Wanderer

My European Top Spots.

It’s nearly April… I’ve been wondering where to spend my summer. While I’m looking at spreading my wings as far as Thailand or America (I know, completely different ideas there!) this year, I think I’ve definitely scattered my heart across different cities of Europe, including good old England. Then again… I tend to say that about pretty much every city and country I visit, so no doubt as I wander further afield, that list will just grow longer and longer.

I love the diversity of Europe; the array of cultures and languages and delicacies, the contrast of stark differences and intermingled traditions from border to border. There are some cities that I just find myself going back to again and again, and it never gets old – there are always new cafes serving coffee even more delicious than the last, more landmarks that I haven’t found the time to visit yet and beautiful little streets that are deserted but for myself and the occasional knowing local.

This wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to order my unruly top 10:

1. Paris. For years Rome held this top spot, but France’s capital has rather snuck up on me over the years – every time I go I love it more and more, even if I’m literally just passing through on a train, and somehow, it overtook Rome. Yes, the people can at times be a little snooty, but most of the time the snooty-ness that I have witnessed against tourists is purely because they are not meeting Paris’ standards – arriving in Paris in dirty clothes and Birkenstock with a tatty rucksack on your back is not going to make you the darling of the city. It’s quite like trying to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a ball. Everyone makes an effort in Paris, even if it is in that je ne sais quoi, ‘I just fell out of bed’ Parisian sense. They’re experts at putting in a lot of effort in looking effortless. Try to blend in, and that snooty-ness will disappear. Or so I find. 

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2. Rome. See, my ex-top spot has not slipped far. I love history. I love art, architecture, literature and the renaissance, all of which can be found on every corner of Rome. I feel comfortable walking around the city without getting lost – I can act as tour guide to fellow travellers. There’s no better feeling than realising that you know a foreign city. It’s not just a place that I have visited a few times anymore. I’ve always been and will continue to be lured to Rome for its history, its art, its food and its coffee. Yes, yes, yes and a very big yes from me on those fronts!

My one pet peeve when in Rome? Arrogant, metrosexual Roman guys who still live with their mothers well into their thirties. They linger around Trevi Fountain in droves. Huge, huge pet peeve of mine.

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3. Prague. When I first visited Prague, I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s just not a place that I have looked into too much before I arrived at  Hlavni Nadrazi station. Until then my Pinterest (what came before Pinterest? Good old fashioned cut-and-paste scrapbooks?) had been full of photographs of Paris, Rome, Athens, The Great Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Buddhist Temples. I’d always planned to visit Prague, but somehow looking at what it was like never occurred to me. The beauty of the place blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of East and West European; some streets could easily pass for France or Italy – or even England, when suddenly you’re surrounded by Eastern European architecture, Czech music ringing through your ears and people drinking brands I can’t even pronounce.

Also, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

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4. Venice. Yes, it’s quite a pricey city, but then I’ve found that I can still keep my budget low – Venice is not a city teaming with museums and must-see sites with expensive ticket fares like other touristic cities. I’m also not big on souvenirs, which could prove to be super pricey if I were. Venice is the city I head to if I want to see Italy, without the hustle and bustle of Rome or Milan or – to some extent – Florence. I tend to avoid the few busy spots of the city – St Mark’s Square and Ponte di Rialto. Two or three streets from these Venetian hot-spots, and you’ll find deserted streets, a woman beating sheets over her balcony perhaps, the occasional cat, but otherwise you’re entirely alone. No cars, no noise. It’s wonderful.

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5. Florence. Yes, Paris may be my number one city, but Italy is clearly my number one country. Florence is a nice balance of everything I love about Italy. It’s not as mad as Rome, or as busy and metropolitan as Milan, and while it has that same peace as Venice, it’s gifted in sprinkles rather than spades. It is quintessential Italy in the country’s best region: Tuscany – I love taking day trips from Florence to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.

