Jared and the Pope

Great news! I have been completely forgiven of all of my sins! How cool is that? You see, this year has been declared a Jubilee Year by the Vatican, and if you walk through the Holy Door at the St. Peters Basilica, you get your slate wiped clean free of charge! Once I found that out, I was psyched to know I could sin up a storm in Rome and make one last trip to the Holy Door before hopping on the train as a forgiven man.

I have been doing some exciting stuff. Let me see if I can do a recap for y’all…I am sitting in an Internet cafe and it’s about to close, so this may very well be written in chapters over a day or two.

Yesterday morning, I checked out of my dormitory hostel, because I was thrown out on my ass due to lack of room….hmmm…what to do….well, I had a busy day ahead of me because Rob, illustrious owner of the Luna Lounge (a kick ass club in NYC that I play at a lot) was coming to town for a little romantic getaway with his woman, but he had a day to kill in Rome and we had been planning to meet each other and chill for a few hours. Plus, I also had a friend that I met in Athens, Jeff, coming into Rome the same day and we planned to get a room together and travel ensemble for a while. He wanted me to book a hotel in Rome so that he could have a place to go when he got off the plane, all tired and ragged, needing sleep…and I also needed to coordinate with Rob, so I figured it would just be best to check into Rob’s hotel, give Jeff the address, meet Rob for the day and come back in the evening to meet Jeff. Well, it all went super smooth. I booked a room in Rob’s hotel, showed up, checked in, left a message for Jeff and met up with Rob.

(Rob, it was great to see you man…I had an awesome time hangin in Rome with you…one of the best days of my trip so far…)

Rob and I walked all around, saw the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon…pretty much all the stuff I had seen already…but it was good to do it again, because I began to feel like I really knew the city…and that was my goal here. We pigged on some Gelato and took in the atmosphere. We ended up getting lost in Palukaville Rome while trying to find these underground Catacombs where all kinds of ancient dead people are buried…but we got super lost and walked all over the place. We ended up seeing the original walls of the city, from way back in its earliest days.

I am still floored by this place…it is so beautiful and I hope to come back many times in my life. BY the way my feet hurt like living hell, because I have been walking so much…but I think I have lost a few pounds and I am feeling mighty fine.

After I left Rob around 6:30pm (he had to pick up his woman at the airport and light the fire…), I went back to my room to find that Jeff had checked in and everything worked out according to my evil plan. It turns out the hotel is a bit of a hike from the center of town, so we had to hop the train and ride on into town. We had an immediate dilemma to solve of where we would be staying the following night, because Rob’s hotel was kicking us out cuz of reservations…so we walked around for a bit, looking for hotels, but they were all crazy expensive. Ended up finding a cheaper hostel type of place near the Vatican….

Ahhh, the Vatican. Seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the most powerful entity in the world. In fact, it’s an autonomous country. They have their own coins printed, as well as their own stamps and post. They make their own laws and do as they please…wielding much influence over the world at large….and it’s perhaps the most amazing complex of buildings I have ever seen….home to some of the most incredible works of art ever made, at the hands of Michelangelo, Raphael, just to name a few….housing the Sistine Chapel, the Basilica of St. Peter, the Pieta, a Papal McDonalds, incredible architecture in general, and an all around kick ass view. Swarms and swarms of people gather here to see the place, its museums, all the sights I just mentioned, and also hordes of pilgrims come to attend Mass and maybe catch a glimpse of John Paul, the man himself. He appears in a little window every now and then, and I am sure that causes quite a ruckus when he does…he is, after all, to Catholics, God’s chief rep.

So, the next morning, we cabbed over to the new hotel, checked in, threw our crap on the beds and hauled to the Vatican. It closes at 1:00pm on Saturdays, and we didn’t want to miss a thing. By the way, I feel like I have checked in and out of so many hotels and hostels, sometimes I strain to remember where I stayed last night, or what my current place looks like. This trip has been one big series of check ins and check outs.

So, we made our way to the Vatican. As we approached, you could see the walls of the city that stretch a great distance, encircling the entire complex and meeting at the great big plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope I am spelling Basilica right…. I am sure many of you have flipped through the Christmas Mass broadcasts at the Vatican on Christmas Eve…all that takes place in St. Peters. Recently, when the Pope decided to apologize for all the sins of the Church throughout its mighty long history of sinning, they had a big to-do in St. Peters that was broadcast as well. So, you may have seen it at some point.  But, you cannot even begin to fully grasp the enormity of the place…not just the Basilica, but the entire plaza that stands before it, surrounded by marble columns….so magnificent…no wonder people feel as though they are entering a holy place.

