on the bus. This time, we're headed to Cività de Bagnoregio.  This is a very nice contrast to the interminable activity of Rome.  We hike through Bagnoregio, and up to Cività.  After that warm climb, we dribble into the town's gelateria, just past the town gate.  (New flavor:  pomelo!)

Harvesting almonds (the other nun was above, shaking the tree).We find some nice views and country sounds (including cowbells from far below).  Gene and Rick decide to wait for a public bus to take them back to the parking lot (it never comes, so they end up walking).  We walk back.  Along the way, we encounter a couple of nuns, cheerfully harvesting almonds.  They invite us to share, and shyly agree to a photograph.  (We took a handful of the almonds.  The kernels were slightly shriveled, but tasty.)

Da bus!Back to the bus for a quick trip to Angelino's country inn.  A glass of local vino, red or white, is L1,000 ($0.60).  You want a Coke?  L3,000 ($1.80)!  The wine (I tried the red) is nothing exciting, and they know it:  it's served chilled.

Salute!Salute!Dinner is simple, but generous, and (with seemingly unlimited vino) fun:

  • bread (good, but not salted enough!);
  • penne with meat sauce ("Basta!" doesn't seem to mean much, here);
  • roast rabbit;
  • roast chicken (gee, chicken seems to taste a lot like rabbit);
  • lettuce and tomato salad;
  • cooked zucchini;
  • biscotti and sweet wine, for dessert.  You're supposed to dip the biscotti in the sweet wine.  That was too sweet for my taste.  It tasted better to me when dipped in the dry red wine.
Uh - oh!  Too much vino for this group.  They're breaking out in Deano.  I'm outa here...

I walk around the inn, and find Ling hanging around a fig tree out back.  She points out a few likely candidates she wasn't able to reach.  I pick some for her, but she claims to have had enough (and Ray is not a fig fan).  I collect 5, eat a couple (they're delicious) and share the rest with Brig and Alice on the bus...

Whoa, the photographer must have had too much vino, too...When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's...  (too much Deano!)...which is full of folks who are very full of cheap vino.  Happily, most of the mobile musical festivities are of the Motown variety, rather than Deano.  Ever the drip (Brig is so tolerant of me, lately!), I decide to nap through the rest of the party, when it turns to more recent rock (i.e., anything in the last couple of decades).

We arrive at Pensione Bretagna in Florence after a precision download on the nearby bridge.  Our room is clean and comfortable, but the plumbing needs to be blown apart and redone.  In the washbasin, the cold water is only a trickle, and there is no drain stopper.  The toilet can flush only once every 5 minutes or so, and is of the inefficient design we have seen throughout the trip (i.e., always use a toilet brush and an extra flush).  Ick.  And we haven't tried the shower yet...

Thing we ought to do when we return to Rome (when, not if -- Brig did throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain):

  • Focus on other items in the Vatican Museum.  There's an awful lot to see there;
  • Brigid would like to see more of St. Peter's, and she never did get to the dome;
  • We never did see the Cappuccin Crypt;
  • And we never got to do any window (or other) shopping;
  • Have another few cafe lunches and dinners