This week is Italy week. From Tuesday, October 22 until Monday, October 28, I’ll post something from my recent trip to Italy.
Upon my return from traveling abroad, without fail I am afresh with love for my stupid American lifestyle. On this last trip, I actually missed driving my car, which is stupid because the vast majority of the time driving is a huge pain in the ass. But when I got back, I hopped in my car, cranked up some Iron Maiden on the Ozzy’s Boneyard station on XM, and blasted down our wide ass roads feeling like a true proud ‘MURICAN. I missed America, dammit.
By contrast, my contempt for Americans is never greater than while inside of a tourist destination. To paraphrase the standard preferred construct of my 4 year-old nephew who loves trains, and thus, uses them as his standard unit of measurement to express his affection, while brilliantly referring to himself in the third person, I sincerely offer the following statement, only with the sentiment inverted:
Jon hates American tour groups as much as 10 double decker trains.
It’s bad enough trying to navigate the narrow Roman sidewalks around a group of clueless schmucks who lack the will, the intellect, or both, to venture through a foreign country outside of the bland safety of surrounding yourself with 30 other mouth breathers as you wander half-heartedly through all of the supposed high points of a place and pass up the opportunity to carve any type of unique path.
But put them in a holy place, and watch Jon silently seethe as no one seems to have any fucking sense of the moment, the weight of history around them, or their fellow travelers.
The Vatican Museums are vast. Chronicling every period through which the Roman Empire conquered its neighbors, it would be easy to spend an entire day soaking in everything from Ancient Egypt through the Renaissance and beyond. In terms of sheer number of artifacts and scope of history, the Vatican Museums are unparalleled in my experience.
Despite this enormity, the central attraction is without a doubt the Sistine Chapel. Signs throughout all of the exhibits point to it and offer shortcuts from a multitude of points. All roads ultimately lead to the Sistine Chapel while in the Vatican.
And once you arrive, Michelangelo’s ceiling is somehow more beautiful than it’s been described and conveys the human ability to channel God’s reflected beauty better than few works of humanity on the planet. It’s impossible not to feel reverent in its presence, and grateful that you are fortunate enough to be allowed to bask in it for only a few moments.
And a few moments is all you will get because you notice that despite at least a dozen signs in the halls leading to it, as well as a verbal announcement over the PA system, the attendees fail to observe the request for silence. For this is a holy place, and should be treated as such.
At least that was my feeling. But then I’m not part of some goddamn tour group that is apparently exempt from the rules and NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP. Does this apply to everyone but you, you self-involved halfwit?
I’m not a terribly religious man, much less Catholic. But I respect my fellow man at least enough to know that while I’m not likely not going to have any great spiritual moment in here, someone is, or at least is attempting to over the persistent din of people getting fucking remedial art history explained to them and grotesquely narcissistic others discussing the restaurants near their hotel (a conversation I actually overheard).
The lead quote of this article, and its companion link, is from Patton Oswalt’s Werewolves and Lollipops album, and is a track entitled “I Tell a Story About Birth Control and Deal with a Retarded Heckler.” It’s exactly what I want to say to these fuckwits who cannot for five goddamn minutes close their stupid maws and just have a goddamn silent experience. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself. Maybe you’ll feel God. Maybe just by way of closing that gaping hot air hose at the end of your muzzle, you’ll let someone else. All of these outcomes are good. But it starts with you just shutting the fuck up for mere seconds in the endless stretch of noisy factory conditions we call life.
I sat in the Pantheon for a few minutes in silence. Inspiration struck, and I jotted a few things I didn’t want to forget from the trip into my iPhone. While still present, the clatter was a bit more muted, and it allowed me a moment of reflection and insight I hadn’t experienced in exactly that way the whole trip.
Two women sat down next to me in the pews and proceeded to have a conversation. About what, I have no idea, but it was as if they were on the subway, at a Starbucks, or chatting over a plate of hummus at an outdoor café. Just jabbering away. I turned and I stared at them. Hard. I stared at them until one of them looked my way. I stared at them for a good solid minute. Neither one of them became aware of my presence. I got up and left because clearly my moment was over and whatever inspiration I once felt was now gone.
Holy places don’t require you to be religious for their impact to be felt. But they do require you to believe in, or at least acknowledge, anything beyond yourself.