Ripped Off by a Nun: The Vatican

13 December, 2011

I will never complain about Queensland Transport ever again. The Rome Metro is most probably the training ground for contortionists and any other profession which involves squeezing into very tight places. There are so many people there’s little need to hold onto any of the railings – you’re squished so tight you can’t move anyway.

It’s strange when the metro doors open and you’re confronted by a wall of people. I didn’t know whether I should move down and try another carriage or what. Instead what appears to be the norm is walking into the wall of people and just hoping that passengers are able to shuffle slightly to give you enough room to stand. I imagine this is usually done by someone sitting on the lap of a fellow stranger, an emergency liposuction or just someone losing their fight against the tide of people and being crushed to death.

I was skeptical about walking into the wall. The native guy next to me just walked into it and stood there. I mimicked his moves. ‘When in Rome one must do as Romans do.’ Of course, my concern here is that the doors would close and capture me inside them. This would be a sad state of affairs for myself, my family and the Griffith University insurance policy covering me. I actually did survive though (sorry if that counts as spoiler)

The next stop was Termini Station, which I think is the main train station. Lots of people were shuffling uncomfortably, the tide changing as the wave of people were about to come crushing out of the train – and I was right in their way. As the doors opened I tried to push against the tide, contort myself amongst the people by moving on my side. The amount of people was just too strong. Suddenly, I’m out of the train due to the colossal tsunami of people which have exited. I quickly jumped back inside. Being able to actually breathe was such a pleasant feeling.

I was catching the train on my way to the Vatican. I shouldn’t say ‘train’ because it’s metro, but I really don’t understand the difference, so you’re just going to have to go along with me there.

I was excited for the Vatican. Rome is full of Nuns and Priests. They’re everywhere. Imagine how the Gold Coast feels in Summer when there are a lot of Japanese tourists – but the Japanese tourists are actually men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving the teachings of Jesus Christ and God etc. etc. When I’d gotten lost on my first day in Rome, I found a church which was surrounded by a gaggle of Priests. It was weird. Felt very Da Vinci Code-ish.

Already late for my tour when I arrived at the Vatican, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to make it. Fortunately my group were all late, so I was able to get together with them quite easily.

Entering the Vatican is kind of like going through border security – which it essentially is. You have to take off your bags and put them through scanners. Everything’s very anti-terrorist/anti-assassin like. There are so many amazing things in the Vatican Museums. There are things which are so old it’s ridiculous. There were these lion/cat statue things which were ancient Egyptian, from around 2000BC apparently. Caesar brought them to Rome after he’d stabby stab stabbed peeps in Egypt. So many very ancient statues. Magnificent paintings. The ceilings were a treat in and upon themselves. At points they looked completely 3D. It was amazing. I could talk about a billion things, but really you have to go there. I think you could spend a year just looking through everything inside the Vatican Museums.

My favourite parts were the Raphael tapestries and the Sistine Chapel. The Raphael tapestries are a bunch of incredibly old tapestries made long ago. Each of them show a biblical image, except for one which shows Caesar being stabbed to death. The Raphael tapestries are hung in the Sistine Chapel when Conclave is held. That’s when the Cardinals vote for a new Pope. At the front of the Chapel during that vote is by far the most impressive of the tapestries. It basically shows Jesus standing there being all Christly. The freaky thing about this tapestry though is the eyes of Jesus. They follow you around the room. You walk past the tapestry watching the eyes and it’s weird. It’s freaky as shiz. Just amazing work. That way, no matter where a Cardinal is sitting, Jesus is watching him as he casts his vote for Pope. Epic stuff.

It was stitched to make it do that – I obviously say that to stop people from thinking the tapestry is possessed or something.

The Sistine Chapel is the Pope’s personal churchy-thing. He goes there and does his whole prayerstuff on Sundays. No one cares about that though, the real #winning feature of the Sistine Chapel are the amazing frescoes which line the walls and ceiling. Most of these painted by Michelangelo, they feature different scenes from the bible and paintings of the disciples. It’s an awesome room. People aren’t allowed to talk in there and photography isn’t allowed. Photos aren’t allowed because the Vatican sold the photographic rights to it. They did this in exchange for the company paying for the cleaning of the ceiling in the 80s/90s. The place had been covered in black smoke after a hundred or so years of candle smoke. Interesting stuff.

The best part about the paintings is the story behind it. How Michelangelo never wanted to paint it in the first place, but was forced to do it. He was conned into it by a guy who wanted to ruin his sculpting career. He also painted in some funky things which differed from biblical teachings: in his painting Adam is handing the apple to Eve. Also, he painted a conservative cardinal who said his paintings were bad as the devil, complete with a snake biting his groin. It was just so good in so many ways.

