The Italian Paradox
of "aggressive- in a hurry driving and leisurely lunches", - "ultra
modern stores next to centuries old architectural masterpieces", " the
incredible number of churches in Italy, many which were formerly pagan
sites", "is the location of the Vatican, yet has the lowest church
attendance in Europe",
The Italian Paradox
Philippine Daily Inquirer; By Queena N. Lee-Chua; Monday, May 30th, 2011
ITALY AND its people are a mass of contradictions.
Age-old monuments, churches and palaces in Rome and Venice, with their weathered facades, are now ultra-modern stores showcasing the latest Gucci, Prada and Valentino creations.
Taxi drivers zoom through narrow paths, with traffic lights "only a suggestion", said Sylvana, our Rome guide. "Just bravely cross the street, do not run, do not flinch", she told our group of more than 30.
Yet amid the bustle and the blaring
of horns, Italians swear by la dolce vita (the sweet life) with meals lasting
for hours followed by siesta.
Religion in Italy, and in the Vatican, is a paradox. Soaring cathedrals and basilicas mark almost every corner, with gorgeous frescoes and murals from long ago. But many buildings used to be the centers of pagan rites, such as the Pantheon (meaning "to all the gods").
Augustus Caesar?s general, Marcus Agrippa, commissioned the Pantheon as a temple to Roman deities. But six centuries after Christ, Pope Boniface IV transformed it into a church.
During the Renaissance, the Pantheon became a tomb to the painter Raphael and the composer Corelli and, in the 20th century, to King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita, after whom the Margherita pizza, with red tomatoes, green basil and white cheese, was named. Red, green and white are the colors of the Italian flag.
Today, the Pantheon is still a church, but tourists far outnumber Mass-goers. The same is true of Rome?s churches.
One Sunday morning, in different languages, the priest invited tourists in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (not to be confused with the Pantheon, which is the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs) to hear Mass, but only a handful did. The rest were more interested in the tomb of Pope Pius IV, the statue of Galileo Galilei, and the medieval sundial used to calculate when Easter would be.
On a Saturday afternoon in the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major (the biggest of 27 churches dedicated to Mary in Rome), a few devotees sat in the pews as a priest, his back to the congregation, said Mass in Latin. But most people preferred to gaze at the painting of Mary, supposedly done by St. Luke the Evangelist, or peer into the sanctuary said to house the wooden relics of Christ?s manger.
Words cannot describe the magnificence of the ceiling by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. We spent half an hour, heads tilted upward, looking intently at the panels, from the iconic Creation, where God extended the finger of life toward Adam, to the panel of the Sun and Moon, where the Lord, said Sylvana, "in his haste to create, whirls about, exposing his behind."
We could not believe it "the venerated ceiling of the place where cardinals choose the next pope, had a partially undressed God the Father!
Vatican museums are full of superb figures of Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, most of them in full frontal glory, sans fig leaf. The Borghese Gallery has some of the best statues, commissioned by Cardinal Borghese, like Bernini?s "Rape of Proserpina by Pluto" and ?Apollo and Daphne".
Catholics of yesteryears were definitely not prudes, and sex was not taboo.
Scott had his first look at porn in the ruins of Pompeii. On the walls of houses in the red-light district were crude images of people having sex, drawings of genitals as signposts to earthly pleasures. "At least this is classic porn", I rationalized, as Scott laughed out loud at some of the bolder pictures.