Postcard — March 4, 2013, 1:51 pm

Sedi Vacanti

The empty palaces of Rome

Photographs © 2013 Lena Herzog

Left: Former residence of Benedict XVI, Vatican City. Center: Mute Swans of Peace, a porcelain sculpture by Boehm, presented in 1976 to Pope Paul VI by the Archdiocese of New York. Right: New residence of Benedict XVI under construction, Vatican City. Photographs © 2013 Lena Herzog. Please click here to see larger versions.

A feeling of suspense is hanging over the Eternal City. Italians at the moment are without a pope and without a functioning government. “These are crazy times, incredible,” says a former administrator of the presidential Quirinal Palace. “But we are Italians, and we’ve seen a lot throughout history.” His colleague in the palace gardens agrees. “We live in a place where every stone has a very long history,” she says. “Something will happen and all this will be resolved.”

A similar sense of uneasy equanimity extends to the Vatican. At the Apostolic Palace, the departing pope’s private apartments have been cordoned off with tape inscribed sede vacante (“vacant seat”); the outer doors have been bolted and tied with a red ribbon sealed with wax. Benedict XVI has retired to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, to await the election of his successor. The gardeners, unconcerned, continue toiling around Italy’s two sedi vacanti.

On the streets of Rome, all the clocks show different times. I used to think of this as a kind of unintentional conceptual art. Now it seems like the true reflection of a city where time is irrelevant.

Share
Single Page
undefined

More from Lena Herzog:

From the May 2008 issue

Gardens of stone

From the May 2008 issue

Untitled

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2019

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Secrets and Lies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Post
Seeking Asylum·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Post
Poem for Harm·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Article
Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Article
Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today