We didn’t go into St. Peters right away because the Vatican Museum closed at 1:00pm and that was where we had to go in order to see another little shack that you may have heard of…ohh, just a little itty bitty place called the Sistine Chapel. Ring a bell? Michelangelo laid on his back for 8 years on top of scaffolding, painting the ceiling full of scenes from the Bible…the most famous of which is the Creation of Man, in which you see God and Adam almost touching the tips of their fingers….I think Steven Spielberg ripped that off when he made E.T. (ouuuuuch….Eeeeelllliot…..boooo boooo.)

So, we walked around the walls to the entrance of the museum, only to find a line that was at least a mile long. It stretched around the corner for another mile, so it seemed. But, it was moving steadily, and we didn’t wait for more than 1/2 an hour. As we approached the entrance, looming in front was a sign for our favorite chain of world dominators, McDonald’s. I guess the Pope needs a fix every now and then too. They have all kinds of special products, like the McPapal Shake, Carbonated Holy Water, Supersized Holy Fries, and if you purchase a value meal, you get one voucher for a free transgression.  Mmmm…..transgressions….

We entered the museum and paid the RIDICULOUS price of $9 to get in…as if the Vatican needed more money…and began to make our way to the Sistine Chapel, as did everyone else, because it’s pretty much the only thing that average sinners like me have heard of….we followed the signs. They lead you through a veritable maze of hallways and corridors that are so incredible, I was aghast.

The ceilings were adorned with gold and it seemed that each corner of every part was hand painted in the finest detail with scenes from the Bible, angelic figures, Christ, Mary, the whole gang. It was so impressive. The hallways went on forever, and they lead through the Frescos of Raphael (yes, Joseph, I had to see them, lest you never speak to me again…). Raphael was commissioned to paint the Pope’s apartments and boy did he do a good job….creating such dramatic scenes in beautiful detail, it was so breathtaking. Each room had a sign that read, “Sistine Chapel”, and pointed in a direction.

So after each room, I was sure the next room had to be the Sistine Chapel, but I had to wait a long time and see a lot of statues, paintings, hallways, and stuff before we reached it. Finally, we began descending down some stairs and we heard recordings saying, “You are entering the Sistine Chapel. Please observe silence and refrain from flash photography. This is a holy place.” As we finally entered the Chapel, we were greeted by a million tourists swarming about yelling at each other and snapping pictures of the ceiling with abandon…sneaky folks…so much for the Holy respect. The actual Sistine Chapel didn’t look much like I expected…but it was still impressive. Jeff and I craned our necks upward for 20 minutes, checking out all the paintings that I recognized from books….the Last Judgment…the Creation of Man. There they were, and I was amazed that yet again, I was standing in a place that I had heard of my whole life. That’s been happening to me a lot lately.

After that, we checked out the rest of the museum and sat in the Vatican courtyard for a bit, enjoying the view of the domes and gardens. One word – Amazing. For all the issues that I may have with this entity called the Church, and I won’t get into them here, I will give them this:  They sure do know how to build a Holy looking place. We left the courtyard and went back to the Plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Intermission:  Pizza & Gelato

I am back.

I wanted to go into St. Peter’s, cuz that is where all the sh*t goes down. So, we headed up through the doors, which were full of masses of people trying to get in. We passed the threshold and little did I know that, at that very moment, God gave me a complete and full pardon for all those Transformers I lifted from Sears when I was a kid……lucky for me…cuz that would have been enough to send me straight to hell, without passing GO. (By the way I passed through the town of Monopoly on a train ride a few days ago.)

What can I say of St. Peter’s? YOU NEED TO COME HERE. Words just cannot describe this building. As if the outside were not impressive enough, the inside was just sensory overload…domes, paintings, statues, carvings, huge altars, gold everywhere, all the trimmings. Unreal. And it is HUGE. As you walk through the Holy Door, immediately to the right you have Michelangelo’s Pieta, his famous statue of Jesus, laying dead in Mary Magdalene’s arms.

Check off another thing on the list of stuff I have heard about my whole life. Boom. Snapped a picture of that. There were millions of people, some pilgrims praying, others just groping around in amazement at clearly some of the most magnificent artwork and architecture ever made. Me too…I just roamed around and gawked. So amazing. OK, I have said that enough…but really, it was incredible.

As Jeff and I were gawking, all the sudden, hordes of people started to funnel through these ropes, up to the front of the Cathedral where the altar was. We wondered what was happening…maybe the Pope was gonna come out or something…so we got into the horde and found a seat in the pew. There I was, a Jew in the Pew…in the Vatican, in Rome, the source of so much misery for my people, yet I could not help but be drawn in by the power of the place. It wasn’t religious…I certainly wasn’t converted…but it was so inspiring to be there. We sat down and waited for the action to begin. What were we about to see? I kept poking Jeff and saying, “I am gonna shit if the Pope comes out…” Imagine that…If I saw the Pope at the Vatican…how many people can make such a claim?

