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!
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.