Sunday, March 23, 2003

Returning to Frankfurt via Milan, Italy with Thoughts of Conscientious Objection

March 23, 2003 1436

On the train heading to the airport, and what a rat race it has been. I’m going to write more at the airport. It is a beautiful, clear day. I can’t wait to get home to Nora.
1615 – Aeroporti di Roma, Terminal A4. Man I am tired! I am sitting here waiting to fly out to Milano. I am pretty sure that I am the only American in this terminal. All flights out of here are domestic. I was all concerned about getting here on time, that I had to run from the Vatican to the hostel, pick up my bags, and run back to the train station. That is a major feat in Rome on the Metro. I don’t think Germans or Americans would tolerate the way Italians pack it in. Funny though, no one seems to mind that much – these people bump, trample, yell, gesture, and carry themselves confidently. Everyone is so well dressed too, and clothes really aren’t that expensive. Something I noticed though – when compared to Americans, in Europe it seems as if Americans put little forethought or purpose into what they do. When observing Europeans, I get the opposite impression.
1659 – Just boarded Airbus 321. This plane is a lot nicer – smells brand new. I am sure it will fall into neglect at the hands of the aircraft handlers, haha. Kidding. Well, I am going to relax right now – I am extremely tired. I ate some fries, since it is a little difficult to eat anything without meat here.
1717 – Taxing to runway. The hum of the engine starting is growing, growling, and vibrating my leg. Looking out of the window, there really isn’t a cloud in the sky. I am ready to get home to Nora. This will take off on runway 25, Rome should be able to be seen after take off – depending on visibility.
Rolling forward for take off, full power. 1730, liftoff! Now flying over the Med. It is very hazy. We are continuing to climb, the cabin is a little noisy though. I can see some cargo ships, that is amazing, this big sea between the Middle East, Africa, Asia (Turkey), and Europe. There is no telling where these ships are from. They are involved in trade though, just as the Roman and Greek ships of old. So much has taken place on this water below – it feels like I am witness to history just by seeing it.
1742 – Off coast of small island. I believe that I am seeing Sardinia and a very small island to my left. I am not sure if that is Sardinia, it may be the French coast. All of these small islands are very rocky and mountainous.
1747 – I think we are now flying over Livorno, parallel to the coast. In the far distance, I am pretty sure that I am seeing the Spanish-Franco rim and their mountains.
1756 – We are starting our decent into Milano now, I believe. Now we are going inland. Banking now to the left, slowing down. Below, there are some large mountains that seem to be directly on the coast. You can only make out their profiles through the ghost-white haze. The sun is sitting low on the sky, and these mountains are casting crooked shadows through the haze. We are going down into the mountains now – these being the foothills to the Alps. The haze is now very thick, just as it always is in Italy, especially the midlands.
1806 – Passing over a large river, forked at the top.
1810 – Full flaps, going in. Estimated altitude 1600 ft, so about 7 miles out 3 minutes to land – let’s see! Touchdown! 2 minutes 30 seconds – not bad! Runway 36R.
1850 – Irgendwo in Milano Aeroporti. Somewhere in Milan Airport. I think I am about to pass out, whew I am tired. I want to call home to Nora, but I still have another hour. There has been absolutely no passport check here, no stamps or anything. I really wanted one too. Man, this place is fashion city – advertisements everywhere for cosmetics, fashion, shoes, on and on. I think the Italians and French are very fashion-conscious, no two are dressed alike. Except for the police and the Carabinieri
[1]. There are so many uniformed services here in Italy, it seems like 1 in 10 people are wearing a government uniform of some kind.
Ok, here is what happened this morning: I woke up at 6 a.m. because the sun was already bright. I tried to sleep some more, but couldn’t. I gave up, got up, and got in the shower. This shower was about 2 foot x 2 foot, totally nasty, and there was about 4 centimeters of water on the floor (this is Yellow Hostel, 44 Via Palestro). That added to the novelty though, and I tried to finish cleaning up as fast as I could.