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6. Lisbon. I tend to yo-yo between Porto and Lisbon when choosing my favourite Portuguese city, but right now, I’d choose Lisbon. It’s true what they say – ‘Porto works and Lisbon plays’. Things are much more relaxed in the south, and people seem to mysteriously work less and yet are richer. I do have one issue with Lisbon – its treacherously slippering paving stones.

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Seriously, I had to buy a new pair of shoes just because wearing my sandals or ballet flats was about as effective as wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers. Otherwise you pretty much have to choose between risking your life by walking in the road, or risking your life because every step could end in a broken neck.

Still, Lisbon is beautiful, not majorly touristic and yet not entirely isolated to the lone traveller who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – like me. Actually, that’s a lie. I can say thank you. I think thank you is the most important phrase to learn in every language. Even more so than hello.

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7. Budapest. Another city that I had little knowledge of – like Prague. I knew it to be cheap, but that’s about it. Yes, it is cheap, though as tourism grows, so do those prices. The architecture is sophisticated, the people are sophisticated – but for a few old men who linger on park benches whistling at passing women. So many people have apologized for ‘the habits of the older generation’ – honestly, it’s fine. Clearly they have never passed a building site in the UK. The famous thermal baths are wonderful. I recommend visiting the bath houses during winter – it’s instantly even better when you’re lounging in the steaming water watching the snow fall outside.

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8. Barcelona. I’m not a fan of gaudy Gaudi, but of course, his architecture makes Barcelona what it is. I find it amazing how we all flock to see a building that is not due to be finished until 2026. I mean, of course, La Sagrada Familia. However, one place where I feel Gaudi’s unique style does work within the city is Park Güell – also the spot of my favourite (yet discovered) view in Barcelona. In Park Güell you will find pianists, violinists and musicians of instruments so exotic that I don’t even know what they are. They claim a spot and play beautiful classical pieces to entertain tourists and locals alike. It’s quirky and amazing.

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9. Vienna. A haven for museum-geeks like me, my favourite being the Sisi museum; a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s cleaner than Paris and Rome. It’s more efficiently run than England, but it’s not as frustratingly perfect as a few cities I have been to; so perfect that they no longer feel real. Also, the people who live there are unbelievably lovely.

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10. Off the beaten track. Finally, while I could go on and on about this city and that city, for me, one of the best parts of Europe is the little villages whose names I never learnt before I moved on to the next. I love the lakes, beaches, rivers and hills. I’m a country girl as well as a city girl, and I love rambling around woodland and climbing hills to see the view at sunset. So if you’re going to Europe, don’t just stick to the ‘must see cities’.

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The 3 L's

My Secret Weapon.. Mind Palace

Firstly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

This is a bit of a random post, I suppose. It’s a topic that came up recently and it surprised me as to how many people think that the idea of a mind palace is something that was invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the Sherlock Holmes stories, or worse, some thought that the mind palace was created specifically by BBC Sherlock’s writers… FYI, several Sherlock novels are available at the Kindle store for free! ♥

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Sherlock gifs from here

So no, the mind palace technique is not an invention of Conan Doyle or the BBC Sherlock team. Otherwise known as the Method of Loci, it’s a method that has been used since ancient times. I started building mine when I was about 13, and I can honestly say that it has helped me sail through every exam I’ve ever taken since then. Never mind the fact that my last exam was five and a half years ago (Photography courses.. practical assignments.. lucky me!). That just meant that I could dedicate my palace to topics that generally interest me rather than things that I had to study, such as algebra, the very mention of which still makes me shudder to this day.

And it’s not just me and a fictional character that has a mind palace. Derren Brown has one, in fact he’s written a book about it, Simonides had one. In fact I think he developed the idea, or is credited with having done so, at least, back in the 5th/6th century. They’re commonly used by memory champions, and apparently they’re also common among revising students. Yet, despite that, on mentioning that I have a mind palace, rather than hearing the expected ‘sure, me too’ around the room, I was instead met with blank looks. Hence this blog post.

