Stout & Large do Rome - Two

The next morning, all is very much not well with the world. Fragmented memory throws up the following facts:

a) Another bottle of wine then followed

b) It then apparently made perfect sense to go find an Irish bar and drink Guinness in copious amounts

c) We were watching showjumping loudly in said bar with the sort of fervour people normally reserve for rugby matches. Go on my son, etcetera

d) Something or other involving a spilled pint involves us linking up with two excellent Irish lads, one of whom is a bit of a Rush fan and a drummer to boot, which obviously means we are now blood brothers and inseparable

e) I then got refused entry to a club for being drunk which, considering I was in the company of three ratarsed Irish people, means I was probably approaching Olympic levels of inebriation

f) That will explain the headache, and

g) Wracked with feelings of hungover remorsefulness, it therefore makes perfect sense to go to the Vatican

The Wailing Wall might cram in more guilt per metre, but the Catholics really know how to make you feel insignificant: not so much compared to the glory of God, but more to the glory of the Catholic Church itself. The giant Piazza San Pietro with its 240 columns and 140 saints is a stunning public space hundreds of metres across, one side of which is reserved for a mini theme park stylee recreation of purgatory. Lines of tourists stand in the baking heat (mid 30s since you ask) while they queue to go through the metal detectors and bag scanners and decorum police at the entrance. The scanners seem to close on a fairly random basis, meaning you get shuffled from one to another in a sweaty mass of increasingly disgruntled peoples from all countries in the world. ‘Think this is bad?’ goes the subtext, ‘you really, really don’t want to go to the place with the pointy sticks and the brimstone down below. Have you been to confession recently?’.

As a lapsed Catholic of long-standing, Kate daren’t in case the priest she talks to spontaneously combusts and, as bit of a wishy-washy semi-Buddhist, I’m disqualified on theological grounds and smelling of the wrong sort of incense, so we make do with wandering round St Peter’s Basilica. It’s giant and it’s impressive, full of some of the most monumental works of religious art I’ve ever seen. The strange thing is it never feels holy. Some of the South American cathedrals – where I wandered round without forgetting my bag anywhere I would just like to point out – for all their sumptuous ornateness felt like churches – felt like places where people worshipped. This just felt all about power and prestige rather than piety.

More tortured religious similes are available next door at the Vatican Museum where, to get to the motherlode of the Sistine Chapel, you have to walk past pretty much every other exhibit there. See? This ascending to join the choir immortal ain’t easy, you know. But the journey is worthwhile as it takes you past some fascinating Roman statuary, a couple of pieces of really nice modern art and, of course, more bling than you can shake a good-sized stick at. The Chapel itself is crowded and fairly stupendous, the biggest hazard being walking into other people with their heads craned back and gawping at the ceiling and the frescoes that cover every square centimetre of the wall. Strangest thing is the waves of shushing that break out and flow across the space. Big signs say Silencio! This is a holy spot, but every five minutes the background murmur rises to a conversation level and one of the officials makes a loud shushing sound that is taken on by everybody around them and silence reigns for about as long as it says someone to say ‘Cor, will you look at that’. Which, as you’re standing within one of the greatest works of art in the Western world, isn’t long at all...

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