-We must go to Rome to spend the holidays.
When he thought in the plural, he thought of his wife Silvia and his daughter Sol. His older daughters would not go with him or to the corner store. They would spend the holidays with his mother, with his mother’s French boyfriend, all grieving (congratulations, Barclays thought) because France had lost the World Cup final.
Barclays did not know (luckily for him) that the days they would spend in the Italian capital would be colder in Miami, where he lived with his wife and youngest daughter, than in Rome itself. To justify his desire to travel, he used to say:
-He who does not go, does not see.
He also used to say:
Chance favors the bold.
However, the Italian airline plane was a real old junk: no room for carry-on bags, seats hardly recline and were narrow bordering on torture, movies only showed in Italian (although the service was often entertainment was collapsing and they didn’t show up at all), and the food was downright mediocre – the fish fillet looked like a piece of terracotta.
Worse still, it was impossible to sleep: Barclays was surrounded by two huge fat men who were sleeping, snoring and expelling criminal farts. Curiously, the fat ones were a couple. Strangely, every once in a while they woke up, walked to the bathroom and came back perfumed. They were massively obese, an industrial factory for flatulence, but they bathed their puffy nunish cheeks in high-end perfumes.
Arriving in Rome, the Barclays were welcomed by an attentive lady sent by the hotel, who, with a sea of smiles, benvenuto, avanti, andiamo, allora, prego, grazie, managed to avoid the thickest lines and quickly get them out of that human pandemonium.
At noon they were at the hotel, in the historic heart of Rome. The weather seemed insurmountable: a radiant sun, 15 degrees Celsius, a sea of people walking on the sidewalks and especially on the narrow, cobbled streets. It was crazy and beautiful, “La Grande Bellezza”, just like in Sorrentino’s extravagant and great movie. The attentive lady at the reception told them, with a sea of smiles, that the rooms were not ready yet. They had to wait. The maids were cleaning them. Patience, Barclays thought. A hotel cat named Lisa sneaked up on Silvia and became suspiciously friendly with her. Silvia loved cats and dogs; to humans, much less.
At nine in the evening, Silvia woke up Barclays:
“Your brother and his family are downstairs,” he told her. We have agreed to eat with them.
Punctual and attentive as always, Octavio, Barclays’ younger brother, had arrived at the hotel at the agreed time, nine o’clock at night. But Barclays, a disaster, was still sleeping.
“I’ll get dressed in five minutes,” said Barclays.
“No,” Silvia told him in an energetic tone. You shower, wash your hair and come down presentable.
Silvia and her daughter Sol were beautiful and radiant and came down to receive Octavio and his family. Half an hour later, Barclays appeared, waggling his fatty tissue like a veteran seal, apologizing for his gross tardiness. They dined with great laughter. The girl Sol was a show making fun of certain people who were not expensive to her. Octavio and his family had brought wonderful gifts. Barclays, a mess, hadn’t bought any gifts, so he gave them cash: euros, dollars, sterling. Silvia looked at him out of the corner of her eye, as if to say:
-You are vulgar, that is not done.
The next day, walking through the arena of the Colosseum, the guide, Carmelo, whom Barclays called Marcelo over and over again, told them:
-This Colosseum was built two thousand years ago. Twenty centuries. Four centuries before the Incas built Machu Picchu.
The guide Carmelo reminded them that blood flowed profusely in that arena: the blood of gladiators who were not free men, the blood of slaves captured in war, the blood of wild animals, the blood of jungle animals:
-Thousands of men and thousands of animals died here. Men fought with lions and tigers. But also with elephants and giraffes.
The girl Sol was crying delicately.
-Why do you cry, love? asked his father, Barclays.
“Because this place has bad energy, it gives me bad vibes,” replied the girl.
She was tired and upset. Silvia, her mother, a gladiator, was, on the contrary, excited and excited, as if she wanted to fight someone. The guide talked and talked and Barclays heard him, but he didn’t listen:
-The people came to see blood. The blood was the circus. They were all drunk. Everyone, rich and poor, emperors and slaves, was drunk. They drank wine as if it were water.