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It’s really not difficult to build a mind palace, even if you feel that you’re not a particularly creative person or you don’t have a strong imagination, or a bad memory, because building a mind palace in itself is a super-workout for the mind that will quickly start improving your memory, expand your knowledge, increase your creativity, awareness and observation of the world. Or so I’ve found.

No, elaborate gesticulations such as those shown in the gifs above are not necessary. I’d be lying if I said that when alone I didn’t point or mime the opening of a door or something small like that when alone, but I am perfectly capable of walking around in public while simultaneously storing new information or refreshing old information without closing my eyes, flailing my arms and muttering to myself. Sometimes it does help to close your eyes and block out the world around you, though.

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I’m not about to say ‘so this is how you build a mind palace’, because what works for me might not work for others. I just wanted to share how I’ve gone about it. I started small, and I think that’s the most recommended tip of all in the various books and previous blog posts across the internet. Start with your bedroom, your apartment, your house. A place that is familiar to you. The main building of my ‘mind palace’.. which is all accuracy is more a ‘mind city’ now days from years of expansion, is a combination of three houses that I have lived in, merged into one. They were all a similar size and with a similar layout, (hence the merging of three), but I’ve stripped down all decor to make it a blank canvas, a unique space in my mind. White walls, bare wooden floorboards, with just a few items of furniture to distinguish each room: a sofa in the lounge, a fridge and oven in the kitchen, etc.

After making my layout, each room was assigned with a subject. Baring in mind that I was still in school when this started, my front lounge is for English, the dining room is Math, the kitchen is Science, and my bedroom, being my favourite room in the house (obviously), held my memory triggers for my favourite school subject – history. Etc, etc. I’ve never lived in a mansion, so needless to say I eventually had to start adding extensions. Another room for when I started learning Italian, for example.

Another important point is to always follow the same route through your house. I started by drawing a map of my mind-house, and drawing the route that I would follow. That again is just a personal quirk of mine; I write down my memory triggers too. I think it stems from years of filling notebooks with stories as a kid, I can be typing away on my laptop, and then I’ll suddenly get this compulsive urge to copy whatever I’ve just typed onto paper. Just the last few sentences. Or vice versa; I’ll write something down on paper just to immediately type it up and throw away the scrap of paper anyway. I just don’t feel like I’ve recorded something properly until my hand has literally formed each letter itself.

I don’t get the urge to do that for every single little thought that enters my mind though, luckily, so most of my memory triggers are recorded in a digital format. I have an Evernote Notebook dedicated to my mind palace, with a specific note for each room, and then I just list and describe each memory trigger. And every evening before I fall asleep, I’ll walk through my mind-house, following the same route, and I’ll just go over everything, keeping it all fresh in my mind until it becomes so deeply engraved that when I’m old and living in an old people’s home, they’ll all presume I’m mad because I’ll barely be able to remember my name or where I live, but I’ll know that Big Bird in a tux shouting ‘wazzappp’ reminds me of the correct pronunciation of ‘oiseau’. I won’t bother to break that memory trigger down. You can figure it out for yourselves. Mostly I don’t need Evernote, but it’s there just in case – especially if for whatever reason, I’ve had to add 100 memory triggers to my mind palace at once. Then it’s definitely needed to help it all sink in.

That’s the thing about memory triggers: the crazier the better. I tend to follow the same rules for creating memory triggers. If I have to remember something that I find tedious and boring (again, algebra springs to mind), I’ll try and think of a crazy, funny trigger, whereas if I want to remember something that I’m genuinely interested in, I lean more towards creating logical leaps, because I don’t need to find something to entertain me regarding that topic in the first place.

