Roughly around this time, six years back, we had set on our maiden trip to Europe. After a whirlwind tour of Paris, Amsterdam, and Venice (in a period of less than two weeks); we headed to Rome. Those who have been following us for a year, no pressure here, might remember some of those posts. There’s no love lost — if not. We had four days to discover Rome’s historical, religious, and architectural wonders. And as we learned the hard way — four days are simply not enough to scrape the surface of this fascinating city.
We were, both, raised Catholic. While Basil thinks he’s a liberal believer, I’ve always had my doubts about unexplained inter-planetary forces. I turned to atheism in my teen years, played believer in-between, and now that I’m in my thirties — I find agnosticism to be a reasonable answer to placate warring souls around me. A pilgrim centre, run by the nuns, was not my choice of retreat in Rome. It was only 10 minutes from Vatican City and was suggested by a friend — so, I didn’t put up a fuss. Besides, the sister from Sri Lanka at the reception was such a sweetheart. She seemed terribly worried for these two kids (us in our late twenties) travelling across Europe — on their own. Her cheery Italian counterpart didn’t speak a word of English and couldn’t resist pinching my cheeks. I guess, most pilgrims were in their fifties or sixties and that explained the unwanted attention we received.
After nearly missing our flight from Venice and struggling to find the pilgrim center; we were really tired. We dumped our bags in our room and headed to St. Peter’s Square. It was late evening and so, we decided to sit on the steps and let time pass by. And I think that’s not a bad idea. Especially, when the weather is hot and the shade — is the perfect spot — to nestle in.
With each passing hour, tourists slowly deserted the square. It was a treat to see empty corridors, a confluence of space and grey stone, and frozen statues of religious figures. Spending many vacant moments here made me wonder: Can faith be truly built on mortar and rock?
The quiet. That’s what appealed the most. As daylight faded, the lights were turned on, and water in the fountains gently gurgled. Moments like these are hard to come by. Perhaps, even harder to describe.
A group of Italian priests, some puffing their cigarettes, and donning a noir look — temporarily — broke the silence. They seemed cheerful for no apparent reason. I thought of all the priests who I had come across — back home. They didn’t seem half as cool, took (or appeared to take) piety very seriously, wore leather sandals with simple cotton clothes, and were always a picture of calm. Probably, the same rules don’t apply everywhere. Or the bridge between developed and developing is a disjointed one. Fortunately, for us, they dispersed as soon as they had assembled.
Basil struggled to take the night shots. Without his tripod — the one I constantly cribbed about — the challenge wasn’t easy. As he fumbled, I preferred to get lost in the environment, think of it’s history, and observe the moon — play hide-and-seek with the Dome.
Eventually, we had to call it a night. The pilgrim centre had a curfew hour. We vowed to spend another evening here — just like this one. Sadly, it never happened. Rome got the better of us.