Grazie Madonna

Those whose prayers have been answered (see previous post), can show their gratitude at this ad hoc shrine in via Trastevere. The slot at the bottom of the wall for donations for “bread for the orphans” has been crowded out by a hundred or so plaques dedicated to the madonna. The oldest plaques are closest to the shrine and date from the early 1950s. The more recent ones spread over the wall on either side.

La Madonnina

The shrine is opposite the Ministry of Education, so perhaps the plaques are from grateful students who have just passed exams successfully.

Grazie Ria

I like the mix of pompous engraving in marble contrasting with the magic marker on a simple bathroom tile. The grouting is uniformly shoddy, however. Probably due to the fact that they were stuck on hurriedly under cover of darkness.

Tech note: I wanted to do a rollover with the original photo, but couldn’t get it to work either with java or css. I don’t have Dreamweaver here in the Netherlands, either. Maybe I’ll try later with ImageReady that was bundled with Photoshop and not yet used. Any ideas?

Please please me

Saintly requests

This statue is in Santa Maria in Trastevere. The hundreds of slips of paper are requests for saintly intervention. Note how the more enterprising supplicants avoided getting their requests lost in the mess at his feet and stuck Post-its on his cassock.

Although I forgot to note the name of the saint, it is almost certainly Saint Anthony. Apparently he is the Patron Saint of Finance and can help you sell your house quickly. You should bury a small statue of him upside down facing your house.

I’m serious! People believe this stuff to work. Before I lived in Rome, I never knew Catholicism was such a fun religion. I mean I only knew the kind of Irish Catholicism of repression and misery (I think the rain had a lot to do with it). The real Roman version is so much more freaky fun. The things they come up with … you’d think they were …
a) crazy
b) on acid
c) completely out of touch with reality.

Back to my photo. I like how it’s slightly over exposed so that the candles at his feet threaten to turn it into an auto de fe.

Last exit for Italy

Last exit for Italy

Someone once wrote that war was composed of long periods of utter boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. That pretty much sums up my trip north from Rome to Friesland. The moments of terror came when an overloaded and swaying lorry suddenly swung out in front of me to overtake another slow-moving lorry. I can sympathize with the lorry drivers, however. I’d go stir crazy if I had to sit behind another lorry for hours at a time.

I hadn’t imagined my trip would be so boring. I had images of road trippin’ with Neal Cassady, Bird blasting from the dashboard. I guess the main reason was that I was doing it alone.

So by the time I’d hit Umbria, I was already yawning and wishing I was anywhere else but there.

Tuscany … ahhh, what can I say about dear Tuscany that hasn’t already been said? How about BORING BORING VERY VERY BORING. Florence? Ugly sprawl of warehouses and 70s apartment blocks.

I thought as a symbol of my blasé-ness and of the tedium of the scenery, I’d photograph road signs of the illustrious places I passed by. However, I was too bored for even that, so there are big gaps between Florence and Germany.

Road sign - FlorenceRoad sign - GenovaRoad sign - KarlsruheRoad sign - FrankfurtRoad sign - KolnRoad sign - Arnheim

I used to drive quite tensed on highways, never moving my head, gripping the wheel with both hands, in the textbook 10 to 2 position. Although in central Rome I drove with one hand always on the gear stick, ready to flick gears and zip into a crack in the gridlock. Roman drivers abhor free space in traffic.

Not long into this trip, I was slumped back, my right arm stretched across the back of the passenger seat and steering with two fingers and thumb loosely hooked round the wheel. My left foot was completely redundant, since I hardly ever needed to change gear. And not a single traffic light for most of the 1700 km.

I was happy to note that Padre Pio was still beating off the soft porn on Italian lorries (read previous post on Pio).
Just after Florence, I got caught in a torrential downpour and could barely see where I was going. Hell, I’ve driven in worse in West Africa. It’s best not to pull over in case you get washed away – just slow down and follow the white centre line.


Shortly after that, I was brought to a standstill for two and a half hours when a lorry carrying pallets overturned and caught fire. Commendable blitz spirit was shown by all. I finished the last of my water and wondered where I could pee.

Traffic jam

I didn’t have a map with me, and as the night was drawing in, I wanted to see how far I’d got. At a Modena service station (Tip: the best balsamic vinegar is from Modena), the only maps available were of Milan and Parma, the two nearest towns. Further proof that Italians don’t travel far. Unlike the Dutch, who formed a constant stream of caravans and campers heading north.

I spent the night just south of Milan, having done less than 500 km. The next day I did 1200 km, crossing four countries.

Switzerland, also boring

In Germany, I passed the time by playing word games with licence plates. German plates are the most generatively heuristic. Favourites were BOT FK 26 and FFS GO 54.

Thinking ahead to the end of the trip, I imagine I’ll have to be levered out of my seat with a pole, I feel bloated and pasty. The long-distance driving diet is very poor in protein and fibre and high in those hard-to-cut-out carbs, while the sugars are off the charts.

As I neared the Dutch border, I smiled to see the Dutch drivers enjoy their last burst of speed (200 km/hr) on the autobahn before going back home at half the speed.

I was struck too by the brilliant colours of the fields, proving that the grass really is greener on the other side of the border, the result, no doubt, of the liquid manure that Dutch farmers are so partial to.

The stench has the same effect as smelling salts and keeps me alert for the final two hours.

I use the image of a very top-heavy woman as a mnemonic for the last three highways to take: 50-28-32, until my headlights hit the sign in full beam:

Wolkom yn Fryslân

Place your bets @

The odds-on favourite for a papacy prophecy double: Francis Arinze (Nigeria) will choose the name Benedict. For a long shot, try Cardinal Polycarp Pengo will choose the name D’Wayne, oh not on the list. Damian, then, at 100-1.

Hold on! Haven’t any of the Cardinals seen The Omen??!

Of course, as Paddy Power points out,

According to prophecies, we are in the days of the end of the Papacy and the Catholic Church.

In which case, all bets will be declared null and void, they should add.

While the Cardinals discuss the role of the Church in a material world with its “dictatorship of relativism” (Ratzinger), you can pass the time with this:

A solid bet

Sexy :: Saintly

I didn’t manage to get a photo of these two posters side-by-side in our street before they peeled off and fell to the ground in a soggy mush.

It was quite a striking juxtaposition.

Still, by the “miracle” of Photoshop …

Be SexyBe saintly

Thank goodness they never met wearing the same outfit.

FYI the original and far more impressive photo of the Pope, by AFP photographer Gabriel Bouys, can be found here, with the story behind the image.