But, no Pope; however, they commenced holding Mass. Now, I had never been to a Mass before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But they began playing this incredible gothic organ music that filled the cathedral with eerie notes of inspiring resonance. The crowd began to sing. In walked a procession of priests and altar boys carrying giant crosses made of gold….and the singing became intense. Singing, Latin liturgy, more singing, more organ, then some handshaking….and then the Communion. That’s when we decided to bolt….I couldn’t take communion even if I wanted to….

What an experience. What a place. They certainly built it to feel like heaven on earth. Me, a Jew, I could appreciate it as one of the most amazing creations of mankind ever, and it felt spiritual…but that’s as far as it goes.

Later that day I met some friends who I originally met in Turkey…Frazer and Katrina Cain…a really cool couple from Vancouver who came to Rome at the same time. Had a blast with them for a few hours and called it a night.

Next day, hopped on a train to Florence. Yep, I’m in Florence now. Just went to see Michelangelo’s David. Let me tell you, I am continually amazed with all these works of art, but as far as statues go, David is by far the most incredible sculpture I have ever laid eyes on. The details are phenomenal. I dig Florence so far…just got here, so I have yet to do much else but get rained on…

So, I will wrap it up now. Thanx for reading and see ya next time…

Pontificus Jaredicus Maximus

Jared in ROME!!!

Intro:  Accordion, soft, sweet tune…sets a nice mood…conjures up images of romance and relaxed dining….

I have arrived in ROME! Unbelievable! I think perhaps this is the most shocked I have felt on this entire trip, because Rome is so full of places and things that are icons in western history, and to see them and touch them is like reaching for a valuable jewel, holding it and knowing it is real.

The sights, sounds, and smells of this city are perhaps the most impressionable of any city I have been as of yet. It is truly a beautiful city. No words can really describe the feeling that I have of history and culture right now. Immense. To know that I am in the city that was the seat of the greatest and most influential empire to ever grace (and then wreck) this earth, is a profound realization.

To walk around and see all the architecture…..to wander the back streets and little alleys full of shops and restaurants….to see some of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen…and people of this place who rush to and fro…I bet they take it for granted. The architecture looks….well….Roman. What can I say? We all know what Roman architecture looks like…it has influenced so much of our own, even in New York City. If you served jury duty, you know what our courthouses look like. If you have ever been to Washington DC, you know what many of our government buildings look like. Well, you have tons and tons of that type of buildings here, but it looks so much more authentic, ancient, and colorful.  In fact, all the ones we have are copies of the ones here!

I arrived yesterday by train. It was a three hour ride from Naples. I was glad to leave Naples behind. But the gods snubbed me with sunny weather on the day I gave up the hope of seeing the Amalfi coast. Well, I saw parts of it anyway, but without the sun, it wasn’t so incredible. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. The train ride passed through some pretty impressive landscape….as we neared Rome, mountains started to spring up. I thought to myself, “Hmmm…these are pretty ancient mountains…the same that Caesar himself looked upon.” How profound of me.

We pulled into the train station, called Termeni. I got smart and booked a hostel in advance, because I heard it was getting pretty busy in Rome and I might have a hard time if I just show up and start the typical quest. I was glad I booked it, cuz I had a destination straight away, and that always makes it easier. But the problem is you never know what yer gonna git, if you book ahead. Gamble.

Once I checked in and got settled, I made a beeline for the nearest laundromat….whoa boy, was I in need. After dropping off the goods, I decided the absolute first thing I must do is go to the Coliseum.I mean, that is THE epitome of Rome and Italy, pretty much, right? It was a bit of a walk, but walking is the best way to see and get to know a new city.  I set out.

As I walked down the avenue called Via Cavour, I approached the Coliseum piazza…and I caught a glimpse of it through an alley way. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I stared. I thought “Whoa. That’s the freaking Coliseum. I am in freaking ITALY. THIS IS ROME. HOLY SHIT!”  Nothing I had seen so far in Italy had really brought home the fact that I was in Italy. But when I saw the Coliseum, it was a pretty heavy realization. It’s one of those things you see in movies, in books, or hear about all your life….it’s like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s THE thing you associate with Rome, more than anything else, at least for me. And there I stood, in its very presence. I kept walking until it came into full view. There is no way to explain how it feels to come to a place like this. I hope I am doing a good job.

