Rose early. Rome was steamy, somewhere in the 80's above 25°C. Made it to Vatican City for the 8 am early bird tour. When our guide began her spiel, I ducked out and rushed down the hallway to the Sistine Chapel so I could lie on the bench and look up for awhile before the crowd arrived. I remember the ceiling as rather dark. This was before the 1980 restoration cleanings began. Over the centuries, observers had grown accustomed to the carbon varnish from smoking candles and electing popes, and were shocked to see it as Michelangelo had. Layers of grime, distorting the light, gave the frescoes that extra aura of importance that aging naturally adds, much as scum and stain add character to my bathroom sink after days of spontaneous glazing. After cleaning, the Sistine Ceiling looked more like a comic book — OMWAB (or GITS or whatever you call Him) no longer had that dark serious look — but I doubt if Michelangelo knew the subtle nuances of color that Impressionists knew three centuries later. Back then, all painters were essentially cartoonists. Their assistants colored inside their lines.


Raphael was one of the best cartoonists there ever was. His School of Athens fresco still retains its bright comic book color. However, letting all these thinkers into The Church soon led to the Protestant Revolt, along with Science — the power of negative thinking — Polymonotheism, where all the gods have the same name or no name, and, whoo..., Scary Movies. Nowadays, because of these guys, we have been forced to rewrite all our bibles and build our own spiritual meanings. Can the world continue to tolerate all this freedom and creativity? Shame on you Raphael for liberating our minds.


After its smashing in 1972 by a self-incarnated Jesus, Michelangelo's Pieta was encased in glass. The smasher obviously saw the sculpture as an idolatry in the way the Taliban see/saw the Buddha statues in the Afghan cliffside → target practice. Every religion frowns on idolatry, yet each of its followers practice it. It is idolatry to worship the symbols of a message. Symbols distract the message, but to practice a religion is to do exactly that. There is a Zen koan about the master who points to the moon, yet the disciple only sees the finger. Once you see the moon, there is no longer any need for the finger. True — but nevertheless, what is the point in cutting off the finger?
The One whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou
And dream of Phaedian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images of folklore dream,
And all in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed, unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all are idolators crying unheard
To a deaf idol if Thou take them at Thy word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unspoken speech our limping metaphor translate.

C.S. Lewis


All roads lead from Rome, but not by thumb. My hitching daze were over. Rode train to Brindisi, the heel of Italia, down the Appian Way as the moon grew full and my stomach empty. Dozed on and off with strange dreams of spaghetti westerns . Bought a ticket on a ferry boat to Greece.