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.