Of course, after seeing all this beauty you only see more when you enter St Peter’s church – the biggest church in the world. It’s massive. Unbelievably so. Complete with the tomb of St Peter, Pope John Paul II and the body of another Pope. This guy died a while ago, but his ‘body’ is in remarkably good condition. As in, in basically just looks like the guy is sleeping. The Church says this is because ‘holy people’s bodies last longer.’ I am almost completely certain the body’s wax though. It doesn’t look right.

The Church is incredibly high, with giant golden latin words lining the upper walls. Incredible amounts of gold. Everywhere. Golden altars. Golden freakin’ everything. My Grandparents have always been quite devout Catholics. I’m certain my Grandmother still sends off regular donations every week to the Church. My Pop used to give almost 50% of his wage to it. I wonder how much of it lines those walls. The pennies of so many people who believe in God, who wished the message to be spread – not just to ‘save’ people, but to provide benefits for people’s welfare and protect both their eternal and mortal lives. Even in Africa there seems to be a lot of Christianity – whether it’s spread by missionaries or aid organisations who are, at least in some respect, trying to help those in need.

I guess what sits on my mind is this – wouldn’t all that god damn money be better spent helping others. I understand it’s the head of a church, but does the size of a church really determine the holiness of a man? It all just makes me wonder. I felt a little bit of a sting as I left the place.

The tour then came to an end and I was free to explore for a bit. Thus came three awkward moments in quick succession.

1. The forbidden staircase

I noticed there was a statue I hadn’t taken a photo of. It was behind a couple of wooden doors with windows at the top of a set of stairs. Having quite frankly eaten my weight in Pizza and Pasta since being in Italy (ZOMFG IT’S AMAZING) I quickly hopped up the stairs. This wasn’t an entire flight of stairs or anything – there were like 8 steps – and it was outside.

I quickly ran up. It was somewhere between the 6th and final step that three Swiss guards basically started yelling ‘excuse me’/one of them said excuse me, two others said Italian mumbo-jumbo. They motioned for me to come down. Given their enthusiastic nature and ridiculous dress, I quickly complied. I did say sorry, but they need to really put a sign up or something if no one’s meant to go there.

2. The Nun

After having basically gone on Jesus’ naughty list after the stair incident I chose to get some retail therapy from the Vatican gift shop. It’s surprisingly small, but offers a lot of crucifixes, rosaries, post cards, songbooks, audio books etc. No shot glasses – which I found to be quite the disappointment. Nonetheless, I go a few souvenirs and approached the counter.

The gift shop was run by Nuns. They seemed lovely. All had a happy, smiley face. I’ve found that if I just speak in English, usually people comply. I approached the Nun who was about to serve me.

Me: Hi, how are you? =)

*Nun takes souvenirs*

*awkward look at Nun*

At this moment it became clear that the Nun couldn’t speak English. I was quite surprised.

The Nun had quite an affinity to technology. She worked out a way of communicating – a calculator.

Without speaking she added all the stuff I wanted together, then turned the calculator around for me to see. It was 20 euro. I handed her a 50 euro note.

Then she handed me back a 20 euro note. I looked at it for a moment, remembering simple mathematics and the trials and tribulations of multiple-digit multiplication. This was not enough change.

It was like everything had stopped. I imagine this is how a trauma victim feels like just before the shooter pulls the trigger.

Then she shut the till.

I had no idea what to do. I knew I had been under changed and by a large margin, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull her up on it. It’s a Nun – for the love of God. My hands were basically tied behind my back.

I turned around and left the store. I was shell-shocked. I wondered if she’d done it on purpose – she could probably get away with it with everyone. The only person who would go say something in that situation would have been an American. (no offence Americans, but you know it’s true :P ) She’s obviously pulling in the extra bucks so she can be ‘employee of the month.’ Perhaps the Pope had been aware of the plot to rip me off. He’d been watching me from the CCTV cameras, stroking a cat and bursting into a fit of laughter as he watched the 50 euro note being taken from my hands.

Either way, I was 10 euro down. Looks like you won this round, Jesus.

3. The pigeon foot

I had started taking photos out in the basilica when the conversation of two American guys behind me caught my ears:

‘Dude…is that a pigeon foot on the ground man?’

‘What man? I dunno dude.’

‘Holy BEEP man. It’s a BEEPing pigeon foot on the ground. W.T.F!?!?!?’

The look of complete confusion on this guy’s face was hilarious. I too was completely freaked out/confused when I looked where they’d been gathered.

There was indeed a pigeon foot just lying on the ground.

I don’t understand how this happens. I mean, what would you do if one of your limbs just fell off at random? It’s not like they can just resort to flying for the rest of their lives. A leg seems like a vital part of the anatomy for any creature; I don’t think the need for legs is offset by the fact you have wings. I mean, how are you going to land? I don’t want my plane to land with only one wheel, if you know what I mean.

I just probably realised this isn’t an awkward moment, more of a WTF moment. I think the awkwardness is reserved for the pigeon that visited the Vatican, but was forsaken by God and lost a limb. I’d only lost 10 euro. There’s nothing like a disabled bird to put your own suffering in perspective.




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