Monday, June 9, 2008

The Shush Man

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

On my first trip to Rome in August, 2000, one of the ports of call where I put in was the Sistine Chapel. Everyone, I think, hears about the chapel's ceiling, but somehow I had managed to miss the news that the walls themselves are covered with eye-popping art -- which is odd to me, in that most people who were in the chapel at the time treated the place as more of a museum or art gallery than a church.

On that note, there was a recording (in English, curiously) piped in over a loud speaker reminding everyone to observe silence. The reminder was necessary: most of the visitors carried on like they were at an amusement park or a museum. The only time they actually quieted down is when the little Italian man sitting in the corner let out a prolonged "SHHHHHHH!" His talent was much in demand -- I actually timed the guy -- because within 60 seconds of a given shush he was on to the next shush: the crowd, it turned out, would quiet down for just a few moments, but slowly, consistently, predictably, the whispers would give way to talking and then return to an excited din.

I didn't know what the man in the corner's official title was, so I dubbed him The Shush Man; perhaps his role is filed under some sub-category of librarian. I also wondered if the chap acquired his job through appointment, or whether it was inherited; I can imagine how he might thus declare " I am a Shush Man, my father was a Shush Man, and his father was a Shush Man..."

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