So many people walk or drive scooters it feels like everything is in close proximity. And can they walk! One Metro drops you off about three stories underground with an escalator beside a stairway that heads straight up and out. Most take the escalator, but many…many, young and old take the stairs and blast them like the escalator was moving in slow motion. This impressed me.

You mix with every sort of local life on the Metro. In the morning it smells faintly of soap and cologne, (so much for the European never washing warning one of my more negative friends gave me) Most are headed to work and the trains can get packed like sardines, but that’s fine. Everyone carries purses, backpacks, shoulder packs and money belts and everyone keeps a hand on it and pulled toward the front of them. In fact that seemed to be the one fear in Rome and why tourists are probably so preyed upon. People are afraid of getting robbed.

Since conversation is at a minimum on the Metro, like it’s an elevator, you can turn your head in any direction and swear you were somewhere in the states. Everyone is different and the same, everywhere. Out on the streets I learned to beware of the scooters, they pop up fast, but they maneuver very well. However, I learned by the end of my first day if there is no traffic coming and it’s safe to cross fast against the light, do it! Don’t hesitate, just get across quick. Believe me, only the tourists really wait for the light.

On the third day I completed my mission. It excited me to have seen the two most important things in the first three days, which left the rest of my time for anything that might occur. Dying Gaul was the first, and The School of Athens by Raphael was to be the second. It was located in the Vatican Museum. I forgot about the pope on Wednesday. It makes no never mind to me that I missed him, but it is the pope. After eighteen years if Catholicism, the first twelve being a willing spiritual worshiping lamb, it is a story and an experience I wouldn’t mind having.

The line to get into the Vatican Museum is about forty five minutes long and I was told later not to go on Mondays because it is so packed that you have no choice but to go along with the crowd, and there is no opportunity to linger anywhere. As it was Thursday, I was able to spend four hours, yes four hours and after I left I thought it was short by at least two. Somehow after traveling almost all the way through the museum I had missed the School of Athens.

The problem was, I was looking for a painting. I had forgotten that my favorite piece in the world was a fresco (a wall painting) and that Raphael had painted entire rooms. I was, with a little effort, able to salmon my way back through the museum twice searching for it until I found it. It was a brilliant piece, but the colors in the room are quite deceptive and look dull. My photos, which you are allowed to take, all turned out quite brilliant. It is so big. The other rooms that were done by Raphael were all brilliant, but the School of Athens was fantastic. I don’t know how many pictures or video I took of it, but rest assured it was covered. 


I am not now and have never been a real follower of any sort of popular culture, so to be honest the Sistine Chapel and its ceiling were not on my list of “have to’s.” It had already been three hours of courtyards, busts, paintings, tubs and bowls, trinkets and pieces of all types. All of this after forty-five minutes in line, with picture after picture, and though everything was magnificent, I am not complaining in the least, but I was thoroughly exhausted. I had eaten a little something at the small café they had, but I was ready to get out, sit somewhere and eat. But I was here, and I figured I would see it just to say did. Besides that, the tour path leads right to it so…

  I didn’t even know I had reached it. I crossed the threshold of a set of double doors and there were a bunch of people in front of me in a very large room and all of the noise suddenly died away. The silence is what got me. Many of the rooms have minor crowds with mumbling in various languages, but I entered in relative silence.

Many people don’t realize that certain places have an anima to them that gives them energy. Some of these places are holy and you find that many churches have it, a moan like the structure is breathing. I noticed it almost immediately and I looked around for a moment before my eyes decided to travel up. The good thing about tilting your head up in the Sistine Chapel is that your mouth is ready to drop open. No words came to me and I did not comprehend exactly what I was looking at until I saw God and Adam in the center and that’s when I choked…

The next few days were spent in a daze of gelato and pizza, wandering the vast streets of Rome, from museums to off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods that scared me a bit as I had no business in them. All told the entire week with airfare would come to only 1,300 dollars believe it or not, that and the physical and emotional exhaustion which had my legs screaming that I fall dead on the concrete somewhere within the vast multi-layered cultural diversity of Rome was priceless.

Cathedrals, museums, women and shops waved past my vision in a blur as I lived out of a backpack in a hostel. The nine-hour returning plane trip in coach, unable to sleep was maddening, but every moment of the rest of my journey was dictated by my reflection back to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


I have to say nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when ni looked up, except for Robin Williams’ line in Good Will Hunting. I stared up at that ceiling and exhaled until my vision blurred and I realized I was crying. I released a quiet, “Oh my God.” I truly had no idea and I have to say irrevocably, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is without any doubt the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life. It didn’t just take my breath away it touched my soul in ways I don’t fully understand and may never. No picture or video I have ever seen before or since can adequately represent or prepare anyone for the Sistine Chapel.

Incidentally God and Adam in the center is certainly the most famous, but one of the least impressive pieces as the ceiling is surrounded and alive with figures, so rich in color and animation that they seem to move. They are all painted in three-dimensional action and as a result it can escape you that it is a flat painting. The corners of the ceiling are rounded and I was just quieted by the grand majesty of this thing above me. It is a chapel and being so there are guards uniformed and plain clothed keeping the noise level down and making certain people do not take pictures or video. I greedily filmed thirty seconds, more for myself to believe that I had actually been there. I found a bench and cried again offering a prayer that one day I create something a tenth as magnificent as Michelangelo has done here. Other than the quick video, I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of the postcards or pictures, which were brilliant and full of vibrant color, no.

I received something in that week that was missing from me, from my life, culture, pride, experience, spirit, any or all of which has changed me in some way to some unbeknownst degree that I may never truly know or understand fully. There are those that know me and see it, but one friend told me something that deflated and boosted me at the same time.

“I had that happen once,” he said. “and you feel and see things differently and think everyone else should too, but they don’t. No one else cares.”

It turned out to be true, but that only made the experience sweeter for me, as if I was privy to something special that no one else knew about. As I sat for over an hour in the Sistine Chapel trying to find some way of taking it all in and bringing it home with me, I could see that it was lost on many people who just wandered and continued like it was a tour. Some things in this world are just too much for them, and those of us who are privy to the extra have to cherish the fact that we get it and feel a little sadness for those who can’t, or don’t.

When I finally left Rome and returned home to Los Angeles I learned that I had taken almost four hundred pictures and nearly fifty movies. When one day I return to Rome, I will take many, many many more.       

Published by James Gabriel