Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Drinking Holy Water in the Vatican

I'm sad, but you knew that already. No, I mean I'm with sorrowful heart. I've just left Rome and, as you know, there's no place like Rome. The Lovely Nina has flown off too. We had four days 'doing' Rome, but not in the way I think the majority of its visitors 'do' Rome. First of all, very few visitors cycle into Rome and that's because, to be fair, it's a bloody silly idea. It's fun though, in an extreme sport sort of way.

Last year, in Berlin, Nina researched our temporary home and put us right in the heart of Berlin's funky grungeland, Kreuzberg. Attempting to do the same in Rome, she opted for Pigneto, which to me sounds like the worst idea for an ice cream ever. Pigneto is famous as the location for a number of 1960s Passolini films. It also recently featured on the cover of a Morrissey album although he's basically lying on some railway tracks and, to be honest, he could just have easily shot it in Manchester, the big ponce. At least in the UK he would have been in no danger of getting run over by a train.

Like Kreuzberg, Pigneto is working class and bohemian and almost entirely devoid of tourists. In fact, it falls just off the edge of the official city centre map and so, to all intents and purposes, doesn't actually exist. Pigneto's main thoroughfare, with its graffiti-covered walls enhancing an already colourful daily market, morphs at night into a student-filled street party with more bars than Strangeways and, at times, a similar police presence. It is, after all, called Pigneto. But this was real Rome, where the smiles weren't attempts to sell you something and where the beer didn't need to cost six euros a pint as it seemed to in most of the tourists traps closer to the centre.

Our first full day was a typical tourist fortnight. We saw the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and, er, absolutely everything else that Rome has to offer. In total we walked three hundred and sixty seven miles. This allowed us to take it easy for the rest of our stay, absorbing our base and its surrounding areas, eating far too much pizza and waiting for feet to grow back on to our bloodied stumps.

Speaking of pizza, I highly recommend the potato and rosemary pizza at Super Pizza in another student area of town, San Lorenzo, although Nina mockingly described it as 'a crisp pizza'. Super Pizza provides its grub in a manner similar to rolling sushi. The chef at the back knocks out a giant rectangular pizza, 18 inches by 36, a different flavour every few minutes, and punters queue for a slice or two of whichever flavours grab them. Even if it's a crisp pizza. And it wasn't a crisp pizza. She just had a burnt bit.

More importantly, I had a challenge to complete. With only an hour or so in the Vatican - a country in its own right - I needed to consume something I'd never had before. Finding something original in Popeland (TM) was always going to be a problem. The Benedict-faced lollipops that Stewart Lee talks about were either an invention of his or they are no more. At least that's what Elaine, a Canadian OU student and Rome tour guide, told me and she should know. The religious tat shops liberally scattered throughout Rome certainly didn't have any. I always had that black Chinese Egg of Doom to fall back on just in case, but surely there would be something. And then we saw it. A roadside fountain, spewing forth what, given its location, could only be - ta-daaaah! - Holy Water. So I drank some and I saw the light, but then again it was quite a sunny day.

Holy Water is a difficult concept to grasp. I can understand the instant at which the water might become holy - after a blessing or, of course, when piped through a Vatican fountain. But when, if ever, does it stop being holy? Does Holy Water have a memory? Homeopaths believe in the memory of water and they usually talk a lot of sense, if by 'a lot of' I actually mean 'absolute non'. And if Holy Water touches non-Holy Water, what happens? Does it all become infected with the spirit of the Lord or is the holiness diluted and the combined water only, say, Partially Pious Water? And what about when it passes through my body? Is my subsequent urinal outflow now spiritual? When someone says, "I wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire", could I now actually offer this as a sort of resurrection service? There could be money in it. And, finally, if the Holy Water merges in my stomach with the pizza I had for lunch, does that mean that twenty-four hours later I will have a Holy Shit? I think the Church needs to provide some answers. Mmm, that'd be a first.

Anyway, we came, we saw, we conked out. Rome is no more, but Naples comes in three days, and Malta is a week or so after that. And The Lovely Nina will await me in spicy Istanbul, wearing a fez, just like that. Life is good. Especially now that I'm holy.

By the way, God says hi.

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