Again, this is where creativity really comes in handy. An example of one of the triggers lurking in the corners of my mind palace… I was struggling to remember the word for ‘cat’ in Italian: gatto. On hearing the word out loud, my mind immediately springs to my favourite dessert: black forest gateau, and so I placed a gateau on a table in my ‘Italian room’ – a spare bedroom. From there I began thinking about the colours of the berries: purples and, once they begin to mix with the cream, pinks, from which my mind leaped to the Cheshire Cat in the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Purple/pink berries, purple/pink striped cat. Suddenly this gateau was shaped as the Cheshire cat’s face, grinning up at me, the berries and cream forming its colourful stripes.

Gif from here.

One last detail for this memory trigger; the word for cat in Italian is pronounced more as g-Ah-tto. Having at this point recently watched Singing in the Rain, I remembered those Vowel prints in the Moses Supposes scene. Bam, my Italian room suddenly has the ‘A’ print hanging on the wall behind the Cheshire cat gateau, and there you go, I suddenly remember to think about the pronunciation of the a when saying cat in Italian. Yes, I know that technically, the print in that movie is representing A rather than Ah, but it works for me.

Over the years, adding to the mind palace has become a habit. I have this personal rule, because I’m one of those people who has a tendency to obsess over intelligence; I just never feel like I’m never smart enough, so every day, I add three things to my palace, as a minimum. Just to keep my mind steadily expanding, keep things sharp, and so on. That’s just me though. I like to think that I’m always growing smarter, even if it’s at the glacial pace of three facts a day. You can see why it’s no longer just a house with several extensions, but a full-blown city. Well, not an entire city, but rather, the well-trodden route that I have covered about a hundred times in Rome, walking from Vatican City to Trevi Fountain, via Castel Saint Angelo, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It’s quite a recent addition, having happened only in December, while I was in Rome. It just seemed like an obvious step to me; I was walking that same route most days, often acting as an amateur tour guide for my new friends who had never been to Rome before, so adding the route to my mind-map engraves the city in my mind for future visits, while also giving me plenty of space for future memory triggers. I also have the Eiffel Tower thrown in there as a memory trigger of its own. Because of course, a personal mind house/palace/city doesn’t have to make sense.

It’s proven to be such an essential and useful part of my life, it’s helped me remember shopping lists, learn languages, remember film/book recommendations, and generally just learn useful/useless facts. I’m not saying it’s given me memory super powers.. I can sense certain friends reading this and saying ‘oh but what about that time I asked you to buy milk/pick up my order/etc and you forgot?’ That comes down more to my bad listening skills, so I’m sorry, lovelies, but using a mind palace will not get my head out of the clouds when you’re talking to me. Apologies.

I hope this hasn’t come across as arrogant, and ‘oooo, I have a mind city so I’m therefore better and smarter than youuuu’, I just thought it’s something I’d share. I’m definitely not some sort of genius. I’m not even that bright. I’m just a little bit of a narcissistic perfectionist about my intelligence. Maybe.

Basically, just because Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character doesn’t mean that mind palaces are only found in fiction!

Finally, there is a brilliant list of memory books here.
I especially recommend this one.

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Wanderer

Christmas has found Italy!

I’m feeling all Christmassy!

So I spent a couple of days in Naples after meeting the lovely Davide in Rome, who was kind enough to offer me and my friend a place to stay. I’ve visited Naples once before, very briefly in order to meet Pompeii, and frankly, I didn’t like it. It’s noisy, smelly, dirty, the people are often pretty rough around the edges (Davide being the exception there!)

