By Fr. Bernard Basset, S.J.
IT is easy to order photographs in Rome. You just look through the thousands of groups of Conciliar Fathers, make your choice, place your order, pay your money and claim your receipt. I ordered a group of five English bishops in a minute and a half.
Getting your copy may, however, take longer as I discovered on the following day. My receipt, when presented, caused considerable trouble, much whispering and. consultation, followed by an unavailing search. It was generally agreed that Enrico would have found it in a moment hut Enrico, alas, was now in Livorno, visiting his parents' grave.
Was advised to present my receipt at the Centro Fotografico. elsewhere in town. Four eager helpers rattled off the directions; I must cross the Piazza Sisto Quint°, cut down the Viale di Pio Decinto, turn into the Via di Papa Onorio Ter:o and then keep straight on. "You can't miss it." they said in cheerful Italian; one had met the mime phrase and the same optimism in Spain, England, France and Germany.
Noting my hesitation, a young man took me to the door of the shop to explain. 1 was to take the prima a destra, then the secunda a sinistra and go right ahead. The signpost across the road said "Napoli" but I put my truat in God and took a deep breath. I owed it to the group of English bishops and 1 must not fail.
At the prima a drstra, I fell in with a Japanese bishop. small, enigmatic. as puzzled by the Roman traffic as I was myself. After six weeks in Rome—and who can blame him—his only word in any European language was "No". Luckily he did not need to explain his present pilgrimage for the receipt in his hand was similar to my own. Together and smiling we went, prima a desire and seeunda a sinistra, to end in a cul-de-sac called after a great Renaissance Pope.
Our destination was now obvious for the only shop in sight bore the illuminated sign "Centro Fotografico" with a subheading "Fotografia Istantanea" which at that time sounded encouraging, though I now know that it meant something else.
A small woman in a red jumper stood behind the counter, up to her eyes in episcopal photographs of every sort. Bishops in mitres, copes, soutanes or mufti, lay upside down or sideways on the counter and on all the shelves behind her back. To the left stood an impressive pile of envelopes.
Gestures come easily in Rome and to the woman's gesture of welcome and enquiry, I replied with one, worthy of Cesare Borgia, to indicate that the bishop should go first. He said "No" for he had nothing else to say. She, without hesitation, grabbed his ticket, slapped it on the counter. studied it for several seconds and then began her search through the pile of envelopes. As she talked to herself. I could not help thinking that her teeth had been made for another mouth.
She had done two hundred envelopes when the 'phone rang. Dropping the lot. she darted behind the scenes. For ten minutes we heard no more than "Si-si-si", an occasional "Non Ho Capito" with the archangels Michael. Gabriel and Raphael squashed in between. The Japanese hr said "No."
When she returned. a little flustered. she resumed her counting from the top. She was under pressure now. Other customers had arrived, a fierce-looking man with a camera who looked American but spoke only German, a German-looking bishop who spoke American and three nuns who spoke nothing but produced a collection box. Three young seminarians peeped in. saw the two bishops and popped out. The fierce-looking man announced in broken Italian that the Japanese camera which he had bought yesterday, did not work. The J a pa n es e bishop smiling sweetly said "No", while the redjumpered lady put down the envelopes to wring her hands. She announced dramatically that her son had gone to God, her husband to Livorno, her daughter to the dogs—the Italian expression is less artistic—and that, really, she could not run the shop single-handed. general council or notl
ilia over, she started again from the top of the pile. Two unusual looking men, Eugenio and Demostene now appeared behind the counter and encouraged the search while picking their teeth. Meanwhile an Italian friar sidled up to me and in perfect English asked after the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the Japanese bishop said "No", the friar answered "by Jove" and went away.
Another ten minutes had passed before, finally, with a good deal of helpful comment from Eugenio and Demostene, the wanted envelope was revealed. We stood round cheering. congratulating, praying as the bishop opened the flap to produce his prize. Clearly something had gone wrong. The photograph when produced was of a gloriously apparelled archimandrite, possibly not in union with Rome. Dcmostene roared with harmless laughter while Eugenio tried to persuade the Japanese bishop that the photograph was the living image of himself. The Japanese bishop said "No" twice and very quickly. for once meaning exactly what he said.
At thls stage in the crisis entered a clerical whom I took to be a Jesuit—he cairied a breviary. an umbrella and a round, dilapidated hat. Being a Dutchman. he could speak five languages, not one of them Japanese. lie inspected the broken camera. asked me in perfect English about the new Coventry Cathedral. grasped in a flash the tragedy of the archimandrite and took the photo from the bishop's trembling band.
The red-jumpered lady answered "Non Ho Capito" when he spoke to her in Italian, followed by German, French and modern Greek. She announced that we would all have to wait until her husband got back from Livorno where he was visiting his parents' grave. Eugenio and Demostene, she said, were only taxi-drivers, off duty, and could hardly be expected to know all the bishops of the one arid holy Catholic Church. She shed a few tears after this and began again at the top of the pile.
Spontaneously, to relieve tension. we then all kissed the Japanese bishop's ring. The Dutch Jesuit—I am only guessing—was now mending the Japanese camera, the furious man was arguing with Eugenio about football, Demostene, tooth-picking over, was rum
maging through the envelopes in
a casual and half-hearted way. Nevertheless. he it was who cud denly produced my photograph of the group of English bishops from an envelope marked, in pencil, Los
Angeles. I thought of Saint Gregory the Great. The cardiaaned lady declared that had her husband got hack from Livorno, he would have found it in half the time, The Japanese bishop said "No". The "Fotografia Istantanea" had taken me about forty minutes: the Dutch Jesuit had the camera working in ten. Only the Japanese bishop was unhappy. He utterly refused for the sake of Christian Unity to accept the archirnandrite as himself.
The Dutch Jesuit had just drawn a deep breath to begin again in Latin, when the door of the shop flew open with a bang. Was Enrico back from Livorno at last? Not a bit of it. Framed in the door was the gloriously apparelled archimandrite, obviously furious and with a photograph and envelope in his hands. After the first moment of shock. I piously hoped that he would denounce us all, at least in Ruthenian: instead he banged down on the counter the photograph of the Japanese bishop and declared in a broad Boston accent "Say, who do you guys think I am?" The Japanese bishop smiled at this—he had not wasted the years of American occupation and in a broad Texan drawl he said something which sounded like "Hi Yah Balls" while all of us, West, East and Far East fell into each other's arms.