All Roads Lead…

Up early this morning I bid a wistful farewell to Bologna. I have little left to see here from a tourist’s perspective, but that is no longer why I visit. There is something unique about her presence, her age, her vitality, her smallness. And her tangible, palpable, real-ness. This is a place where people live and work in an industry that doesn’t focus on tourists.

The train whisks me away to Rome, which is immediately a much more massive city. She sprawls incoherently, her streets contorting at odd angles, her entire being a contradiction, as she is a boggling jumble of ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque, and modern. I check into the B & B and hurry off to a place that tugs at my heart. It centers me in this city. A visit to Rome without a visit to the Pantheon would be incomplete.

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The age of this building, like so many here, is incomprehensible. In the history of the earth and universe 1900 years is but a blip. But it dwarfs our lifetimes and baffles our ability to process it. It is an extraordinary structure.

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I redirect my course now, angling toward St Peter’s. On the way I decide I should lunch andthus look for pizza, instead stopping at a casual restaurant and having artichokes. They are light, delicious, and perfect. I’ve been eating offensive amounts of food and I needed to slow down. There is also wonderful flatbread on the table. The pair makes for a lovely lunch

And finally my footsteps guide me across the Tiber to St Peter’s where they are preparing the square for Easter (nb St Peter’s square is more round than square). I push my way past some obese Germans (Germans are getting more American all the time) and pass through the security check so I can enter the cathedral. I’ve been here before but it still astounds. This time I find something new and walk through the crypt underneath, and am surprised to find there are also some queens buried there. Who knew?

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I stop in the gift shop and notice people buying things with the image of Pope Francis as well as John Paul. They ignore Benedict. I wonder how he will be viewed by history, but suspect that in the end history will mostly overlook him and find that the popes who preceded and followed him were/will have been more important. I wonder if on some level Benedict recognized his inability to lead the church at this time. That must be a difficult thing to acknowledge. And courageous – the most courageous act of his papacy.

Next stop is Castel Sant’Angelo. Originally built as a mausoleum (Hadrian?) it was later converted into a papal fortress. Now it is a museum. I drift among her halls and rooms and terraces, looking at the canons she had armed against the world. At the uppermost level, the view of Rome invokes awe.

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I realize, starkly now, how strong the pope once was, and how little of the former power the papacy maintains.

The streets of Rome beckon and I am lost in them, eventually finding a rest at the Spanish Steps before meeting S and D for dinner.

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