Today was the last full day in Rome and each day I've thought was the best... so of course today was no different. At one point I was flying down the infamous Appian way in a taxi listening to 70's music, discussing the ressurection message we'd just heard deep under the earth in the catacombs, and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Jamie and I started out the day with cappacinos and chocolate croissants like we always do. I kinda never want to see a chocolate croissant again, but the coffee I will miss. Not that we don't have good coffee in San Diego, but our truly good coffee has to be sought out like the holy grail, whereas it's on every street corner in Rome. ...Actually, that's how Rome is in general. Our most glorious basilica in the United States is copied and pasted a hundred times in Rome. In Rome, you'll be walking around a church trying to take it all in and figure out which painting is the Raphael you're looking for, when you find out the church's relic is Baby Jesus's manger. Jamie said he didn't really picture the nativity with a manger of intricatey wrought gold, silver and jewels,...which is what it looks like... but the humble wooden manger is protected inside of it. (jury's out in the academic world on whether it really is the authentic manger).
The religious lines got a little wonky for me today. I'm a happy protestant who grew up Evangelical but appreciates the beauty of the more liturgical Presbyterian church. I used to be staunchly reformed and calvinistic on all things (and I still am), but the older I get the more "big tent" Christian become. In some ways I think of each type of Christian as a genus that's entrusted with doing one thing (or a few things) well. The Roman Catholic church has the market on tradition, loyalty, and engaging all five senses.
We went to the oldest church in Rome and I could picture the early home church that started on that spot, and I could see its transformation through the ages, and I could witness people worshipping Christ today. Across the street from the oldest church, there are stairs where Jesus allegedly walked up to his trial (Constanine's mother brought them from Herod's palace in Jerusalem). The marble steps are so worn and sloped from thousands of years and millions of Catholics kneeling and praying on them, the steps have been closed for the last three hundred years. They're opened now. For a few months, you can pray on your knees up the twenty some odd steps. Even if they aren't the real stairs Jesus walked on (I can't turn off the rational part of my brain), it was a moving scene.
I didn't think anything could top the manger, Herod's stairs and oldest church, but the catacombs were the next thing on the itinerary. I was nervous, because it had proved super challenging to get tickets for our group. The lines are long and limited everywhere (and for almost everything) in Rome. So in order to get 22 tickets for anything, we had to book them in advance. The Colloseum, Borghese and Vatican were all challenging in their own way, but the catacombs were most difficult on the front side due to the language barrier, specific rules and lack of 21st century technology in use to aid communication halfway around the world. After much angst and multiple tries (and being hung up on several times), all I had was an email that said "your reservation is confirmed". No order number, no mention of what that confirmation entailed. It worked out perfectly though. A sweet old Italian gentleman had our tickets reserved for us on his hand written list (the couple behind us were from San Diego too!). All of the guided tours that go through catacombs (and aren't third party tours), are lead by a priest. Ours was Father Tren. He didn't look like stereo typical catholic priest. He was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, was young and had a dry sense of humor. He preached the gospel with such sincerity and passion: Though the catacombs are deep underground, dark and filled with the dead, it is actually a place of hope. Hope in the resurection. At the end he prayed for us, that we would be encouraged and strengthened not to get discouraged. To remember those who came before us. To rest in the saving power of the cross. Even the athiest was moved. There are 500,000 Christians buried down there, with marble slates filled with Latin and greek...lots of them with misppelled words and grammatical errors. The walls are filled with scratchings of messages "I miss you." "we will see each other again." "may God be with you". Father Tren called it "Devotional Graffiti".
We finished the last day with the usual three hour dinner from 8pm to 11pm, we've got lazy our last few days in Rome and have been eating at the restaurant right next door. The servers gave us hugs tonight and told us to come back...which was big of them. I could never quite tell if they had a panic attack every time we walked in with 12-18 people or if they appreciated the business we brought. Jesse wins the prize for the most adventurous eater this trip with fried sheep brain for first place, and Ben right behind with squid for second place. Honorable mention to a parent for the consumption of tripe. Jamie wins for most gelato consumed, and Hayley wins for most candy consumed. My favorite dish was veal and artichokes and I will miss being able to enjoy a glass of wine. It didn't give me a migraine like it does in the states which makes me think it was all in my head in the first place (pun intended?). Maybe I should give wine another try, or maybe I've grown out of it.
Not ready to leave, but feeling like a homing pigeon who needs to set the course back for home. I'm not actually a very adventurous person. I don't particularly love to travel, and I much prefer my own home and people. But my ideas get ahead of what my biological self prefers to do. Thus the connundrum of magical trips like these (but so worth it).
To next year in Jerusalem! (I kid, I kid).