In fact, one thing that I noticed pretty much about Neapolitan guys on this visit, is that they are often questionable in one of two ways: either they seem like pretty dodgy, probably belong in the Mafia kind of guys. The kind of guys who you cross the street to avoid because they can’t help but same some ridiculous comment towards every girl they see. Or, they’re questionable as in.. you just can’t tell if they’re straight or gay. Guys are very comfortable around other guys; cuddling (yes, as in, in bed in the evening while discussing their day with everyone else in the room), holding hands, taking a bite from each other’s rum baba’s (not a euphemism – a rum baba is a cake. Google it, it’s delicious!), and so I think, ok, gay, nothing wrong with that, it’s just a shame because they’re both cute… and then one of their girlfriends arrive, and the guy will give her a kiss while still holding hands with his friend. And this is perfectly normal. Ok, different cultures and blah blah blah, but… I for one found it confusing. And more than once I’d meet a guy and say ‘oh, so this is your boyfriend’ and be met with ‘no, he’s just my friend/cousin/neighbour who I hardly know’.

My bad.

Moving on from the Mafia and confusing sexuality of Neapolitan men… Italy is getting ready for Christmas!

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Naples is famous for it’s Christmas streets or presepe: San Gregorio Armeno, which sells nothing but Christmas decorations and Nativity sets all year round. Lord knows how they can afford to sell Christmas decor all year round, but they manage, somehow. Tourism? Do people flock to Naples in June to decorate their tree just because they can? Who knows.

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They really know how to make a nativity set! Really elaborate miniature houses – towns, even – made from wood, twigs, moss, beautifully crafted. And then there is such a range of figurines and items to fill them with! I saw figurines of bakers, butchers, seamstresses – every profession you can think of (well, every “old-fashioned” profession, so no photographers or tech-wizards, unfortunately) with little motors so that they move their little plastic pies back and forth in and out of the LED oven, or constantly ironing the same dress, or hacking at the same lump of plastic meat.. or whatever.

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Not being one to think much about the religious side of Christmas, needless to say that no, I haven’t bought myself a twigs-and-moss nativity, and there are not little motor run, palm-sized bakers working through the night on the same pie in my suitcase. They’re cute to look at, but definitely not for me. I have, however, started a cute little Christmas tradition; collecting Christmas decorations from around the world. Obviously it’s a collection limited to my winter travels – unless I can find more cities with year-round Christmas markets like Naples – but I think it’s pretty cute to have a tree decorated with memories. Nothing cheesy though, no ‘Rome 2013’ baubles, so I’ll have to make a note in my travel journals as to which were bought where for when I’m old and forgetful.

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Oh, and I ran into someone who was clearly a celebrity (screaming girls, lines of people having their photo taken with him), but I had no idea who he is… clearly his fame hasn’t reached the UK!

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So Naples wasn’t all about Christmas markets, of course. FYI, if you want to try the best pizza in Naples, go to Sorbillo on Via Tribunali. Best. Pizza. Ever. I recommend both the margherita and diavolo (me and a friend of mine shared so that we had half of each – delish!) I’ve already mentioned baba cake, which is basically rum-soaked cake, also delicious but can be a bit sickly after a while… or I found so at least, but everyone else cleared their plates and asked for seconds! There’s also sfogliatella, which I have to refer to as ‘that one, please *point*’ because I just can’t pronounce it to save my life. Sfogliatella comes in two forms; frolla (smooth) and ricca (curly), and basically it’s a sweet pastry. Layers and layers of pastry – to me, it looks like a sea shell! – with a ricotta filling, or most commonly at least. A must try!

And… despite the noise, insane traffic, dodgy reputation, piles of rubbish and general Naples-ish ways of the city.. it can still be so beautiful.

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And then what did I find on returning to Rome? Christmas!!
As ever when I arrive in Rome, even if I was there just a few days ago, I head straight to Piazza Navona, my absolute favourite spot in the city. So imagine my excitement when I round the corner and see this scene!

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The words ‘giddy’ and ‘schoolgirl’ spring to mind.

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They were in the middle of setting up while I was walking around, but I did spy some familiar-looking twigs-and-moss nativity sets lurking in the back of a lorry. No mechanical villagers yet though!

