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When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City Paperback – June 15, 1998
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Robert Hutchinson is on a mission: to explore the living center of the Roman Catholic Church. "Twenty years after my first visit to Rome I set out to rediscover the Vatican. I wondered how it would all seem, to a smart-aleck American writer and confused Catholic, to really poke around the place, talk to the people who actually run it." When in Rome is not a book of theology or politics, it's a compilation of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day inside stories of what really makes the Eternal City tick. "I wanted to know how much money a cardinal made, what those silly capelike outfits were called, where the Swiss Guards went drinking on their days off, and so on," explains Hutchinson.
This book is a collection of the best of his discoveries. Always with a sense of humor and a bottomless curiosity (sometimes irreverent, but never disrespectful), Hutchinson reveals how archaeologists found, then lost, the bones of St. Peter; he seeks erotic literature in the Vatican library to help him brush up on his Italian (when studying foreign languages he finds this genre increases his motivation to look up new words in the dictionary); he learns that "relics" in Rome range from right arms to foreskins; and devotes an entire chapter to the sex lives of the popes.
If Rome is on your itinerary, When in Rome is an excellent take-along read that will help make the Vatican City come to life. --Kathryn True
From Publishers Weekly
"One of the advantages of being a Catholic," begins our guide, former editor of Hawaii magazine and frequent writer about Catholicism and gambling, "is that you get to see a lot of beautiful naked women." It's a blatant hook, but Hutchinson (The Book of Vices) knows how to keep a tour group together as he leads the reader through a year (1996) poking around RomeAand into the business of the vaticanistiAwith a snappy style and an eye for detail. Hutchinson flirts with a gonzo persona, kvetching about what he's up against in the Curial bureaucracy when trying to get a good gossipy tidbit. If his humor is occasionally strained (as when he speculates that the pope would rather be in bed watching Beverly Hillbillies reruns), Hutchinson settles into a raconteur's tone that befits the epigrammatic company of such fellow writerly tourists as Chekhov, Twain and Martin Luther ("[The church] was too crowded, and I could not get in; so I ate a smoked herring instead"). He finds a nice balance of history, sex (oh, those Borgias), commerce, pageantryAand even a dollop of faithAas he ushers us from the Secret Archives to the Tower of Winds to Castel Gandolfo to the Scala Santa, and encounters the sampietrini, the Swiss Guard, a lot of weird relics and a number of loose canons (from Queen Christina of Sweden to "the only man in Rome who speaks Latin"). And every few chapters our guide manages to find time to sample some little restaurant he's discovered that has the best carbonara in Rome.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In this instance, Hutchinson moves to Rome with the sole purpose of writing a "what I did on my summer vacation" book on the Vatican. He and his wife and three children, all practising Catholics already feel that affinity to Rome, the Pope and the Vatican that all Catholics innately experience. Here, Hutchinson explores with pure delight his connection with an institution that has lasted through 2000 years of tumultuous change and yet like the rock it was built upon, invariably stays the same.
Hutchinson's Roman adventures are sprinkled liberally with his slightly irreverant humor and yes, as other reviewers have commented, he does repeat himself. But instead of looking cynically upon these faux pas, think of Hutchinson as the prodigal son (or any other excited tourist with a film projector filled with slides) returning from the unknown and merely so thrilled by what he has seen and experienced, can barely contain himself. Enjoy his exuberance, visit Rome and share in it.
Although most entertaining for me were Hutchinson's stories about St. Peter's bones, the Borgia popes, and the holy relics, I found the entire book one refreshing breeze of a read that brought back for me the sound of the Vespas in a city that juxtaposes the old with the new in a very stylish and sophisticated way. Recommended reading for AFTER that trip to Rome---to relish all those "Roman" sensations all over again.