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Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's Probably the Pope

A few days ago I decided to walk into an area of Rome I have never been to before. I took a map, extra clothes, sunglasses, my camera, provisions (water, a banana, bread and cheese, a bottle of wine... okay, not really the botle of wine) and headed north-ish from Piazza San Giovanni, along Via Murilana toward the Spanish Steps. In a roundabout kind of way. This is one of my favorite things to do here -- walking with no real plan, taking a turn now and then if something looks interesting, and eventually ending up in some area of the city I know. (This sort of backfired on me one day earlier in the week... but we won't talk about the four mile detour or the length of time it took me to walk back to where I thought I was going, or why I didn't take the metro. At least not now.)

So anyhow, there I was, walking north-ish. I found a Museum of Oriental Art (meaning Muslim and Middle Eastern) which I of course made note of to go back to when I could devote enough time to it. Then I found a Museum of Ancient Art... ditto. Then I ran smack into the piazza around Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the most famous churches in Rome. I oohed and ahhed around the outside for a while, then walked around the numerous barriers toward the open 30-feet-tall doors. Barriers. Hmmm.

I reached the doors and suddenly it occurred to me that they also had barriers around them and I couldn't get inside. Many men were working on setting up a sound stage and a sound system, as though for a concert. I thought 'cool, I get to hear some great Italian music in a cool church.' I waited around for a while for the music to start and then finally figured it was taking too long, and left. (I have been to Rome three times and have yet to see the inside of that church.)

Much later that day, after successfully finding the Spanish Steps, a music store where I bought the soundtrack to the movie 'Amelie' (don't ask me, I don't know why), and eating prosciutto and buffalo mozzarela in a restaurant off the Via del Corso, I walked home. I arrived in Piazza San Giovanni (where my apartment is) just as evening was settling over Rome, and lo and behold, at the church in the piazza, the same guys were setting up the same sound stage and the same sound system and barriers! I thought, hey, cool, I get to hear the cool Italian music in a DIFFERENT cool old church.'

As I walked closer, I indeed heard exquisite music -- very rich, very harmonious, very (of course) Catholic, gorgeous music -- coming from inside. I stopped walking, bought a gelato and sat down at a table along the street and listened, quite content.

The music went on for quite some time. I heard my fill, went to my apartment and worked while the music continued drifting up past my 5th-floor apartment window. Eventually, it faded... faded... and was gone.

Then the bells starting ringing.

It was a beautiful night and I was content, very glad I had after all gotten to hear the music I had missed out on earlier by being impatient.

The next day I read the paper (in Italian!) and found out that the pope... the very pope himself, the German one... had actually done a procession between the two churches, accompanied by the music... which was actually a famous opera singer accompanied by probably a full orchestra. The procession was apparently quite beautiful, and rather exciting to see.

In other words, the pope walked past my apartment, followed by a famous opera star and an orchestra -- and for all I know, the Italian football team -- and I missed it.

So the moral of the story is... when in Rome, when you see barriers and a sound stage being assembled at a church... wait around for a while.

It's probably the pope.


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