ROME, JUNE 21 -- The sun is out and I sit, reading the International Herald Tribune, on stones that encircle a flower garden on the Via Cola di Rienzo. Passing traffic is fairly heavy, but no one is impatiently blowing his horn. People from the neighborhood pass by casually, some stopping to sit awhile on green benches lining the street. With the Italian soccer team between games, the people can relax and enjoy.
Rome, June 19: I drop in without an appointment on William Cardinal Baum, former Archbishop of Washington, who has an office in the city. I push open the large door, find no one in the outer office and happen upon the cardinal at work at his corner desk in his inner office.
I apologize for the interruption and if I have startled him, but already he graciously is welcoming me. We spend a half-hour together. He gives me his blessing and says I should meet a friend of his in the Vatican, an archbishop, the Most Rev. John P. Foley, originally from Philadelphia. With such an appointment, I am directed by a guard into the city within the city. It's quiet here on the cobblestone path, virtually alone with sculpted angels.
It's minutes before noon, and the archbishop says I'm just in time for the Angelus, the short prayer in which I find myself joined with visiting and Vatican priests and several office workers.
The archbishop and I also talk for a half-hour. He says we're sitting on furniture that once was in the private quarters of popes Pius XII, John XIII and Paul VI.
On the way out I go into St. Peter's, the world's largest church. It is so big, the vast number of visitors seems small. The temperature is cool, inviting one to linger. I look into the shatterproof glass at Michelangelo's Pieta. Words escape me.
Florence, June 20: Riding the train out of this treasure-filled city, I lean back and contemplate the ultra-fashionable among World Cup players. What intrigues me especially are the hairdos.
For me, the ultimate coif belongs to Colombia's Carlos Valderrama, known as "El Pibe" or "The Kid." What comes to mind is the blond-colored floor mop my grandmother wielded many years ago. The Kid's head is a World Cup conversation piece. Some of his admirers wonder if the color comes from a bottle. Several describe it as resembling tropical undergrowth.
My hairdo-derby runner-ups include the Netherlands's Ruud Gullit, for his magnificent dreadlocks; Argentina's Claudio Caniggia, who carries off the blond bombshell look with flowing locks; and Italy's beloved Salvatore Schillaci, a virtual skin head who looks as if he fell asleep in the barber's chair.
Rome, June 21: I meet the nicest people around here.
Antonio, the bubbly concierge, predicted the 1-0 outcome of the Italy-United States game when everyone else was saying it was going to be a rout. The next day he said to me, "I told you I was worried."
Sabatino, the waiter in the basement pasta place I frequent, long ago stopped giving me a dinner menu. More recently he's stopped asking me what I want. He just goes and gets it -- after making sure I have a table from where we can see whatever game is on TV. Sometimes Cosmo, the chef, personally brings out the spaghetti.
Marcello plays piano in the hotel bar. He keeps a small billboard outside the door. On it are all the exotic places around the world where he's played -- from Singapore to Vienna. Smack in the middle of his list is "Pimlico Hotel, Baltimore, U.S.A."
"I don't think it's there anymore," I say during a break.
"Long, long time ago," he says.