I was finally there ! Standing under the largest mural in the world – The walls and ceiling of Capella Sistina (The Sistine Chapel) of the St. Peter’s Basilica done by none other than the inimitable Michelangelo. This was a special little story for little ol’ me.
I was seventeen then, but I had wanted to visit the Sistine Chapel since I was fifteen. At High School (Class X) my English textbook was called “Figments of Imagination” – a compilation of short stories, one of which was called “Michelangelo” by Gulzar. Maybe, the story was fictional but it was a captivating piece of storytelling; what could have happened the long four years it took for Michelangelo to complete those Frescoes esp. his tumultuous relationship with Pope Julius II. (More on Michelangelo here: http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Michelangelo.html#b)
In Gulzar’s story, the reason for the long delay in Michelangelo’s completing the project was because he could not draw the face of Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth disciple who betrayed Christ. When he finally finds his model he is shocked to learn that the man is the same who when a boy, Michelangelo had sketched to give the face of Infant Jesus!!!
I wrote a number of essay type answers on that story for my exam; I must have read it a couple of hundred times. But when we went to Rome the first time that summer – Alas! we could not visit the Sistine Chapel. The line was some 2 km, and being part of a hideous group European tour, my mother and I were supposed to see Rome in a grand total of 8 hours!
A disgrace for a city that I realised was a treasure chest for Art, Culture, History, Architecture, Fashion, the works. So we decided we shall visit again – and soon!
So Mom and I, take a few days extra to return to India – an EasyJet from London to Rome – a one way ticket of 44Pounds, but the flight got cancelled or delayed both times. A common story with budget airlines is to have people of all sizes and shapes at the airline counter screaming,pointing fingers and yelling at the poor soul standing there; but perfect to forge new friendships with perfect strangers for the teleos of demanding a refund for bad airline practices is one of those universal travel truths!
Mom and I did a clever thing, we stayed with her colleague who was a Diplomat in the Embassy, which put us right in the heart of the city. The driver was an Bangladeshi chappie who spoke fluent Italian, we would ask him to drop at a point in the morning and pick us up at the exact same point at 4 pm! He would de-brief us about the various sights and structures within a 3 km walking radius. So the three days that we spared for Roma, she showered us with abundance.
Rome or Roma is a walkable city (not unlike most cities in Europe) but what I enjoyed about it was there was no pre-requisite of silence on the streets unlike other quaint capitals around Europe. The Italians love gesticulating and are loud and colorful quite like my countrymen! The streets have movement and there are quirky bits of chaos in the order within it . Bus tickets and tram tickets were available only at Tobacco sellers, random people compliment each other on clothes and shoes, we even saw women in six-inch heels comfortably walking down Via Del Corso with every intention of walking up and down a minimum of six times to finalize their ‘window-shopping’!
We met Emily , an American who stood near the ruins at the Colosseum and was otherwise studying civilizations at a local University -she offered free tours by the day and conducted a Sunset tour of Rome for Euro 20 each evening. She knew snippets of stories, pieced together – they traced the history of the city from the day Romulus built it on seven hills to Mussolini’s March for Fascism across Europe.
And the architecture – the Victor Emmanuel monument, the Vatican, the Colosseum, Galleria Borghese, Fontana di Trevi, Churches, Piazzas, Statues – they each spell it out clearly – this city was the cradle of civilizations past and present!
You can stand in front of each of them – and keep looking above – awestruck!!!
To actually pay a tribute to the city’s aesthetic – an anecdote ::
We passed one beautiful building, a burnished brown with archways and wrought carvings and asked Pablo the city-bus driver, “What building is this?” frantically checking the Italian map to see if we missed something . He coolly replies ,”It is apartment, signora !”