Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pope in a Boat

Pope Benedetto's 2-day visit to Venice kicked off this evening with his arrival by helicopter at the Naval Military School Francesco Morosini on Sant' Elena, at the eastern tip of the city. Crowds lined the Riva of Sant' Elena and, I suspect, stretched all the way to Piazzetta San Marco, where he was scheduled to speak at an outdoor stage centered not far in front of the columns topped by the lion of San Marco and San Teodoro (not in between them, where the old Republic was wont to execute people).

He arrived an hour later than scheduled, which was not such a bad thing, as the evening light just kept getting prettier and prettier as I waited with a group of about 200 people atop a wooden bridge near the gate of the school, not far from where he was due to land (behind hedges), and with a view of a pathway where two lines of military types (some students?) awaited him. I've noticed that being in a crowd of Italians awaiting an event can often be as entertaining as the event itself turns out to be. This evening was no exception.

When, ten minutes after scheduled arrival, a large green military helicopter passed over the crowd then began to lower itself behind the academy's tall trees and hedges children called to their mothers to stop talking to friends and come watch with them, fathers picked up their small children, everyone readied their cameras, the military people and MPs all came to attention.

But it wasn't the Pope.

First false alarm: Ready, focus... No Pope.
 "Eh, of course not," was the general response, everyone defaulting to the kind of bemused resignation common to lines of people waiting in Italian post offices, or the office of the town's registrar (ufficio anagrafe).

Then, a short time later, the sound of a second green helicopter. "Eccolo!" ("Here he is!") people declared, amused at themselves for ever thinking the Pope would be arriving on the first helicopter--like some over-eager Nobody.

Again the same jockeying for position on the bridge and military readiness.

Again, no Pope.

He arrived in the third large 'copter--of a pristine white, not some dingy military green--and when it came within sight the bells in the campanile of Sant' Elena began to ring deliriously without cease. A nice touch. 

All of us on the bridge could barely see him when finally he appeared at a distance of some 300 yards, but there was a spontaneous burst of happy relieved applause. In fact, it was hard to tell exactly which glimpse of crimson was the Pope, which the Patriarch of Aquileia, because the color (and whoever was wearing it) vanished immediately behind the black garb of the Church and security retinues.

As it turned out, the Pople was much easier to see as he passed in his boat along the Riva.

This particular security boat directly preceded the Pope's boat. Years of Catholic education gave me a very guilty conscience, but tell me that scary dude in the back ain't staring hard right at me.
Mr. Fashionably Late

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