These particular Pilgrims have returned home. I'm in the process of compiling the best of the pictures and they can be found here on flickr . Most or duplicates of what has already been posted, but I've done some editing and put them all in one set.
Every morning, at least two thousand people queue around narrow sidewalk alongside the tall walls of Vatican City. They are waiting for entrance to the Musei Vaticani, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican grounds or some other tour. George Arthur, my father-in-law, has dubbed them Pilgrims. Every morning we checked and commented on the Pilgrim line and without fail, it always wraps around the curvy walls. Though Vatican City is a separate country unto itself, the line is in Rome and really represents two things: We are all Pilgrims to Rome and there is a real Roman way of life that is epitomized by queues.
Rome is a warm city with welcoming people. Visitors to Paris frequently remark that the Parisians can be a closed and stuffy bunch (although we have not always found that to be the case). But Rome does feel different – and rightfully so. Rome, perhaps more than Iraq or Greece, is the birthplace of our modern civilization. Everyone in Europe and the Western world can feel a connection to Rome and its importance. The Forum is familiar, not just because we have all studied it in school, but because our buildings are modeled on them. It is frighteningly easy to imagine how Washington DC may look in several thousand years from looking at the columns and marble of the Forum. The sense of belonging does not end there. Casting aside memories of bad strip-mall “Italian” restaurants, the food is also intimate and known. There is, of course the immediate recognition of the magic inherent in topping dough with a simple tomato sauce and some cheese – pizza is comfort food the world around. But even more intrinsically there is something recognizable about most of Rome's fare. Fish prepared simply, roasted and served with fresh tomatoes in a light broth evokes what seafood is all about. Gelato and cheese are proof that milk does have a usefulness in this world (for those who don't know, I am not fond of 'cow juice'). So it is easy to understand why so many people flock to Rome and feel attached and a sense of being connected to their own culture and civilization.
Then there is the “Roman Stroll”. Another of George Arthur's very apt terms, the Roman Stroll describes a pace of walking that is barely above stopped (to borrow his words). Like the line outside the Vatican, there are just some things about the Roman way of life that others (Americans in particular?) may find...well...frustrating. In Rome, and perhaps all of Italy, there is a strong sentiment of “look, this is the way it is, deal with it”. For instance, at the Smithsonian or the Louvre you will find large courtyards with turnstiles and a well marked line. In Rome, you often find clusters of people not sure which way they are headed or if they are even going the right way. Want to complain? Good luck! Thats not to say we are fussy travelers- after all, “when in Rome”, right? But that appears to be true about all of Roman life. Cars frequently double or triple park – want to call the police, good luck but they would likely reply “ahhh thats just the way it is, deal with it”. And once you digest this seeming inefficiency and give up some control, you realize its not so bad. Honking your horn, losing your cool at the museum, complaining that your food isn't perfect- none of those will get you very far. So why bother? Its a 'go with the flow' kind of place, and maybe we could all stand to take the Roman Stroll from time to time!