First we had to get there. On Wednesday, we were taken by several boats back to the mainland where we climbed aboard a huge bus. It was comfortable, but we had been told (in the literature we were sent) that it would have a restroom on board; and for the longest time most of us didn’t realize there really was a restroom, because it was tucked down beneath the row of seats that was just before the back door. The bus was so high, that you had to walk down several steps to get to the back door, and most of us failed to notice the door built into the wall on the left of the “stairwell.” Eventually the assertive Bonnie, who had to go the bathroom almost as often as I did, and was not shy about letting people know it, discovered the toilette – which is what it is called, none of those euphemisms like restroom, or bathroom, or ladies/men’s room – and took the plunge to use it. “I don’t care, I had to go,” she announced when she came out.
For the longest time I was leery of using it, fearing it would be one of the “squat” kind, that used to be much more prevalent in Europe than they are now, but that you can still happen upon. Frankly, I didn’t see how you would be able to stand up in what seemed like very little space beneath the seats above. But finally the body won out and I went…only to discover that it was a perfectly nice, very clean little “restroom” that you could certainly stand up in. There was even a sink where you could wash your hands. After that, the toilette on board and I were good friends.
The countryside between Venice and Padua (which is Padova to the Italians) is flat farmland, with the occasional hill, the occasional clump of trees. I noticed that virtually all the small farms had their own little vineyard – everybody grows grapes.
At Padua, in the huge bus parking lot, we noticed scattered about some rather disreputable looking people, and Gianni announced over his little intercom that they were gypsies, and we must take care not to encourage them. He said this more than once, which immediately had me feeling sorry for these people – who included women and children – and who were so obviously treated as pariahs. But I didn’t encourage them: beggars, or people selling cheap junk instead of begging, may tug at my heartstrings, but I don’t allow myself to be drawn into their net.
|Canal of Prato della Valle (professional photo)|
I did dash into a store at one point to buy a water – praying that the briskly walking tour would not get too far ahead of me -- because I had finished off the bottle I had, and was always thirsty (which undoubtedly contributed to all the bathroom runs). It cost only 1 Euro, but the packaging proved to be quite inferior. When I tried to unscrew the lid, the whole top came off, which meant I couldn’t screw the lid back on. And the plastic was very soft, so that the bottle squished, and putting it in my shoulder bag resulted in water everywhere. Later I did get another bottle, hoping it would be made of firmer stuff. It was just as squishy, but I had Pat unscrew the lid – she proved to have a lighter touch – and I was at least able to keep the bottle in my bag without getting everything wet. After that, Pat opened all my bottles of water.
|Basilica of Saint Anthony (professional photo)|
Absolutely gorgeous. The tomb of St. Anthony sits on a dias on the left, surrounded by a semi-circle of beautifully executed wall sculptures, of blindingly white marble, representing different events in the saint’s life. I recall looking at the famous “The Miracle of the Reattached Foot,” without it registering that the young man did not, indeed, have a foot. The back of the saint’s sarcophagus, which you pass as you are walking the semi-circle, is a place where many people stop, press their hand against the marble, and say a prayer. A few in our group did this. (I was later to realize that quite a number of the PT group were good Catholics, who, for example, were very excited about being able to see the new pope when we were in Rome). We couldn’t stand directly in front of the saint’s tomb, because it was roped off, as there was a service going on in the nave in front of it (which I thought odd – how distracting to be trying to sing the Lord’s praises while all these people were moving about, even talking, to either side of you) but you could see from the side that it is of a beautiful green marble – in Italy there is simply marble, marble everywhere – and was surrounded by mounds of flowers.
Behind this chapel there is a larger, and very beautiful, chapel that is simply covered with frescos in the late medieval style (late 1300s). You could tell that the paintings were beautiful – lots of gold mixed in with the rich colors -- but you couldn’t see them very clearly, because the chapel was dimly lit, and many of the paintings were high, on the arched ceiling, indeed, on the inside of the arches themselves. I told Pat it probably looked better when they got bright lights in there to take a picture, and as a matter of fact, when I later picked up a free guide from a stereotypically kindly looking old monk, I found a picture of the chapel in which they had obviously done exactly that. This, by the way, was the Chapel of Blessed Luke Belludi, who was one of Anthony’s buddies.
The chapel that really took my breath away was the Chapel of the Relics, or the Treasury Chapel. Like all good Catholic churches in Europe, this one has holy “relics,” in this case a couple of bone fragments, a fragment of skin (uggh), and some hair from St. Anthony, as well as the biggest deal of all, his “uncorrupted tongue.” There is also, of course, a piece of the True Cross. Every major church has a piece of the True Cross. The Protestant reformer John Calvin once remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship.
Pat was absolutely fascinated by the idea of seeing the “uncorrupted” tongue of someone who had died in 1231, so got in line to make the pass before the three marble niches that contain the three gold reliquaries. Since I am not really interested in seeing anybody’s tongue, whatever shape it is in, I contented myself with staring up and around at this gorgeous room, with the red-streaked-with-grey marble walls of the reliquary area, the elaborate, Baroque statuary, in big frames, as if they were pictures, high on the walls, as well as above the reliquary niches, along the marble balustrade that separated the reliquary area from the rest of the room.
Unlike many of the churches I saw in Italy, this one was full of color, and many beautiful frescos that were more in the style I like – that of the late medieval period – than the overblown style of the famous painters of the 1500s. And the cloister I visited later (I have a thing about cloisters), while less peaceful than it should have been, thanks to all the tourists, was still lovely, with its huge magnolia tree in the center. And the smaller cloister beyond, which most of the tourists hadn’t discovered, really was peaceful, with the only sound being birdsong. For a while I sat enjoying that, then gradually realized that it was sounding very repetitive. And I couldn’t see any birds, but I did see speakers, tucked away in corners. Recorded birdsong. Ah, well…