Thursday, 11 February 2010

Strano, ma interessante

Last time I went to Rome it was from Bologna. It struck me then that I preferred Bologna, with its compact centre, its portici so easy for the walker, and its clear and efficient bus system. But I think Rome has reexerted its pull today, through its sheer glorious anythingness. As we walked from the private Catholic university where we are having our conference towards our accommodation in the Vatican we cut through St Peter’s square, where many people were singing Salve regina and holding little candles. Suddenly they all started waving their handkerchiefs like crazy and the pope appeared at a very far window. There was something oddly touching about this tiny tiny figure so high up and far away – though we could see him clearly on a large TV screen down at our level. He said a prayer for the sick, and then blessed us, and the nuns waved and waved.

We managed to find someone who told us what it was about – it was for the sick, she said. Then fireworks started over the southern curve of columns. They went on and on, in inventive forms with multitudinous colours, and huge bangs that reverberated back and forwards across the square. They didn’t stop for a surprisingly long time. I don’t remember when I last saw such a display – it was a good deal more impressive than the several times I have been to the Lord Mayor’s fireworks in London.

One of our party, an American-Italian lexicographer, said her Catholic mother would be absolutely thrilled that she was blessed by the pope (a moment I managed to capture on my camera phone). It occurred to me then that the whole spectacle would most probably have depressed my mother severely. If she were thinking of something to do for the sick then she would start with prayer, but I doubt her next move would be a firework display which I just cannot believe could have come in under several tens of thousands of pounds. Visits would be more her style, helping to take people out, reading letters for blind friends, and talking to the lonely however difficult they may be – these are things which my mother, of whom I am proud, makes an effort to do. And I must say that the papal way did seem odd to me, when we’re so used to fireworks as celebrations – “there’s loads of sick people in the world – let’s make some noise!” Like the pharisees said, the money could have been spent on other things, and as a general rule I couldn't myself take part in the strange exuberances of Roman Catholicism. But it’s still quite joyful to stumble across them unexpectedly at dusk.

The white speck in the window on the top floor, second from the right, is the pope:

Here are some nuns watching fireworks:

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