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Rome Diaries - Week 124

July 10th, 2011



Another farewell – this time a dinner with two veteran reporters and pope-watchers. The talk turns to the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. “Sometimes,” one of the diners says, “my job was to know the best person to call at any given moment. Just before I retired, I got a call from a Turkish friend: ‘I am calling you from Saint Peter’s Square,’ he began, ‘and beside me is the mother of Mehmet Ali Agca. She wants to see the pope.’ At that moment, I had a choice to call a diplomat or a friend who could quietly get things done. I called my friend who told me to get the woman to the Bronze Door and then speak to the Swiss Guard. A few minutes later the mother of Mehmet Ali Agca was walking up Bernini’s monumental staircase for an unscheduled meeting with Pope John Paul II. After that emotional meeting, the process of releasing Agca to Turkish authorities, after decades behind bars in Italy, began.”


August 4th, 2011



For my last full day in Rome, I intended to take the suburban bus to Calcata Vecchio, the ruined medieval town poised on a volcanic promontory. In the 1960’s, its empty and condemned stone buildings began to attract artists and other free-spirits. Now it’s a tourist destination. But a more sensible itinerary for me at this point has to be closer to hone; just three afternoon buses make the journey back from Calcata Vecchio to Rome each day. Instead of leaving Rome today, I make a list of favorite churches and do a final tour. In San Marcello al Corso, I realize its miraculous crucifix, which “was the only object to survive the fire of 1519,” is next to a Madonna and Child fresco rescued from the same destruction. Near the entrance, I spend a small moment admiring Jacopo Sansovino’s tomb for Cardinal Giovanni Michiel and read on a plaque that may or may not have been poisoned by Cesare Borgia. And my last two churches, San Agostino and Sant’Andrea della Valle, have both just been renovated, reminding me of the never-ending effort it takes to keep old things looking fresh.


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