Excerpts from Chlora’s Grand Detour: Rome
Draft 1, Feb. 2014, copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora and her sister are on their first
trip to Europe, paying homage to art.
It was called St. Peter’s Square but anybody could tell
it was a big oval. The generous space was surrounded
by statues and it was like getting a grandiose hug from all sides.
However, St. Peter wouldn’t let her in the heavenly gates
or the ginormous basilica
in her sleeveless shirt.
Ha! as if her bony shoulders were sexy
enough to drive those priests mad.
But Chlora now knew she had
a real chance of becoming a teenager.
She had to buy a scarf from an
overpriced souvenir stand
and tie it over her shoulders.
She found the brightest colored scarf there,
with a Picasso image on it, certain that the Pope,
or whomever is appointed purity police chief,
It was all worth it to see that Pieta.
Nothing else in that huge space even mattered.
Chlora was able to get up close and personal
with Michelangelo, noticing the chisel marks
from his very own hand, and where he had polished
the marble, and where he had left it rough.
The best part was the hem of Mary’s robe,
undulating across the base of the statue.
She yearned to run her fingers along those curves
but the guards were giving her the evil eye.
Someday they wouldn’t be so strict
and she might just sit in Jesus’ lap.
The cathedral was so big it was too big.
Awe is one thing, but this was just too much.
They wandered around to gawk at more bigness,
and Chlora snapped a picture of Joanie Kay
in front of the St. Veronica sculpture, swooping
her scarf like Veronica’s veil.
They both got a thorough Italian scolding for that.
Who was Veronica anyhow?
She stared in amazement at the twisted thing up front
and at the teeny tiny mosaic pieces that fooled you
into thinking paintings were paintings.
There was goldy stuff all over the place
and marble enough to build three Colosseums.
Why did the Church need to be this lavish?
What was it Jesus said about the poor?
He could probably fit all the homeless people in the
world in here and have room leftover, but at least
their eyes wouldn’t starve.
Then their group was recollected
and diverted en mass into the Vatican museums
for the long, hard march toward the Sistine Chapel.
Great art, like spirituality, requires commitment
to the long haul.
Chlora had her eyes peeled for the
ancient sculpture of the Laocoon.
Somebody once sent her a postcard of it.
It was even more twisted than
that canopy inside St. Peter’s,
again, nudes with snakes.
Right then, Chlora challenged
Joanie Kay to a shootin’ match
to see who could get the best pictures of
nude naked people.
For a couple of vestal virgins,
Rome was a great education.
You’d think statues would keep their clothes on
in the Vatican, if human women had to.
There were not enough
modesty drapes and fig leaves
to go around in this small city.
After the trek through halls of maps and statues
that nobody really looks at, they had to trudge
by some really bad modern art
that made faith a thing of the past.
At last they were thrust into the famous Sistine Chapel
where Michelangelo had his lust for life.
Charleton Heston gave her the willies,
but Chlora had high hopes for the Sistine ceiling.
The crowd was ushered through a narrow passageway
and burst through a small door cut right into the
Last Judgment. So just what did that mean?
You get squeezed from the womb into the big, bad world
and if you try to turn back, you see
right above your head that pagan Minos
with a snake biting him on his private parts.
Unbelievable, right beside the main altar of the chapel.
The Sistine needed to clean up its act
in more ways than one.
She attempted to take a picture but
guards rushed everyone forward and there
was no turning back.
Guards repeatedly reminded
tourists that this was indeed a chapel,
to be quiet, reverent and NO PICTURES.
In Chlora’s world, being reverent
meant bowing your head,
but if you do that, you won’t see a thing.
One man fired off his Polaroid anyhow,
and the guard snatched the stinky wet photo before
it was even discharged from the camera.
Chlora respectfully craned her head back
as far as it would go.
It was dark in there.
Everybody was rubber-necking. A masseuse could make a fortune
giving neck rubs in there.
Would they let you lie down on the floor?
