Thursday, December 23, 2004

# Posted 11:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

VATICAN TO CALABRIA: In my time in Europe, I have gone frequently to the Vatican; there are worse places to be a prisoner. Though the emotion of crowds in general scares me, and even at sporting or political events recalls black-and-white footage of the Anschluss, I have always enjoyed the sense of fellow-feeling among pilgrims at the Easter or Christmas papal mass.

An advantage of having contemplated the priesthood is that I have a fairly good grasp of all the responses in Latin; this is rarely useful. Yesterday was one of those rare times. I had the opportunity following the audience to approach to kiss his ring, but then a line of pilgrims in wheelchairs appeared instantly, out of nowhere, and immediately in front of me; I considered elbowing, or rolling, them out of the way, but suspected this might contravene some finer point of Vatican ettiquete. This is the third time I have been able to see this pontiff; I cannot expect that I will see him again.

Travelling south from Rome to Calabria, as the fashion declines, the random acts of friendliness begin, a process which one can even witness on the inside of a train. Just south of Naples, a Calabritana working in Milan approaches me to say I clearly must not be a Calabritano because I am reading a book, and would I like to join them in their compartment? They then proceed to give me all of their food. (No small mercy, as the night before I had been up until 3 am fulfilling my vow of covering every street of Rome by foot, and upon waking rushed straightaway from my elevator-shaft to the Vatican.) Due to my own considerable stupidity and a faint similarity between the words puglizie and policia, I shared a conversation with my puzzled benefactress, a cleaner, about which pistols she preferred.
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