È fatto

For weeks have we been silent: No time to write in these hur­ried last days of the trip, no ideas what to write after hav­ing returned home. Yes, we are back: Nelson in Małopolska and I in Westfalen.

This trip has been harder than the one we did from Münster to Kraków in 2015: Physically harder, mor­ally more exhaust­ing and finally more expens­ive (an extra euro per day for Nelson’s caffè and two for my gelato). We under­es­tim­ated the ter­rain, we had to hurry, but most of all it has been bloody hard to find hosts in Italy. France had been hur­ried, but those small hard­ships there had been bal­anced most gen­er­ously by our fant­ast­ic hosts … Switzerland, after hav­ing dropped poor Jorge off in America and thus hav­ing a bit more time at our dis­pos­al, was bliss. Intramus Italia: The place every­one goes to. When we did find couch­surfers and warm­shower­ers, for the bet­ter part they were every bit as fant­ast­ic as their French coun­ter­parts; only: so often we did­n’t find any. The prob­lem isn’t that one night spent on a beach or a for­eign front lawn, it’s the loss of hope. On our only true rain day – Le Locle to Tramelan –, we rode over moun­tain and val­ley, soak­ing wet and feel­ing pretty cold, clearly not our favour­ite thing to do and yet easy to laugh off, for we had been sure of arriv­ing to a warm wel­come (and I must stress for once that it’s bloody amaz­ing to be able to be that sure of a warm wel­come by people we’ve nev­er met before … so often).

And yet “hard” does­n’t mean “awful”, of course. Then, in Rome, there was also the final reward!

Photo by Franck Michel
(Photo by Franck Michel)

Nelson, hav­ing arrived days earli­er in Rome than me, organ­ised the tick­ets for the gen­er­al audi­ence, long after I had giv­en up the hope to ful­fill this endeav­our. Getting them is sur­pris­ingly easy: You have to approach one par­tic­u­lar Swiss Guardsman (none of the oth­ers will do) and ask him. He will give them to you without mov­ing as much as a single face muscle, let alone look at you. Nelson knew what to do thanks to the friends he made with the Jubilee volun­teers – the people run­ning around the neigh­bour­hood of the Vatican, try­ing to guide the pil­grims and tour­ists into their respect­ive lanes. According to him, upon his arrival he must have looked – unwashed, exhausted, frantic-mad – as if a vile hoard of boars had just chased him into the city. Which is, coin­cid­ent­ally, what had in fact happened. The volun­teers took pity on that poor creature who cried: “Please … please let me into the church …”

Arriving early on St. Peter’s Place, you can pick whichever seat you like. Large rect­angles of chairs are sep­ar­ated by fences (the seasoned Rome tour­ist may know the sight, as the bar­ri­cades tend to stand around for the remain­ing Wednesday) and wide lanes in between. The guards­men may send you into a par­tic­u­lar block, but it’s only a recom­mend­a­tion; chan­ging your dir­ec­tion does not typ­ic­ally send the hal­berdiers after you.

Francis seems to be an early riser: The papamobile arrives well ahead of the time prin­ted on the tick­et, tak­ing fif­teen or twenty minutes to drive through those lanes, mak­ing sure to grace the square’s every corner … the best places seem to be the ones next to the fences, on the shad­owy left side (when facing the façade). The front row isn’t that spe­cial since there is still a con­sid­er­able dis­tance to the white can­opy in front of the church from which the ser­mon is later delivered, and offi­cial pil­grim groups, prel­ates and guards­men get to sit to its left and right, so bet­ter befriend a bish­op for max­im­um prox­im­ity to the pon­ti­fex max­imus. Along the fences, mean­while, all the action takes place. Bring a baby for him to kiss, or bet­ter: a jar of mate, as one Argentinian horde did (and what seems to occur every oth­er audi­ence, as my Google search for the fit­ting image we did­n’t take sug­gests). Infidels, beware; this Francis knows what real mate tastes like and recog­nises a poisoned serving on the spot; shall recom­pense them their wicked­ness, and des­troy them in their own malice.

The ser­mon is very short and very long: Way below ten, per­haps below five minutes in Italian; but then trans­lated ten­fold into French German Spanish Portuguese Polish Quenya Slovak Croatian Arabic – for every lan­guage, a dif­fer­ent priest steps for­ward, and that for every bit of greet­ing, ser­mon, announce­ments and goodbye.

The bless­ing extends to non-present friends and fam­ily mem­bers – I take it that blog fol­low­ers are included as well, so do some­thing for your sal­va­tion and read on. We will not let you wait that long any­more, espe­cially now that all that toil is done with and we won’t have to write a thou­sand requests any­more or to bang on a thou­sand doors in Baschi till we get access to a work­ing keyboard.

Our nar­rat­ive has always been that only very few des­tin­a­tions had seemed suit­able for us: Either a Papal audi­ence or tea-time at Buckingham Palace … well, only half of that worked out, but for­tu­nately a dif­fer­ent Queen has already thought of us.

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