Inflight between Rome and JFK, 2 July 2010
Yesterday we had the rare privilege of attending Evening Prayer in the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is nestled in the heart of the Vatican Museums, and is the site where papal elections and other significant events occur. It sees 4 million visitors a year, but opening it up for prayer use by outside groups is rare enough that Dr. Lev, who has visited there a thousand times and has lived and worked in Rome for over a decade, had never done so before.
As for the beauty of the famed chapel itself -- all the pictures and stories you hear really don't prepare you for the sheer awe it inspires. The ceiling, arguably the most famed fresco in existence, really is a masterpiece of color and depth. It has been restored over the past decade or so, with a small unrestored patch left behind so you can see how dark it had gotten from the candles, incense, and the passage of years.
When I'd seen pictures of the ceiling before, I'd assumed Michelangelo was painting between roof supports. I never realized that some of those were just painted! And indeed, a number of the figures and columns look more like sculptures coming out of the ceiling toward you.
The other well-known fresco here, the Last Judgment, is behind the altar. This was painted toward the end of Michelangelo's life, and in some ways is heavier, but it is also full of movement. There are so many little details and it is busy, but not too much so. It was also a chance for Michelangelo to get a little payback - some of his enemies are painted being dragged off to hell, while he painted his friends in heaven. (Apparently such cameos were not unusual, though - I remember a fresco in Orvieto, where the painter painted his ex-girlfriend as a harlot being carried off to hell.) You definitely didn't want to get on a fresco painter's bad side!
There is other art in the Sistine Chapel that you don't hear as much about - 12 murals along the sides showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and a marble mosaic floor that reminded me of an elaborate quilt pattern. The side murals are quite beautiful too, but suffer in comparisn to the celing and altar.
(The Vatican website has an awesome virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel, much better than any of my pictures!)
After evening prayer, we had a reception on a terrace in the museum, and we all received a commemorative medal from the Archbishop.
Our final family dinner in Italy was at a restaurant called La Vittoria, near St.Peters. DH and DD split a mixed seafood appetizer, and we discovered she likes raw oysters, and anchovies. Not to my taste, but to each their own. All of the food was very good - DH had an excellent sea bass, and the limoncello was excellent. DD had watermelon for dessert - and I actually liked it. I guess never knew watermelon to have a definite taste. It does seem like all the fruits tasted more intense in Italy - I guess Europe is content to let fruits be their natural states, instead of breeding for size or appearance.
We took an early taxi to the airport, and are now headed home by way of New York. Driving in Rome is an interesting challenge. There are few lane dividers, and in town it seems those that do exist are rarely heeded. Cars weave in and out, in a close chaotic dance, and yet despite that I saw surprisingly few collisions. I'm not sure what arcane skills our tour bus driver had that allowed him to pass effortlessly through traffic and tight turns without incident. And riding with the taxi driver was almost like being on a roller coaster - a wild ride, but under control.
In some ways it will be good to be home, but I was also a little sad to leave.