[extropy-chat] embedded in open hearts

Amara Graps Amara.Graps at ifsi.rm.cnr.it
Tue Apr 5 22:26:13 UTC 2005

(A story from this morning)

This morning I woke up at 4:30 am, and caught the 5:10am train
from Frascati to Roma. At the Roma Termini stazione, after a
capuccino and cornetto at the only stazione bar open at 5:45am, I
headed underground, scurrying along a familiar path towards the
Battistini endpoint of the Metro A Line. There, I was overcome
with the first wave of humanity of many that I was to experience
that morning. Me and many hundred others were blocked, stopped in
the dank depths of Rome's metro system. The Rome Civil Protection
were controlling the numbers of people entering the metro because
we were many times the number that the cars could actually hold.
They underestimated our numbers, though, because when we were
free to go forward,('Avanti!), our large numbers filled the
platform, and when a metro car eventually arrived, it was already

Mama mia!! Push ('non spinge!'). Shove. Cuss. Some people made it
on, most did not, and we waited for the next (again full) metro
car. More pushing, a woman loudly scolding us to watch out for
her bambino, and I slipped into the metro car tightly, while
hugging my backback. And I stood, supported on all sides by the
bodies filling the available air pockets, for the next six stops.

Six stops and 25 minutes later at the Ottaviano exit, we metro
sardines climbed the steps into open, cool air, breathing
gratefully, and found that the darkness of night was just
beginning to break.

"Dov'e' San Pietro?" I heard someone ask. Their question was
unnecessary, though, because all one needed to do was follow the
line of people, and if you missed that for some reason, the
barricades shepherded the flock into the right direction.

We rounded the corner, and I caught my breath. Our destination,
the San Pietro church, stood, glowing in the breaking night. This
is a magnificent structure with Michelangelo's basilica dwarfing
the people below. I heard snapshots of cameras all around me. I
took out my own camera and made my photos too. We move forward.

The last time I was on Via d. Conciliazione, it was to count the
remaining obelisks on my bicycle exploration of Rome, where the
art history professor at my university was leading a dozen
similarly- bicycle-attired students and moi (a tag-alog), to all
of the obelisks. We were on obelisk number 49 when we entered the
Vatican, and with 24 obelisks lining Conciliazione (masquerading
as street lamps), and one  more large obelisk resting in the
center of San Pietro piazza, the bicycling art obelisk tour on
that vacant Sunday morning one year ago was complete.

Via d.Conciliazione this time was not vacant on this morning at
6:30am. Besides the many tens of thousands of people around me,
eight television screens lined the streets, showing camera views
of us on the promenade from a perspective in front, us on the
promenade from a perspective from the air, camera views of people
entering the church, and camera views of the body of the Pope
himself. I joined the throng, walking with the moving mass,
listening to the sounds. Italian crowd voices (almost all).
Dominating the crowd from loudspeakers were spoken bible
passages, first in Italian, then in English, then in French, then
in Polish. A chanting song or two, to calm the crowd. Then the
cycle of bible verses, and songs began again.

School kids. Old people. Groups of people from parishes all over
Italy chattered while the designated leader held a stick with a
flag signifying their origin. A family with a baby in a
bundlesack on the mother's chest. Teenage couples hugged each
other and whispered. An old man dressed in his finest gray suit
pulled a small red shopping cart, bumpety-bump, on the
cobble-stone road.

One hour later, our long straight line entered San Pietro piazza
and it was transformed into a snake, winding left, winding right,
a few more twists, until it enters the Mouth. The mouth of the
enormous open door, flanked with red velvet drapes, of the church
where the Pope lay in state. Our TV screens and verses and music
disappeared. We were then surrounded with very old columns and
statues, while a garbage truck made its rounds, sweeping up the
water bottles and cans. The snake looked like a line of ants into
the distance.

An older Italian woman has adopted me, showing me her favorite
sculptures while reciting the latin words at their base. She
explains some of the upcoming procedure of the election of the
new pope because she has experienced the previous four.

One hour after we entered the piazza, we are in front of the
door-Mouth. Already one cannot miss the Pope's body because it is
the only brightly-lit object in the church, raised, visible from
outside of the door. Stepping inside of the church, we are
subdued, the church enveloped us in grandioso paintings and
sculpture several times our size. The ceiling overhead is
luminescent. Some people have tears running down their cheeks.

Our line splits into two, so that some can walk past the Pope's
body on the right, the other on the left. 'A sinestra?' I ask my
companion. 'Si', she says. We have only about 30 seconds in the
vicinity of the Pope's body before the guards wave us along. I
reached my conclusion from those seconds that the Pope did not
die serenely as the Vatican priests had said. He had been in
pain. I feel sad. We move on.

Once outside in the sunlight, I view the throngs of people before
us who seem to have doubled in size. I say goodbye to my friend,
she wishes me good luck for my life in Italy, and we part, and I
slowly exit the Vatican.


Why did I, a nonCatholic, embed myself in the masses of people,
bidding goodbye to the Pope?

The primary reason was that I was given a rare opportunity to
observe and experience some of the elements that drive one
billion of the Earth's occupants. I want to understand better how
people are 'moved'.

In addition I want to understand better the culture (Italy) in
which I've chosen to make my home.

And given that this might be the only time in my life when the
messy, chaotic place where I live is at the center of the world's
attention, I wanted to participate.

Was it worth it? Most certainly yes. 'An incredible experience' I
told myself when I exited the Vatican. For several hours, I was
surrounded for kilometers by many tens of thousands of people who
had opened their hearts.


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