Barclays touched the stone, the stones, and said:
-These stones are two thousand years old. The men pass, the stones remain.
“The stones and the trees,” added the guide Carmelo, whom Barclays continued to call Marcelo.
The weather was conducive to walking in Rome, but the streets were overflowing with people. Pedestrians walked the sidewalks talking loudly and invaded the streets and avenues, obstructing the passage of cars, motorcycles, and ambulances. At all times it seemed that a car was going to run over a pedestrian, a lady with a cane, a woman with a baby, but fortunately that did not happen and they all coexisted in a flowing chaos, a chaos that was beautiful and, sometimes at the same time, maddening.
No less chaotic was the Vatican Museum. Barclays had toured it in the company of his mother Dorita, a religious fanatic, an Opus Dei conspirator, a friend of the Argentine Pope:
“If you go to the Vatican, I want you to visit the tomb of John Paul II and pray for me,” Dorita had told her black sheep son.
“Of course, Mom,” Barclays promised her, even though he was an agnostic.
On a certain occasion, during the canonization ceremony of the Polish Pope, Dorita, sitting far forward as she wished, felt the urge to urinate. Without saying anything to her son Barclays who was with her, without moving from her seat, without removing her black mantilla, without ceasing to pray in Latin, Dorita Lerner, widow of Barclays, urinated in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the very heart of the Vatican, while his son suppressed a laugh and saw how the yellowish liquid shingles, made of uric acid, spilled by said lay saint, slithered under his mother’s chair.
“My mother prays while urinating, my mother urinates while praying,” thought Barclays.
Now he was back, with his wife Silvia and his daughter Sol, deeply sorry for having gotten into those kilometric human lines that advanced at a man’s pace through the Vatican galleries with their splendid ceilings, embellished by art and faith. Hours later, they arrived at the Sistine Chapel. Barclays was exhausted, he just wanted to sit down, but he had nowhere to rest his buttocks. A Vatican guard scolded people taking photos, including Barclays’ wife:
-This is a sacred place! the guard raised his voice. No photos, no videos!
“If it’s a sacred place,” said the girl Sol, “they shouldn’t charge to enter.”
Barclays was proud of his daughter. In one sentence, he had well summed up the history of that church.
The best in the museum were the soccer jerseys of the Argentine Pope: one from San Lorenzo, a club of which he was a declared fan, and two from the Argentine national team, one of them signed by Maradona.
During the long tour of the Vatican Museum, Barclays felt oppressed, gripped, trapped: he felt that this territory and this State were hostile to him, enemies; that he was in a luxuriously decorated jail; that he would not get out of there alive; that it had been a mistake to return to the Vatican. But he survived, barely survived. In front of the tomb of John Paul II, he prayed:
-Dear Pole, I ask that my mother live to be a hundred years old in good health. And I ask that Messi play in the next World Cup.
Of course, Silvia took a photo of Barclays praying for her mother and sent it to Mrs. Dorita, who received it, ecstatic.
Finally leaving the Vatican, the Barclays went into the cafeteria of an oriental lady and drank coffees and cokes: Barclays did not believe in religions, but he did believe in caffeine, to get out of a mental downturn, tone the spirit and continue the adventure of being alive
But the great challenge was not to survive the Vatican, but to climb the one hundred and thirty-five marble steps, in the Spanish Steps, walking from the Hotel de Russie, whose secret garden made the Barclays fall in love, to the Hassler Hotel, where a long-haired pianist and lean played with singular grace in the bistro.
“I’m not going to be able to upload all this,” Barclays told his wife.
He had never attempted to climb the hundred and thirty-five steps. Spurred on by his wife, harangued by his daughter, who climbed with astonishing ease, Barclays went up the steps ten at a time, taking long breaks on the canopies, recovering the lost bellows, until he reached the very top, in front of the church of Mount Trinity. There, at twilight, the Barclays took some photos, marveling at the views of the eternal city, and then Silvia said:
-We have to take a chicken breast to the hotel cat.
Officially, he had fallen in love again with one more cat.