This morning it was up at 5:50 a.m., dress, breakfast, coffee, hurry children into clothes, and hurry shivering in the chill of dawn to the taxi stand at the Largo del Torre Argentina. Mark and the two big boys got into one taxi, headed for St. Peter's to see it first thing in the morning. Me, I was going somewhere else. I helped the 4yo and his 8yo sister into the back, then bundled myself and the baby in.
"Alora, ingresso dei Musei Vaticani, per favore."
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I had prepaid for a private tour from a company called Walks Inside Rome, recommended by a friend. WIR features several tours intended for children and families, including the "Treasure Hunt In The Vatican" tour. (We had also taken a private tour of the Colosseum and Forum from them on Wednesday). This was not cheap, mind you, but I could not think of a better way to include the younger children in this trip than to hire someone who had already done the legwork of identifying things that would interest them and guiding us quickly from one to the other.
Outside the walls we met our guide, Luisa. She brought with her a little quiz book of questions for the 8yo to work on while we waited. Luisa entertained the 4yo with questions ("Do you know we are going to another country just on the other side of this wall? Do you know who is the president, or the king, of this other country? Do you know what colors are the flag of this other country?") I contemplated the great metal doors embedded in the city walls, still looking as if they are ready to resist the sack of the barbarians.
It is a bit jarring when the doors open, finally, to reveal a ticket office. Of course everything is all friendly now, and good for business, but I can't help but remember that it wasn't quite so long ago that these walls meant business. They really are fortifications, after all.
Inside our first stop was in a lovely courtyard, the Cortile della Pigna, with a great brass sphere in the center. "Can I run?" asked the 4yo, and took off before Luisa could say anything.
"Come right back," I called after him, and looked to the guide nervously, but she said that now, before there were really any crowds, it wasn't a problem.
"Stay off the grass though!" she called.
He made the circuit of one rectangular grass plot and came back to us, and I caught his hand.
"This courtyard contains some very old things, and some very new thing," she said. "Can you be a detective and solve the mystery of what is the very old thing and what is the very new thing?"
The very old thing turned out to be an Egyptian lion, which delighted my 4yo, who knows well what his first name means. And the new thing, my daughter picked out: the brass sphere in the center of the courtyard. Luisa led us there. She stepped over the rope, put her shoulder against a crevice in the sphere, threw her weight into it, and slowly the sculpture began to rotate. As the hidden side came into view, we could see a second, concentric sphere revealed within the first. The sculptor, Arnoldo Pomodoro ("Mr. Tomato," she said), meant for the great sphere to be the world, "a great world with much evil," she said, "and a smaller, good world that is hidden inside and bursting out of it."
more to come...