February 10, 2029, Rome, Italy
As her jet makes its final approach to Rome’s international airport, Janet enjoys the mesmerizing view below. Landing in any of the European cities stimulates her senses. Most of them have done a great job balancing modernism with cultural celebration. Sometimes, she finds a city’s beauty to be at its best from above. Rome is such a city. Its skyline is filled with glittering domes and golden steeples sitting atop nine-hundred churches. There is also the occasional skyscraper to remind visitors that, in addition to an historic marvel, Rome is also a thriving metropolis.
The wise city planners of Rome know the importance of giving private planes as much priority as commercial jets. Janet’s plane touches down on time at noon to the Ciampino-G.B. Pastine International Airport. It’s a rare sunny Saturday in February. Temperatures this time of year are usually in the mid-fifties, but local meteorologists predict this weekend will see temperatures topping out at seventy. She checks her email as soon as she clears security. The announcement she has been hoping for has arrived: Due to the warm weather, the Pope will be presenting his Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square at 12:00 p.m. rather than indoors in the Audience Hall.
“Benjamin, you’re going to love this! Tomorrow’s Blessing is being given outside. Well, technically, Pope Kellan will give it from the window of his office, but we’ll be in St. Peter’s Square! How exciting is that?”
“Better than exciting—it’s magnificent! I’ve wanted to see the Pope’s Blessing given in St. Peter’s Square for as long as I can remember. The Audience Hall would have been a bit of a letdown. This weekend is already starting out to be a great one! Ambassador, since the Pope’s Blessing isn’t until tomorrow, and the Religion Roundtable isn’t until Monday, what would you like to do with this beautiful afternoon?”
“Well, I’d certainly like to see the Colosseum and the Parthenon, and maybe the Jewish Ghetto? The fountains and museums are rumored to be amazing in every direction, so I guess we can’t go wrong wherever we choose to roam in Rome.”
“Ha, you were just waiting for me to set you up for that, weren’t you?”
“Of course.” She smiles as she reaches for her suitcase. “I would like to end the evening at Piazza Navona. It sounds like a great place to sit outside and enjoy an authentic Italian dinner. There are even violins near the fountains to serenade us while we dine. How about you, what’s on your list?”
“Your list sounds good to me. I do have an interest in seeing the hillside of Janiculum tomorrow following the Pope’s blessing. I was thinking we could tour the Sistine Chapel first, and then head to Janiculum. There’s history surrounding St. Peter atop the hill.
“I’d like to visit the church of San Pietro, built where Peter was crucified. It’s a great draw for us academic types because of the three universities that share the open space. My travel agent said either way we ascend the steps of the hillside, we’ll see a view that is the ‘best Rome has to offer.’ She says each day at noon, you can hear the midday canon from there. The canon sounds as a reference point to keep all the city’s church bells ringing in sync.”
“It sounds like tomorrow is set! Let’s get an Uber to the hotel and head out into the streets for the evening. We probably have five or six hours of daylight. I say we make the best of it.”
Though Janet has been to Italy several times, it’s Benjamin’s first visit. She gives him a briefing on the few things she learned from her earlier visits as they sit in the car: “Both sexes are extremely flirty, and everyone speeds. Drivers travel the freeways at about a hundred miles an hour, and the flirting goes even faster. The only time either slows is when they need to navigate around an accident or firm up dinner plans. Even then, they barely tap on their brakes.”
“Well, I can’t comment on the flirting advice yet, but I can confirm that Italian drivers seem to have only one speed—fast. Watching it from the backseat is tough on the stomach, especially from the back of a Mercedes—a car not known for its high performance on curves. On another topic but closely related, isn’t a Mercedes a little on the high-end for standard Ubering?”
The Italian driver believes the question is meant for him. “Here in Italy, we refer to the Mercedes as the ‘commoner’s car.’ You are in the land of Italian sports cars—Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati, to name a few. I am not a wealthy man, so I picked up this Mercedes at a bargain. Someone traded it in for a Bugatti Concept.”
“A Bugatti Concept—don’t they cost three million dollars? I doubt you can get much credit for a Mercedes traded on a Bugatti.”
“Exactly.” With his affirmation, he cuts across three lanes of traffic without a warning or a signal. “Hold on, this is our exit.”
Benjamin reacts when Janet is thrown into his side of the backseat as their driver exits the loop at a near-tipping speed. “Dear Lord, what is the deal with this driving? Everyone is speeding—and most of them in sports cars—red sports cars at that. Can you imagine the insurance rates here?” Janet laughs at Benjamin’s questions as they come to a screeching halt under the awning of their hotel, barely missing the valet attendant.