Italian souvenirs by Mirino
My unique visit to Rome was for a long weekend in September, nine years ago, for the wedding of a most worthy nephew and his beautiful and intelligent bride tedesca-italiana. It was a magical stay, not only because of the wonderful wedding, officiated in the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda (by an excellent, Liverpudlian priest) followed by a sumptuous reception at the charming and prestigeous Castello di Torcrescenza, but for other, more personal reasons, including what I have since cherished as a unique and precious gift.
The day before the wedding we wanted to see the Vatican which was within easy walking distance from our hotel. This was simply to see and admire the architecture, perhaps visit St Peter's Basilica if possible, and wander round the square. As it was pouring with rain, it wasn't thought likely that we would stay out for very long.
Strangely however, as we approached the Vatican, we were engulfed by an ever increasing flow of people with umbrellas, all intent on arriving, or being swept along and into, la Piazza San Pietro. There were so many people that the enormous square seemed smaller than it actually was. And all the coloured umbrellas seemed to join to represent the shell of a massive, festooned tortoise.
Despite the rain, or perhaps also because of it, there was an extraordinary, electric atmosphere. Of course all this was totally unexpected. Obviously Pope Jean-Paul II was due to arrive. Word was spreading however that because of the weather and his fragile health, the address he was supposed to make would probably be cancelled.
Suddenly, purely by accident, I found myself perfectly placed. The Pope had arrived. He was driven slowly past, just there, right in front of me. It was as though I could have touched him. I was totally spell-bound. He was so white and his skin had a luminous quality that reminded me distinctly of our mother's, on another special day exacly one year before when she lay as though in state, the majestic, Scottish lady that indeed she had been and appeared to be even more so then.
For me this was enough. It was the year 2000. The Great Jubilee year. He would make an address that I wouldn't be able to follow or hear in any case. But it didn't matter. Next to me there was an American. His eyes too shone with wonder. We stared at each other through tears because we must have understood that this, with the thick, grey curtain of rain bouncing like countless jewels off the hundreds of coloured umbrellas, was a blessing. An unforgettable moment which left us speechless.
I'm neither starry-eyed nor conventionally religious, and it's probable that we all make personal connotations at such times, but that moment made an enormous impact on me.
For the following wedding day, a fresh breeze had cleared the sky leaving only those glorious, cumulous clouds against cobalt blue that make such perfect, aspiring backgrounds for certain, renaissance, profile portraits of Italian nobility.