Chlora got lucky and got a seat on the 50 yard line,
right below the creation scenes.
She happily borrowed Aunt Poppy’s
fancy little opera glasses.
What did near-sighted people do back then?
Maybe nobody in the Renaissance had bad vision.
She picked out the creation of Adam.
Adam looked rather nonchalant and all grown up
to be in the position of being created,
and Father God in his big brain
energetically reached out to
touch Adam’s limp finger.
Apparently it doesn’t take much to
bring men to life.
Moving onto the creation of Eve,
Chlora was transfixed looking for Adam’s rib
when a big disruption occurred nearby
between Joanie Kay and a security guard.
She had tried to take a picture
with her Brownie camera.
The flash had gone off and a grabby guard
jerked the light bulb right off of the camera.
Joanie Kay was really mad, as he also bent the
flash attachment. She demanded a refund.
Nope. Silencio Pleezio! No photograffia!
The blurry picture she took was frozen forever
on her Brownie.
Chlora politely gave up her seat for an old lady
and wandered through the crowd.
She knew most of the Old Testament stories,
but this sure was a mismash.
Where’s Waldo? There was that drunken,
naked Noah. How come they let him into
Chlora decided she’d rather be a prophet than a sibyl.
One of them looked like Rosie the Riveter.
Michelangelo sure didn’t like women very much
but at least he left most of their clothes on.
Despite the overwhelmingness of it all,
and the odd assortment of characters,
the tone of the room did indeed feel like a chapel.
If you tuned out all the distractions
and all the historical tidbits,
the art in there alone made it heavily reverent.
Only God himself could ever compete with that.
The Vatican about wore them all out,
but the next day they got on the bus again,
and headed to Sorrento
where there were lemons as big as your head, well
almost, and everybody drank
drunken lemon-ade called lemoncello.
The town was high on a cliff.
Going down to the beach
is the same as taking your life in your hands,
but it was worth it because the black sand
was strewn with sea glass, sparkling like jewels
mostly in shades of bottle green.
But an occasional blue or brown or even red
caught the sun, and Chlora filled up her pockets.
Where did all this tumbled glass come from?
Mostly Coke and beer bottles, Milk of Magnesia
and the tail lights of wrecked cars, she supposed,
but it was more romantic to pretend it
was from Spanish galleons and
ancient Roman perfume bottles.
On they went to Pompeii,
a ghost town, now full of people.
The godawful agony of ancient townsfolk
was cast in plaster, even the dogs,
who were chained up and couldn’t run from
the spew of Vesuvius way back when,
after Jesus had come and gone.
Where was he that day?
He always seems to come around
after these natural disasters,
but nobody knows how many he prevents.
Chlora got her foot stuck in a rut
made by chariot wheels.
She twisted her ankle
but she was not gonna tell Aunt Poppy
and get subjected to socialized medicine,
even if it was good enough to serve everybody equally.
She limped into a house-like structure
to lean again the wall.
The tour guide was yammering
outside about the latrines,
which were merely a line up of holes
in a slab of marble.
Everybody sat there together and chatted
while they did their business,
then they took baths together
and passed around the plague.
She was glad to have missed
such ancient hygiene by being born now.
On the wall above her,
Chlora saw a small sign that said
House of the Vetti,
No women or children allowed.
That peaked her interest,
since obviously boys could go in.
She slipped into a room,
ignoring the ache in her ankle.
She spied a fresco high on the wall
— what was that guy doing?
One thing Joanie Kay and Chlora could agree on:
nude naked people are interesting.
Right there on the wall, with pride of place,
Priapus the prissy puss
weighed his big awful thing against a bag of gold.
He had tried to outshoot Vesuvius and lost.
Or maybe he took too much Viagra,
and got stuck that way.
No doubt about it, his picture trumped
anything Joanie Kay had taken in the Vatican.
Chlora won the Shootin’ match.
One sure didn’t need binoculars to see Priapus--
he stuck out like a sore thumb.
And now he was emblazoned upon her
camera, if not her memory.