When my friend Damon and I went for the weekend in Rome from Cortona in the summer of 1990 we had no guide books, no smartphones, and no clue. We wandered off the train and most likely into the nearest bar (we were 19) and then lit out across the city. We somehow found our way to the Colleseum, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican.
It was summer. It was hot. I remember waiting in the queue to get into the Vatican for what seemed hours only to be pulled aside by the fashion police and told that our shorts were not allowed inside. It was like 95 degrees and we were made to put on these pajama pants over our shorts if we wanted to continue in. Begrudgingly we complied and grumbling under our breadth we entered. Not being Catholic we really didn’t know what we were walking into. As we entered I was overwhelmed and quite frankly disgusted with the wealth and opulence of the place. We took a very quick look around and decided to leave in a huff.
Upon arriving back in Cortona my parents asked what we had done. We told them about our experience at the Vatican and that we left in a hurry. “Did you look up?” my mother asked. “Huh?” I said (the way only a 19 year old could). “For what?”. ” For the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam” my mother said. Disappointedly we admitted we didn’t.
So all these years I believed I had walked into the Sistine Chapel and forgot to look up. Its been a good story of mine, the kind you pass on to your kid and has become family lore. Today I realized that I had never been to the Sistine Chapel but had instead walked in and nearly immediately out of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
With online reservations allowing us to skip the line we headed first to the Vatican Museum and which culminates with a trip to the Sistine Chapel. Upon entering I clearly new I never been here before. It would be impossible to enter this sacred space without looking up. Photography isn’t allowed so I snuck this photo with my iPhone to prove to Mom I was there.
We made our way through meandering tour groups and endless halls of Vatican treasures and spoils, and back to Saint Peter’s Square to get in the queue.
The line moved reasonably fast and it was only 60 degrees, so a sunny but cool and comfortable wait. And this time I wore pants.
Once in side we took our time. While the opulence and extravagance still offended my secular sensibilities I could appreciate and admire this masterpiece of architecture, symbolisim, and history. Its pretty stunning. And just to make sure I didn’t miss anything I made sure I looked up repeatedly.