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I’ve been told that Christmas celebrations don’t officially begin until 8th December, on which the Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place. That’s Mary’s conception, not Jesus’.. apparently the ‘immaculate’ part of of the tradition is because she never sinned.. or something like that. But anyway, so me and my friend will be heading back to Piazza Navona to see the finished market, decorations and celebrations next week. I’m. So. Excited.

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Wanderer

Holy Condoms, scorched Celebrities and Bernini Porn…

My first week back in Rome was quiet, calm, you know. Nothing worth blogging about. And then today happened, and it was one of those days where the world just seemed completely hilarious and you just walk around collecting funny stories and strange observations to later share with friends – and the blog, of course!

The weird and wonderful highlights of today (and the reasons why I’ve spent most of the day laughing so much that it now hurts):

  • Pouring hot coffee over Joaquin Phoenix
  • Having the Pope accidentally bless a condom
  • Spending a bizarre hour with 20 rather confused Chinese tourists who each insisted that I have my photo taken with each of them… and every possible pairing!

First of all, I have to say.. Joaquin Phoenix really needs to pay more attention to where he’s going. I swear he just appeared out of no where, charging towards me – and my coffee – and I had about a split second to consider my options:

  1. I could have jumped in front of the passing bus to avoid him
  2. I could have wildly thrown the coffee in the air, covering us both
  3. I could have chosen which way to tilt the mug – and therefore choose which one of us was about to be covered in coffee.

I of course chose the third. He’s rich enough to duck into the nearest clothes shop and replace his ruined shirt, I’m sure. I wasn’t at this point aware as to who it was who was storming towards me like a raged bull, but I bet that’s exactly what he did as soon as he ran off after our brief.. chat? It wasn’t so much chatting as a lot of ‘what the fuck’s (on his part) and ‘watch where you’re walking, stronzo’ (on mine). And that was that, another minor celebrity story to add to the collection, along with reluctantly sharing a bag of jelly babies with Donny Osmond, saying hi to George Clooney at Lake Como and discussing shoes with Gok Wan… such a thilling collection!

Honestly, if my run in with Phoenix hadn’t happened in front of the Colosseum, I probably wouldn’t have twigged to who it was… though he doens’t look much like he did in his Gladiator days any more.

That’s definitely not the best story of the day, however. The best story came afterwards.

Today I was tricked by a lovely so called friend into enduring a tediously slow few hours eternity in complete silence, and worse, suffering with a completely numb arse after the first twenty minutes. By tricked, I mean tricked, as in, I was told that the ‘free spare ticket’ was for the Vatican museums. And it has been a few years since I’ve last been inside the museums, and then I only saw about 15% of everything on display, so of course, I accepted her invitation immediately.

But no, no tour, no museums. I was tricked into attending the Pope’s weekly audience (not cool, Val), an Atheist surrounded by crying nuns and rosary bead-grasping Catholics, all of whom have a penchant for nonsense muttering… is lying not a sin, Val? Hmm?

So once we were there, it was too late, I had no choice but to sit it through. Well, I’m sure I could have tried to leave, but there has been something so drilled into me over the years, perhaps simply Englishness, that makes it almost impossible for me to cause a scene with a dramatic exit in a large crowd of strangers. And by dramatic, I don’t mean screaming and shouting and jumping around, I mean, they were sitting there so silently, and so patiently, even just to get up and quietly walk away would have turned every eye on me and everyone would have started muttering and wondering why I was leaving. How dare I leave! Because of course I was so fortunate to have a ticket (you know, a totally free, easily available to all ticket)!

I couldn’t tell you what the Pope talked about, even if I had decided to listen, I wouldn’t have understood a word, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t have agree with most of what he said, unless it was just a simple ‘be good, don’t murder, don’t lie’ (Val), in which case, why do I need the Pope or the Bible or God to tell me that? Surely religious people don’t read the 10 commandments and are surprised that they say ‘do not murder’, ‘do not cheat’, ‘do not steal’ etc.

