Here is a story I got this week from Justin.
At breakfast this morning Gisiele was telling me about when she was a girl in Brazil the teacher had a Poster of the Mona Lisa and she asked the children to walk to the left of it and then to the right – ” See how her eyes follow you around the room, you can’t go anywhere with out her looking at you!”
‘I’ve heard that before, I said -‘lets test the theory.’
So I went to my bookshelf and pulled out “1001 paintings you must see before you die”, a tome I picked up last year at the Brisbane Gallery. I found the Mona Lisa and held it up to Gisiele who had begun side stepping to the left and the right – ‘Oohie, look, esta estranos, she said – ‘It follow me everywhere!’
But when I did it, I found the Lisa to be looking about 130 degrees to the left. Call me pragmatic. Anyway, a few pages away I saw a picture of The Sistine Chapel Ceiling. It led me to tell Gisiele a story about when, in 2004, I was in Rome and I made my pilgrimage to see Michelangelo’s famous Fresco Cycle in Vatican city.
‘Oh, you saw the Sistine Chapel…..you’re so lucky.’ She said.
‘Umm, actually I didn’t.’
I explained how I was denied my chance by the annoying Vatican guard who, as I reached the head of the queue, took the velvet rope next to him and attached it to the opposite hand rail at the foot of the chapel steps – ‘sorry people’ he said, ‘the Chapel is now closed’.
And that was that. Buggar! As I was on a morning flight back to London, I walked away feeling really pissed. I felt like Gabriel had turned me back from the gates of heaven. But what was even more annoying was that something happened on my way to the Chapel which had delayed me by two minutes. If I had not stopped I’d have been looking up at the Genesis, Creation, the drunk Noah, beautifully painted figures from the old Testament. Instead I was walking back to my room, crestfallen.
What had delayed me was something quite surreal. Id gotten off at Vatican station with a bunch of other tourists. I followed in the slip stream of a small group and just to be sure I asked a group of very arty women with cameras – ‘Excuse me, is this the way to the Sistine Chapel?’
‘Yes we are going too.’ They said.
So I walked up the street with the group and started to feel the kind of excitement you get when you approach something of magnificence or importance. Like seeing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, or Uluru, or peering over the ledge of the Grand Canyon, or watching lava spurt from a lava tube on a mountain in Hawaii, or, as a boy, the first Elephant you see in a zoo. But , suddenly, my excitement was thwarted by the ungodly sight of a man in jandals crouched on the sidewalk in full view of all, taking an enormous shit. What was so surreal about it was that the man, obviously insane, actually looked normal. He could have been my accountant on his holidays. His shorts around his knees, his face straining in the afternoon Roman sun, laying a long brown cable.
People were muttering – ‘look at the disgusting porko.’ Most we’re too embarrassed to say anything. Most just kept walking. But I knew my moment had arrived, and to to small group of voyeurs who stood around me, I announced –
‘Bloody Australian’s, you can’t take them anywhere!’
I headed on towards the Chapel and tried to put the horrible scene out of my head. What would the Pope think I wondered.
I joined the queue that led into the Sistine. I must have been waiting for half an hour. Some Americans were talking about the scandalous incident down the way, they were saying how in Italy they had no proper health care for the depraved and the mentally insane.
‘Mentally Insane. ‘ I said -‘ Do you know who that was?’
‘Some street lunatic too lazy to find a bathroom?’ Said the New Yorker.
‘You couldn’t be further from the truth. Have you heard of the British art invasion? Goldsmiths? Shock art? Post modernism?’
I leaned closer and lowered my voice – ‘That was Damien Hirst.’
‘Really, you’re kidding.’
‘I wish I was. I was reading about it only yesterday – he’s here doing his latest instillation.’
It was about then that the guard came to life put the purple velvet rope across the queue. ” Sorry people, the Sistine Chapel is closed.’
And that is the end of my little Roman story. I know some time in the future I will return to Vatican City and I will crane my neck at the ceiling and marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Maybe I will be with Gisiele.
Note: “Post modernism comes to The Vatican” was provide by Justin Summerton.