Gosh, this was our last day in Rome. Tomorrow morning we hop the train to the airport and fly back home. This is the part I dislike the most. I’m so happy traveling and seeing new things. There must be some gypsy in me.
This ended up being a bit of a strange day. We were going to head to the Appian Way and ride our bicycles. Sadly, George woke up with a new case of gout in his foot. He hobbled to breakfast and confessed that he just couldn’t do it. All he wanted to do was limp back to the room and get off his foot.
So George rested in the room, and I had the day to myself. While I’m sorry his foot hurts – and I truly feel bad for him, am I the kind of thoughtful wife who will sit by her man while he moans and groans? Not on your life….not when I’m in Rome! Before you think me a heartless witch (spell that with a “b”), there isn’t anything I can do for him. I got him an ice pack, gave him Advil, and tried a foot massage (but that just about killed him). Then I stole out the door.
It was weird being all on my own. I have been walking at half my normal pace all week; and boy, did I ever cover the ground! I made my 20,000 steps in no time.
Back to the fashion district, and picked up a few more baby clothes for our friend Marilyn and presents for the grandkids. While I can’t afford a Gucci handbag at 2,800 Euros, it’s fun to walk past the store! When my arms couldn’t hold anything more, I took the subway back to our room. I whispered romantically in George’s ear that I sure had missed him – he is such a good pack mule and I had to carry it all myself. He was touched that I had missed him, and roused himself to limp around the corner to have lunch together in an outdoor cafe.
We ate at the same place we had eaten our first dinner. They truly have amazing food. George had a salmon pizza and I had char-broiled octopus. I didn’t realize it came with vegetables, so I ordered a side dish of roasted vegetables, and ended up with enough veggies for six people. Before you go UGH, she eats octopus – it really makes a difference how it is prepared. Yes, it can be like eating a rubber hose, but these guys really know how to cook it. It was tender, tasty, and the char from the grill made it tail thumping good.
Yummy! After a romantic lunch, I headed back shopping and sightseeing. This was my chance to see the bones of the Franciscan monks Capuchin. If this sounds like a coffee drink, believe me that you will want something stronger than milk in your coffee after viewing this one.
This is the most bizarre, and distressing, sites I have ever seen. They don’t allow pictures, for a darned good reason. I did manage to find some on the internet so you can get a taste of what it is like. I rented an audio tour, and spent 30 minutes touring the history of this sect of the Franciscan monks. There is a museum before touring the bones; there is an almost desperate air to convince us that the Franciscan monks are a fine bunch of fellows and should not be judged by the exhibit we are about to see. St Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of this group. You have heard of him – probably best known for his love of animals. Ever heard the expression “Feed a dog a bone?” This exhibit takes it to a whole new meaning. There are three sub-sects of the Franciscans, and the Capuchinian monks are one of them. The exhibit spent a long time extolling the virtues of them. And they are substantial! There are over 10,000 of them today, and they take a vow of poverty and help the worst of the poor all over the world. They minister to prisons, hospitals, in third world countries. They are earnest, hard-working friars who wear brown woolen robes and have a rope knotted around their waist. Friar Tuck from Robin Hood fame could have been one. They are known as cappuccino, because this word means “small hood” – it is smaller than their other brother monks. Not sure how that translated to a cup of coffee, but I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with bones,.
So for a full 30 minutes their virtues are expounded – and I learned their art often contains a skull or bones in it. Caravaggio,one of my favorite Italian artists, often painted them, with a skull included in the picture. They have an original Caravaggio at this church, as a matter of fact. I saw one at the Villa Borghese that I took a picture of:
Just when you all warm and fuzzy about these boys, you see the display of self-flagellation instruments they use to torture themselves. Wires with hooks to tear the skin under their horse-hair shirts, whipping tools of sharp metal plates to play whack-a-friar to themselves. Okay, this is a bit odd – but wait, it gets so much worse.
We enter the crypts. They came to Rome in the early 1500’s, after being tossed out of France. They brought with them soil from Jerusalem and over 300 skeletons of former friar friends. They believed that every brother monk should each have the joy of being buried with holy soil. So they put them in a crypt with holy dirt and 20 years later dig them up and put a new guy in the soil, so he could enjoy it while he…..well, until he was ready for the next chapter.
This is where you start humming “The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…..tra la la…). Apparently, sometime in the 1600’s, one of the monks got a bit carried away. They swear they don’t know who did it, but think it was either a German or French friar who decided to use the more than 3,700 skeletons on hand. These are all friars. The German was known as a decorator (their words, not mine), and decided to do these artistic arrangements with bones, There is the pelvis room, where pelvic bones are the main attraction, stacked artistically in towers, on the walls, made into ceiling art….and each crypt has at least three full skeletons, wearing their woolen cassocks. In one room, there is an hour glass with shoulder blades, which appear to be wings, on either side of the hour glass (made from other bones), The meaning? How time flies while waiting to get to heaven. I did not make this up!
Then there is the skull room, the rib room…..by the time I had made it through the six crypts, my stomach was tied up in knots and I was totally dismayed by it all. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I simply wasn’t prepared. They had beds for the skeletons made from human bones! And the entire exhibit could have used a good dusting – but who is going to volunteer for that job! Chandeliers, and all kinds of wall art from vertebrae. I could go on and on and still not convey how unsettling this was. I have been making jokes here, and it is my way of dealing with it all. I am not trying to cast aspersions on a devout brotherhood, and I admit to walking out of many a movie that I found too violent or upsetting. I just don’t do horror movies. My family makes fun of me because I refuse to see a movie rated “R.” I felt like I was trapped in an Italian horror movie.
At the end of the tour, they give a touching story about the purpose of these crypts is to help us understand that death is unpleasant (no lie for these guys), but we all have a greater life ahead – if we live our life right. Oh yes, I will, I will. Got the message LOUD and CLEAR.
Relieved, I quickly walked into the gift shop and got even more horrified. Pencils with skulls on them, shirts displaying them, even coffee mugs covered with pictures of the skulls. I was so creeped out that I couldn’t even buy a postcard.
After viewing this exhibit, I felt like my lunch octopus tentacles had reached up and grabbed my stomach. It was just plain awful. I had to go sit down for awhile and ponder it all,. Then I decided I didn’t want to ponder it – just sit and hope I don’t have nightmares tonight.
What a way to end a trip to Rome. After this, I decided to head back to the hotel. I have picked up train tickets back to the airport for tomorrow and everything is packed up to go.
It has been such an amazing time. I thank you for sharing it with me with this journal. It has been fun, and I looked forward each night to sitting down and writing about the days adventures.