Jottings: While in Rome
In 1912, a group of Portland businessmen created an organization named Royal Rosarians to promote the Rose City and Rose Festival. They became Ambassadors of Goodwill and Official Greeters for Portland, Oregon. A white dress suit and a white or straw hat was their uniform.
It is a volunteer group that pays its own way. Each year Portland's mayor signs a proclamation allowing them to continue. My tenure was in the late 80s through the 90s.
My thoughts go back to 1998. A tradition had developed that our incoming Rosarian Prime Minister would set up a Goodwill trip to a country or area of his choice. He picked "A Grand Tour of Italy," the country where he fought in WWII.
The Ambassadorial part of the trip was to deliver a proclamation from Portland's Mayor, Vera Katz, to a straw hat factory near Florence, Italy. They supplied our straw hats for decades.
A two-week trip was formed. An old saying states, "A camel is a horse put together by a committee." Our group scheduled a heap of places and events for our two-week visit.
A Trafalgar Bus, with driver and tour guide, was chartered. Forty-three of us, including husbands and wives, signed on for our journey of goodwill and sight-seeing.
On our journey, we verified that the Tower in Piza, not Pizza, was still leaning, the Art Museum in Florence was still the home of Michelangelo's statue David, Leonardo de Vinci's "Last Supper" was still on the wall, Gondolas in Venice were still afloat, the Vatican was as overwhelming as pledged. We even did our three coins in the fountain one night, and I can't remember what my wish was.
We also checked out the Isle of Capri to see if it still radiated romance, and Lake Como, and found it was still at the base of the Italian Alps.
Every Italian food was tried and some enjoyed a variety of their wines.
On our last day in Rome, the Catacombs tour was the destination. My wife and I, and six others, opted not to go so we could enjoy a few hours away from the group.
Our bus dropped eight of us off by a fountain with instructions for picking us up.
We wandered around, looked in a few windows, bought some postcards, and sat sipping coffee, not my favorite brand, but the pastry was my favorite.
We noticed several traffic cops, in their white helmets, had eased into the circle and began directing traffic. A group of uniformed men on horses were a block or so away. Bystanders began to form a wall along the curb on both sides of the street. Something must be up, so we moved closer to the horsemen and caught a glimpse of their red uniforms, special helmets and superb mounts. It was the Swiss Guard, a group of special guards from the Vatican.
Suddenly the interest of our group shifted from finding a toilet to searching for what was going on. We inched closer to the Swiss Guard and found a break in the crowd that gave all eight of us a vantage point. A helicopter hovered overhead. All traffic was halted, except the horsemen. Soon a signal was given and the Swiss Guard, in unison, pulled their sabers from their sides, pointed the end up in an upright position in front of their face, and performed a salute.
A spectator pointed down the avenue about a block away and shouted, "The Pope!" His black limousine was inching its way up the street towards us. When it appeared, some twenty feet in front of us, it stopped.
Pope John Paul II was sitting in the rear seat. The clear glass cover over his head was raised. He stood up, waved in every direction, sat down, and the glass cover closed.
The Swiss Guard returned to their positions in the front, back, and sides of the Limousine, and it slowly moved out of sight. The Pope visits the mayor of Rome twice a year and this was one of them.
This was not on our committee's long list of events. But, it certainly was the unexpected highlight of our trip.
Fred Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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