I swear I started to fall asleep. One minute everyone is sitting there, listening intently while I glare at Val, and the next, everyone starts rummaging, holding up rosary beads, crucifixes (crucifi?), little prayer books, and Val starts nudging me, getting rather pissed off at me and pointing out that people are staring because I’m not taking advantage of his blessing, and again that very English side of me that doesn’t want to offend kicks in, and I think, ‘I don’t believe in this mumbo jumbo anyway, so why not’. And I grab the first thing that my fingers touch in my bag; my travel journal. Yes, my travel journal has been blessed by the Pope. How that would in anyway change my life, I have no idea. Is it supposed to bring me good luck? Or is it a necessary ticket to heaven? Do I have to make sure that when I die I’m carrying it in my hand? Fuck knows.

I just so happened to glance up at my hand, which was mimicking everyone else, holding up my journal, and what do I see poking out from between the pages? A stow-away condom. And my mind begins to panic, because it’s just there, in bright pink foil, about 70% of it clearly visible between the pages, and I’m holding it up in the air, surrounded by hundreds of very devout Catholics, holding it towards their Pope, practically pointing it right at him. And of course, we all know just how much Catholicism hates condoms. I wonder if throwing condoms at a priest has the same affect as throwing holy water at the Devil? He starts his blessing mumbo jumbo, and I just stand so, so still, biting down on my cheeks to stop myself from laughing (because that is literally the only thing you can do in that situation), and hoping that no one notices, because they’re all standing so still, if I moved even an inch, all eyes would be on me, and they’d see what I was holding.

The condom has been taped into my travel journal. I may be Atheist, militantly so at times, but I’m not about to test my beliefs (or lack of) by using a condom that has been blessed by the Pope. Could you imagine what would happen if I was wrong, and if Catholicism was right? Surely there would be nothing more insulting to their God than laughingly using a Papally-blessed condom, and so… he’d be pissed. I’d probably be punished by it splitting and I’d be infected with the 12 plagues of Egypt… the 12 plagues of foo (ew), or worse – yes, worse is possible – impregnated by the anti-Christ… or by octuplets… 8 bearded little Jesuses (Jesi?).

Definitely not worth the risk in my opinion.

As for ‘Bernini porn’… that’s just a strange observation of mine in Santa Maria della Vittoria. I’m a big Bernini fan, I love his art, I love his sculptures, so of course I had to go and see the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which frankly, I’ve always raised a brow about, because it definitely looks like ‘worldly ecstasy’ to me! There’s hardly anyone in the church, just me and a small group of old women, who I quickly gather to be very devout Catholics. They’re muttering to themselves about how ‘beautiful’ the statue is and how it captures the ‘essence of the holy father’, and so I look up.

I don’t see something awe-inspiringly religious. I see a woman clearly in the middle of a hell of an orgasm, a very child-like guy hovering over her, and on either side, two marble-carved theatre boxes, filled with men. And they’ll all carved to look in her direction, watching her, nudging each other, whispering, generally looking very questionably and.. pervy. How no one but me could see that, I don’t know. Yes, yes, I’m sure you could argue that ‘holy ecstasy’ would make you look rather ‘ecstatic’ (wink), but why did Bernini choose to flank the statue with several gawping men watching from a theatre box?

Religion bewilders me. It’s just completely blind to common sense. Among other priceless ‘saintly relics’ that I’ve heard about since I arrived back in Rome: Jesus’ foreskin, Jesus’ umbilical cord, and – in Germany – the breath of Jesus contained in a vial. And people pay to see this?! Insane.

Oh, and as for the confused Chinese people, I don’t know if they mistook me for someone, or if choosing a random foreigner is a strange travel tradition for them, but I won’t complain because they insisted on buying me lunch, in exchange for about 200 smiling tourist photos (peace signs compulsory) with each of them. I gave one of them my business card in the hope that they’d share a few with me, and then you can see for yourself just how well I perfected my bewildered ‘what the fuck’ smile.

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