The whole area was crowded with tourists, as expected. Around the Coliseum, you have a lot of the standard sights and archeological areas, so it’s a big attraction. I went to the entrance and bought a ticket and went inside. Again, I thought, “I am standing in THE (insert exclamatory 4 letter word) Coliseum!!” It was here that the Romans staged some of the most elaborate spectacles of ancient history, from naval battles to Gladiators fighting for their lives against lions, to prisoners being thrown to the very same lions, much to the amusement of the roaring crowds who gathered to watch in gory fascination. It was here that the Emperors gave their famous “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” calls when the life of a prisoner was in question. Thumbs up, he lives. Thumbs down, he dies. It was all for the sake of entertainment. And there I stood in amazement. I tried to imagine what it must have been like…but I don’t think anyone can ever really know the depth of what went on here.

By the way, I have not been pick pocketed yet. No one has thrown a baby at me…though I saw one women who looked like a baby thrower…. but I folded my arms and passed her by….

After I left the Coliseum…I was there for several hours, just taking it in…I went back to my hostel, after picking up my clean laundry (oh thank gawd!). I met some people who were staying in the same room as me, and we all decided to go to a “Pub Crawl.” Anyone know about these? WHY HAVEN’T YOU TOLD ME THEN??? I had such a good time. Basically, you pay a flat fee and drink as much as you could want for an hour, and then pay discounted prices for whatever else you drink. You all get together at one bar, stay there for a bit, then go to another, and then another, and then another….and each place gives you a free shot. Needless to say, I was more wrecked then I have been in a great while.  Wrecked in Rome. I met some really cool people and had a great time hanging out. It was nice, because I was feeling a bit lonely. We started at 7:30pm, so by midnight I was pretty ready for bed. Took a cab back to the hostel. Found out about “night fees.” RIP OFF.

I’ve still been eating pizza for almost every meal. Gelato too. Can’t get enough. Found a cheap pizza place near my hostel…they cut you a slab and then weigh it….

Next Morning:

Woke up. Waited approximately one hour for my chance to bathe…ate pizza for breakfast….set out to explore. I headed for the area of the Coliseum again, because that’s where a lot of the sights are located, as I stated above.

I wanted to go to the Palatine Hill, the plateau where the Emperors and senators lived, and one of the first settlements of the city. I climbed up the hill, turned around and got another view of the Coliseum, had another wave of shock…and then plowed forward. The ruins on the Palatine Hill are not as impressive as the knowledge of what went on there…but I can save you the history lesson…look it up…truth is I don’t have a clue.

After the Palatine Hill, I went to the Roman Forum, which is a huge conglomeration of ruined temples and buildings that were important to the empire. Between the two, I spent maybe an hour and a half.  From the Forum, I walked a ways to the Pantheon, an impressive building of 2000 years, housing a perfect semi-circle dome made entirely of poured concrete, as well as some fascinating statues and paintings.

Onward. Had to cover the bases. Next I went to the Fontain Di Trevi, the absolute most beautiful water fountain I have ever seen. It comes out of the side of a building and water cascades down several tiers, in the midst of daunting statues of the gods and heroes.I threw a few coins in, at my mother’s request. It’s a tradition…..

Moving on, I went to the area called Campo De Fiori, which, under Papal rule, was where lots of nasty executions occurred. Now, it’s basically a vegetable and meat market, but there is an eerie statue in the middle of it of a hooded guy looking down…he looks all evil and stuff. Coooooool. I sat under the shade of the statue and read a bit of Lord of The Rings. I was getting tired at that point, because much walking was taking place in between all these sights. It’s a HUGE city ya know.

Afterward, I made my way to the Jewish Ghetto. Being a Jew, I had to see it. Nothing much of the Ghetto still exists, but it was fascinating to know I stood in the midst of what it once was. There is the Ashkenazi Synagogue, inside the former Ghetto, which is an immense and beautifully adorned building. There are 16,000 Jews living in Rome today…many of whom are descended from Jews who came in 160 BC, sent by Judah Macabee to request that the Romans help the Israelites defend their land against the Assyrians….so I saw that too.

I did a lot of walking and stopping to sit where there were amazing views, and that was many many times. There are so many breathtaking sights and views, that it is really sensory overload. It’s late in the afternoon of my first full day here, and I am very tired from all the walking. Tomorrow I am meeting Rob, owner of the Luna Lounge…he’s coming to Rome for a little vacation and we’re gonna hang for a day while he waits for his woman to join him. Come on down, Rob.

I think that’s it for now. My feet really hurt. Need a nap. I’m getting old. Last night I hung out with 18 years olds…I have never hung out with someone born after 1980…weird for me….

Till next time,