About a week before I left on my cruise, I was eating breakfast at my neighborhood café in Melaque. The menu at La Rana is rather limited. As a result, I had fallen into a morning routine of huevos rancheros.
I asked the owner, who does not speak English, why he did not serve eggs Benedict. He knew I was heading to Italy. On a whim, I said: “You could call them huevos del Papa.”
He laughed and laughed. Fully appreciating my double pun. He suggested I should check with the current Bishop of Rome to see if the name was trademarked.
Well, I never brought the topic up with the Pope – because we do not seem to travel in the same social circles. But we did see quite a bit of Rome in our two days there.
My house sitter, who was also on the cruise, had not visited Rome. He wanted to see as much as he could in the limited time we had. We jumped on one of the circuitous tour buses that serve almost every major European city.
The buses are a good deal. They drive through the city stopping at major sights. Riders can get on or off whenever they like.
We spent the first afternoon doing that. Unfortunately, a steady rain kept us on the bus for the full circuit. As well, as keeping us soaked. When the rain stopped, we spent our evening walking around Vatican City.
The next day (Monday) was the only full day we had in Rome. We started the day with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica – the largest church in the world. With one of the longest admission lines I have ever seen. It swept from the main door across the piazza and almost all the sway back to the church.
The church is an architectural wonder, designed by some of Renaissance Italy's best architects – including Michelangelo's dome. But I find the place soulless. I attribute that to my prejudice against large public buildings. Especially places of worship.
In the case of St. Peter’s, it may be because the place was built with the sale of indulgences. The now-discredited practice of selling get-out-of-purgatory cards to the type of people who are silly enough to sell their earthly goods to hucksters who claim inside information on the rapture.
But the place is a veritable art museum from Michelangelo's Pietà to John XXIII’s oddly-paraffinic corpse to the tomb of the Stuart English king and his pretender descendants.
Our second stop was supposed to be the Vatican Museum with a culture vulture swoop to see the Sistine Chapel. That idea was spiked when we encountered the three-hour waiting line. I was not disappointed to miss seeing the restoration that I fear has destroyed a good deal of what Michelangelo intend to include in his plaster painting.
Instead, we declared a truce with Catholic Rome and headed off the more satisfying treats of Ancient Rome. That was fine with my house sitter. The Colosseum topped his list. So, off we went.
I have long been infatuated with Ancient Rome – the Republic far more than the Empire. When I first visited Rome, I stayed in the Colosseum for hours. For two reasons.
The first is the construction of the place. It is huge -- covering six acres. With a capacity of 86,000, the building’s design and ticketing process allowed spectators to quickly enter and exit the building. Modern architects have used several of the design principles to construct modern sports arenas.
It was an active venue for 400 years – falling into disrepair as a result of earthquakes and invasions. What we see today is a mere shell of what was once one of the wonders of the world. Most of the place was torn down to provide building materials for Renaissance Rome.
The second factor that focused my attention on the Colosseum was its purpose. There is a common belief – supported by the Catholic Church – that the Colosseum was the site where most Christian martyrs died at the hands of gladiators and wild animals.
There is no doubt that the Colosseum presented many spectacles that resulted in the death of many gladiators, criminals, political prisoners, and wild animals. There are records showing that thousands of animals were killed in single days.
And there is no doubt that thousands of Christians died horrible deaths at the hands of imperial Rome – all because of their belief. But there are no records that those deaths occurred in the Colosseum. It appears that the legend of the Christian martyrs in the Colosseum started in the Middle Ages.
I am not certain how many times I have visited the Colosseum. But this visit was a highlight.
Some things are ruined by repetition. And the remnants of the Roman Forum fall in that category. I enjoyed showing it off, but it was a bit boring to me this visit.
One site in Rome, though, never tires me. The Pantheon. The only building of Ancient Rome that remains fully intact. Built to be a temple for all of the Roman gods, it is now a Roman Catholic church as well as the burial place of Italy’s first two kings and one of Italy’s greatest Renaissance artists, Raphael.
The first time I entered the Pantheon, I had a sense the place was special. Not in a spiritual sense. But in a spatial sense. My instincts were correct. The building has a large dome – the largest concrete dome in the world. The diameter of the dome is exactly the same as the distance from the dome to the floor.
That mathematical precision creates a perceptible sense of order. A right-brain monument. Thomas Jefferson was so impressed with the building that he used it as a model for his home, Monticello, and his design for the University of Virginia.
What I did not see in Rome was huevos del Papa. I had to wait for that until I got to Lake Tahoe. But that it is tale that will wait for another day.