I got dressed quietly, felt a little strange dressing up at a youth hostel, but packed my things, my stinky socks, and was tempted to tell the Australian guy I met the day before bye. I didn’t though, since I didn’t go out drinking with him as he suggested we do the night before. I don’t think he understood that I was making a pilgrimage. He was just traveling across Europe, working, then moving on. His next stop was Calais, France to clean boats. We talked about the war, and he said that he had never met a US soldier before. Well, I split after a while. Anyways, the guy was pro-war, pro-Bush, and kissing my American ass. I guess America and Australia have a lot in common if you think about it.
I left the hostel, and had a hard time finding a ticket machine, but finally did, and headed with the Metro to S.Piedro with a load of Hungarian Catholics, and nuns and priests. It was like the train to Catholic Disney World. Well, it was amazing weather outside, a bit cool, but a flawless, sapphire blue sky, that I have not seen in ages. I got into St. Pietro square after putting my bag through security checks. I found a seat center of the cathedral, surrounded by old Hungarian women and nuns. I used one seat as a spacer between myself and the older people. Hungarians were out in force! There was a Hungarian being canonized from the 1880-1930 period. There were a few other saints being named too. It was amazing to see so many people in one place, with flags from all over the world, all colors, all social classes.
The mass had almost begun when an old lady sat next to me, We didn’t speak, but I did the opening hymn in English, and then she asked where I was from. I said South Carolina, and she laughed asking what I was doing in Vatican City. Before I could answer, she asked if I was in the service. I told her about my life in Europe and about Nora and me. We discussed Iraq and a bit about our philosophy on the issue. She seemed to be totally against the war. I think that Australian guy was the only person I have met in months that is for war. Then the mass began in full.
It was a mass done in at least five languages. They would say one paragraph in German, and the next in Italian, the next in French. The Pope spoke seamlessly from one language to the next.
Here is what I recall of first seeing the Pope:
St. Peter’s was magnificent against a perfect blue sky, with white seagulls floating around and angelic voices singing. The world started fading away, and all the static that may exist between one and God is silenced at this point – you become perfectly focused on the mass.
A black, stately looking, sedan drove up the stairs onto the altar. It was out of view behind the altar. Then, I saw him, waving to the crowd, and the response was so loving. He was standing on a cart that wheeled him to his seat. I could see him well. The old ladies were about to pass out, saying “Oh my good God!” in Hungarian – for sure.
The mass was amazing, and I can only cheaply describe now what I felt, but I must later elaborate when I am able to write in peace. The atmosphere in St. Peter’s drew you in, it sobered you of worldly toxins, it focused you, and helped me to better understand my own religion. This mass was special, because we were celebrating the lives of extraordinarily good people, who lived their lives to make the world a better place, and they did it in the name of Christ. I looked around, and it felt as if St. Peter’s was the most peaceful place on earth, people celebrating, again – people of all backgrounds there for one purpose: to celebrate Christ, celebrate goodness, to recognize God.
The Pope looked energetic, he looked old. He, and you could see, was alive and well, only burdened by old flesh and bones. He smiled, he waved. He had some difficulty reading and speaking – but I knew he was speaking precious words at a time when we need it most, that he would soon leave this world, and that is even more cause to listen a bit more.
I came to realize that God’s love is real, and that peace is His will. I always dreamt of a society that truly lives in Christ, what would it be like? Today I experienced it, a mass of people with great faith. That faith, and the feeling I had to go to Rome, is what brought us all together. I understand better now that church isn’t just a chore, it should be a celebration, something you carry with you everyday…
2015 – On plane taxing to runway. RWY 36R is our runway.
2017 – In position, engines winding up – FULL POWER! Hard climb, stomach is sinking. Milano looks huge outside my window. I remember being down there in Milano in October 8, 2001 when we started bombing Afghanistan. Italians were nice then, concerned, even compassionate towards Americans, if you can imagine that. Now things seem to be the opposite.
[1] Special Italian police unit often tasked with counter mafia operations.


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