The time I’m sure the Pope was speeding

The Baptistery was disrobed of all its scaffolding, likewise the church of Santissima Annunziata, and the road running alongside it was elegantly re-tarred and pot holes were filled in. Now the Baptistery shines out like a shimmering beacon, it’s been so rigorously cleaned.

It was a beautiful day, absurdly mild for November, even in Florence. The streets were blocked off, barriers barricading the way. I was woken to the sounds of a helicopter, transporting the Pope from the Vatican to Prato, where he would Popemobile around before coming to Florence. I mean, after all, anyone who’s anyone jets around in a helicopter nowadays.

Despite the disruption all over the city, I was planning on meeting a friend for lunch, so headed out beforehand for a sneak-peak of the Popemobile. I don’t know where everyone had come from…the crowds challenged a Scottish pub at the last orders bell. I find it a rather strange concept, spilling out onto the streets to see someone ‘famous’. It’s no different to when Her Majesty the Queen tours around, or anyone else in a high profile position for that matter. Perhaps I would comprehend it more if the Pope, for example, was a recluse, or maybe was based in Timbuktu, so sightings were rare, but he’s in the Vatican –an hour and a half by train from Florence. I’ve even seen him before…he’s there every Sunday, on the balcony, waving down; a pretty prolific presence in Italy. Nonetheless, the streets were mobbed. I wish I had thought to take a video of the scene before the Popemobile arrived, as I feel describing it won’t do it justice.

Strutting around, one hand constantly rubbing his ‘Police Inspector’ badge, the other gripping a walky-talky, was my stereotypical idea of an Italian detective. He could have walked straight out of a Montalbano film. A large chunk of his salary must go towards brill cream and ensuring that he only has black items of clothing in his wardrobe. Muttering things under his breath into the walky-talky, he would scan the crowd, with an important, bordering on arrogant gaze, judging us all. Occasionally, since he clearly had nothing to do, he would saunter over to the crowd and adjust the barriers, telling us to ‘Step back now. Thank you, step back’, proceeding to budge it an inch before sweeping over the crowds again with an ‘I-am-in-charge-here’ sort of look. A couple of times, he, very deliberately, pulled out a white handkerchief from his jacket pocket and began polishing his police badge –must have been all brill-creamy.

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After a good 40 minutes, there were cheers emanating from further up the street –the iPads, iPhones, gigantic cameras and bobbing heads filled the gaps around me. Looking more important than ever, Mr Brill Cream gave one last ‘I’m-watching-you-all’ stare before the Popemobile came into sight.

I had thought he would be chugging along, smiling at the crowds. Maybe he had been thus far, but he had clearly decided it was almost lunch time and he had had enough of this waving malarkey. In a flash, faster than you could say ‘Hello Pope Francis’, he was gone. Speeding down the road, keen as a bean to get to lunch. There was a communal exhaling of breath and audible ‘Aww’ from the crowd, and that was that. Everyone walked off, planning their lunch break, too. I’m really glad I hung around for so long.

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Life lessons learnt: Best to stay away from crowds, especially right before lunchtime. The Pope had the right idea –prioritise meal times.

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