Roman Holiday

Instead of recapping the last week in Rome, here is a sums-it-all-up Sistine Chapel story. One day we visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. Everything about St. Peter’s is beyond human scale: its physical dimensions, its luxurious details, its place in history. The collection in the Vatican museums is also lush, the Roman Catholic Church having acquired a staggering number of tchotchkes. Our visit ended with the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s frescoes in all of their restored glory. There were probably 500 visitors in the room, everyone craning their necks to stare at the high ceilings and walls. Entering the Chapel one sees International signs advising visitors not to sit on the steps, speak, or engage in other disrespectful behavior. Near the altar and The Last Judgment stood a circle of six guards talking, laughing, gesticulating, and completely ignoring everyone else in the room–except that every few minutes one would turn, shush the crowd, and yell “no photos!” After this admonishment he turned back to yak with his pals. After a brief period of relative quiet the crowd would continue as before, talking, pointing, and shooting flash pictures. After a half-dozen flashes another guard would lift his head from the conversation, yell “shush!”, and shout “no photos!” We were also treated to a multiple-language announcement instructing us not to take photos or talk. The lapsed catholic in me could still imagine eternal damnation for ruining the Sistine frescoes so I stayed flash and photo free, but it is no surprise that many tourists ignore the rule. Everywhere else throughout St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums photo flashes are as common as lightning bugs on a hot summer night. The obvious way to enforce the no-flash no-loud-talking rules effectively would be to deploy the guards to the corners of the Sistine Chapel. Instead they hang in a knot and act like middle-school boys on lunch break.

The guards do their jobs by paying lip-service to enforcement; the tourists observe the rules by paying lip-service to obedience. Benign chaos. That’s Roma.

4 thoughts on “Roman Holiday”

  1. This makes me think of how one should lead by example. If police officers walked around disobeying the law and only occasionally glanced up to yell at people every once in a while imagine how bad the crime rate would be. Its no wonder why all of the tourists continue to flash their cameras against the many warnings; nobody is consistantly enforcing the rules. Consistancy is key with dicipline. When tourists figure they can get away with it sometimes it gives them grounds for getting away with it all the time. This somewhat relates to commonlaw. Commonlaw is based off of previously decided cases. If courts didn’t uphold previous decisions people would get away with murder.

  2. I agree with jtannhau: the reason for the chaos is that the guards have never enforced the rules. As a result, the visitors do not expect (and do not receive) any punishment; of course they would continue their behavior. This behavior can be attributed to the visitors’ belief in legal realism: “who enforces the law counts more than what the law says” (pg. 5 of the LA245 Course Outline). The rules alone ask for respectful behavior, but it is the behavior of the enforcers (the guards) that influences the visitors. In other words, how the guards behave is more important than the rules themselves.

  3. One particular thing that stands out to me is the enforcement of “rules” when in reality, the guards are not doing their jobs. Merely shouting and yelling does absolutely nothing except annoy and infuriate the tourists. As soon as one steps foot into the chapel and one sees signs prohibiting such disrespectful behavior and conduct, reinforcements, including guards checking bags at the entrance and/or other methods must definitely be fixated. When guards laugh and engage in other, unrelated behaviors, including ignoring everyone, and at their own will, shouting sporadically, not only is that mocking the profession of the guards and credibility but also it serves as a condescending of social class. A badge or other form of attire indicating you are of a certain profession does not void the fact that you are a human with correct norms. Power and money may buy fleeting happiness and possession but it doesn’t necessarily earn immediate respect.

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