Rome Sabbatical – Day 12


Last night before bedtime I had one final chore which was to secure some drinking water. Yes, we have indoor plumbing but the water coming out of our faucets tastes, well, a bit flat and a bit off. Rome is known for its water, having long ago secured fresh water for its entire city to the extent that on nearly every block there is a drinking fountain of free flowing water. Each day as we are rambling through the city I keep two nalgene water bottles with me and as need arises find a spigot or some other drinking fountain that is flowing and fill them up. The water is clear, cold and happily tasteless.

The water out of our kitchen sink, however, is tepid and just seems a bit heavy with minerals. This brings me around to last night’s chore. In spite of all our walking and an over-the-top meal of hamburgers and fries I took one final walk for the day and found one of those drinking fountains and filled up a one liter water bottle for us to keep in the fridge. Sure, I could have just bought some water from the store, but why buy when Rome offers it free and in abundance? Plus, I felt sort of like the old farmer of bygone days going out to the well to secure what every household and every person must have in order to live – water!

When I see things out and about I no longer depend on my middle-aged, “ADD” memory to assist me in recalling them when I sit down to write. Instead I rely on my little blue notebook that I keep in my shirt pocket. Here are a couple of recent entries: On June 12 while walking to meet up with the college group we spied an African lady in what I assume was her traditional garb of bright yellow cloth. She was singing and dancing and smiling and apparently thoroughly enjoying herself in the presence of a sidewalk full of tourists and citizens. It is at these times one has to make a decision to either walk over to the other side of the street and thereby avoiding an encounter or plunge ahead and see what is going on with her. We plunged ahead.

Soon we spotted the tell-tale signs of a sign and a basket for donations. What was interesting was that she did not look or act like a typical panhandler. She was not downcast or sick. Neither did she directly accost anybody for money. The sign simply said: “I am Poor, but Happy! God bless you.” Indeed, God did through her.

Another site occurred just a few days ago when I was in a hurry to make it to the bus stop. A monk (to no great surprise this city is filled with monks), was evidently in a greater hurry. He zoomed by with his crucifix swaying on a pair of roller blades! Apparently the Rule of St. Benedict says nothing about roller blades. I loved the image and now regret that I did not grab my camera in time enough to snap his picture. If you can imagine this, it is worth the image!

Amy and I spent the morning in the Trastevere section of Rome. The boys elected to stay back at the apartment, apparently having grown weary of wandering aimlessly through alleys, piazzas, and watching me glance at my map trying to figure out where, exactly, we are at the moment. I left the a few euros for lunch, keys to the apartment and they had the run of the neighborhood for the next few hours.

Meanwhile Amy and I visited the Saturday market at Campo de Fiori. What a beautiful visage of stall after stall filled with seasonable fruits and vegetables, as well as sellers of pasta, olive oils, vinegars, meats and cheeses. We rummaged through piles of trinkets and other stuff that we contemplated taking home. Of course the last thing our crowded bookshelves need are more things to pile up in front of the books.

We returned to Santa Maria of Trastevere – one of Rome’s oldest churches – because I wanted to make a few “rubbings” from the fragments of stone from early Christian catacomb burial niches embedded in its portico. Many of the fragments contain early symbols of the Christian faith like birds, olive branches, and variations of the “chi rho.” Amy and I took a break for lunch and instead of experimenting with a new place, decided to stick with a place we knew served great brick oven pizza, “La Poeta.” I ordered a soft salami bruschetta, which came out looking like raw sausage, but tasted delicious. Amy stuck with a traditional mushroom and tomato sauce pizza, while chose one topped with sheep cheese milk and pancetta. It was a delicious meal.

I walked Amy back to our bus stop because I was going to walk over to the eastern side of the city to meet up with Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Shotwell for more church and art touring. A quick peck smooch at the stop and I was off and walking for the next 45 minutes or so through a winding, but surprisingly open, system of roads and alleys leading me to the Lateran section of Rome. In the Middle Ages this was the residence of the Popes, with the Basilica of San Giovanni rivaling St. Peter’s. It was not until the popes return from Avignon at the end of the 14th century did the papacy “move” to what is now called Vatican City. In fact, up until 1870 all popes were crowned in the church.

First stop, however, was not the basilica, but the famed and fabled steps of Scala Santa. These 28 steps are said to be those that Christ ascended in Pontius Pilate’s house during his trial. They are now covered in wood because the tradition is no foot should touch the holy steps. Pilgrims “walk” hope the steps on their knees, step by step. Michael looked at Clay and me and said, “why not?” I said, “when in Rome” which by now is getting to be a very tired attempt at humor. The three of us made our ascent to the top on our knees. While initially I felt very self conscious I must tell you that it was moving in its own way. The difficulty of such a climb in such a way, yet surrounded by other pilgrims brought together an interesting experience that words fail to describe. I found myself grateful when my knees would find a perfect fit on one of the wooden steps smoothly worn into shape by earlier pilgrims. “Those who have gone before us…”

We spent some time in the grandeur (and like St. Peter’s its grandiosity) of the Basilica of San Giovanni. An evening vesper service was in progress, so our time there was filled with Italian words of Gospel and prayers. It is indeed a magnificent structure.

We ended our time at the Baptistery, dating back to the time of Constantine. Its octagonal shape is from AD 432 and has served as a model for baptisteries throughout the Christian world. Upon entering a viewing its ancient columns and not so ancient Baroque additions, an actual baptism was taking place. A family including godparents gathered around an elderly priest who joyfully (his face was nearly enthusiastic) read from a prayer book, and splashed water upon the infant’s head. I know that we Baptists have a much different understanding and theology regarding baptisms, but there was something special about witnessing a baptism in the oldest Baptistery in the Western World. A child who, regardless of one’s sectarian understanding, being dedicated to God with families pledging to raise the child in the nurture and knowledge of Christ – even though it was all in Italian, it translates!

Saturday evening was spent quietly enjoying our own thrown together meal of antipasti, including cheeses, prosciuto, olives and wonderful type of bread that I am going to attempt to bake when I return back to Augusta.

Peace be with you as you prepare to worship Sunday with Jake Malone leading you. I will remember you in my prayers and trust that you will do the same.

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