They say… All ways lead to Rome… Well guess what... Jesse and mine surely did… Once again… Way sooner then expected… Only 2 months after releasing our adventures from Turkey we decided to end the year 2018 with some fireworks. As I’m recapitulating this past week I receive a message from one of our Italian friends saying the story has already leaked in the Italian press. ‘Belgian model Marisa Papen and Australian photographer Jess Walker tried to shoot nude photos in St-Peter Square’. I want to say sorry to the cops for the tiny lies we had to make up. Because instead of ’tried’, we actually ’succeeded’.
Reunion Thursday A beautiful pinkish sky when I flew into the city. First thing I had to do was get an espresso. And wow, Mamma Mia, I’m in Italy!!! I pick up my luggage and take a taxi to the Airbnb where we would be staying for the next 4 nights. It’s located outside the buzz of the city, a 15 minute walk down to the Vatican. This place should give us the solitude and inspiration we needed to get this trip started. The apartment is based on the highest floor of the building, overlooking the St-Peter’s Basilica. Right at the moment the host is showing me the terrace, the lights of the Dome turn on. It was quite a symbolic moment. I decide to go for a run and have a look at the square before Jesse would arrive a few hours later. When he did, we hug each other and briefly talk about the past few months. We are both exhausted so decide to go to bed and wake up early in the morning.
Preparation Friday After a good night of sleep we feel rejuvenated, ready to take on Rome! We lay out all the props we took with us and start drawing the storyboard. After that we head to city for a huge walk, to collect all the missing items and to get a proper plate of oily pasta, of course! Nothing else crazily exciting happened on Preparation Friday. We ended the day watching the movie ‘Killing Jesus’.
Crosswalking Saturday Our motors are still slowly heating up, we’re not in full power mode yet. So we decide to take the day as it comes, walk a bit more, get inspired by the energy of the city and again have a bunch more Italian delicacies. After dinner we feel charged to take the first frame. We would head to the Vatican with the cross (that Jesse had made in Bali and transported all the way to Rome, quite genius in my opinion). We order an uber… The uber driver gave us a couple strange looks when he saw us waiting for him on the boardwalk holding this giant cross. He didn’t ask any questions and helped us to fit the cross into his car. We ask him to stop at a flower shop before arriving at our final destination. We buy some old stalks to create our very own crown of thorns. We arrive at the Vatican, unload the cross and sit ourselves down on a bench. It’s raining gently. We end up sitting on that bench for about 2 hours. Till at one point our moment is there. I undress, Jesse positions the cross upon my shoulder and I walk a few times back and fore worth dragging the cross over the cobblestones. I throw the cross on the floor, redress myself and we walk away. Order an Uber and upload the images straight away when getting back to the apartment. We were both elated with the result and couldn’t believe how smoothly this operation was done. Happy faces! Teatime! Bedtime!
Sad Sunday Last night I had a dream about a photo with Papa Francesco in the background. As the Pope does on every Sunday (when he’s in town) he praises over the square at noon. After checking on the website of the Vatican it indeed seemed he was around. Lucky us. I prepare some cinnamony oatmeal, Jesse brews some coffee. We put on our raining coats to face the storm. We get through security right in time. Hundreds of umbrellas color St. Peters Square. Papa Francesco speaks from the highest window. You could barely see him. I thought it was a bit cynical. To be literally speaking down. If I would be the Pope (Yes you can laugh) I would want to be in between the people… After 5 minutes he wrapped up his prayer… On the contrary of the Pope we didn’t find our window to capture the photo we had in mind. I was a bit bummed. Jesse said: ‘It was not supposed to happen, Marisa, no worries, let’s grab an espresso or a juice or something’ Stubborn as I am, I kept standing in the middle of the square in the pouring rain for another 10 minutes. As I was standing there, one of the many beggars you can find on and around the square caught my eye. A barefoot gypsy lady with a completely deformed posture. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she was shaking her soaking wet paper cup for some coins. All the colorful umbrellas were just passing her, from the left and the right. It was like nobody even saw her… I felt like I was caught in a cloud of dark energy. I thought to myself. Imagine if the Vatican would be a place that would actually help people. Imagine if all these huge churches would open their doors for people in need. To feed them and give them shelter. A real place of light, love and warmth… I was disgusted when looking down and seeing trampled Museum-entry tickets on the floor. And then when looking around, seeing all the stores selling religious souvenirs for ridiculous amounts of money. A billion dollar industry based on lies and murder and theft. Not even a gelato could change the mood of Sad Sunday. We went back to our Airbnb and reflected on our thoughts. It rained the entire day.
Blue Monday Even though it wasn’t raining on Blue Monday, Sad Sunday was still lingering in my head. The pressure kind of starting to build up as well. We only did one photo in 3 days… Pretty bad statistics… So once again we leave the door of our Airbnb before the sun even rises. Straight to the Vatican. The wet cobblestones of St-Peters square were reflecting the sky. Only a handful of people were crossing the square each minute. But every minute we waited the busier it was becoming. There was no time to reconsider. I put the 3 testaments and the book of the Virgin Marie on the ground, take of my clothes, throw them away, sit down on the books, crawl up and round my back to create a feeling of hopelessness. ‘Got it’ I hear Jesse say. I do a little sprint and grab my clothes. I’m right in the middle of putting on my pants when suddenly 2 Polizia cars drive rapidly towards us. Another 4 cops approach us running. Holding their batons firmly. “Passport please!!!!!” Jesse is still laying on a beach towel on the chilly ground. He is formatting the card and taking some new frames afterwards of solely the books. The cops are getting sligthly redheaded now and start yelling. Jesse finally stands up. I pick up the books. “Passport please!!!!” Jesse says: “I don’t have my passport with me”. “Why you don’t have passport” asks one of the cops. “Because it’s still in the apartment… I never carry my passport with me” Jesse answers. “Then we have extra problem” the cop replies “You guys are in some serious trouble…” he adds. We get escorted to their office just around the corner of the square. The first thing we have to do is empty our backpacks. They inspect the books and understand that what we were doing could be a bit more ‘offensive’ then originally thought. Nude on the bible… Ay ay ay… They mumble with each other in Italian. ‘Nuda, libro, protesta’ is all I understand. After emptying our bags we have to clear our pockets. I take out my lip balm and my phone. Jesse does the same. Out of his left side pocket comes a dirty, old, wet 5 euro biljet. Not sure whether it was a reflex or not. But Jesse looks at the 5euro, raises it up in the air, not too far from the inspectors face and asks “You want it?” I was watching this movement from the sideline. Almost seemed in slowmotion. I was like: ‘Ooooooooh no…’ But it was already done… The inspector was shouting in Jesse’s face. He went from surprisingly sympathic to completely furious. They take Jesse outside. The inspector stays in the room with me. He says “Never do this in Italy, it’s VERY VERY VERY INAPPROPRIATE” I tell him: “I’m sorry, I know, he was just joking” He seems to be cooling down again slowly. After a couple of minutes Jesse appears back into the room. Apparently they strip-searched him and now it was my turn. All the male cops leave the room and a very friendly Poliziana makes me take of my clothes. Nothing to be found, obviously. On to the next step… We drive to another office to make up the report. In the meantime, it’s cell-time. As expected. There we are again, behind the bars. A tiny little cell. Dirt and ashes on the floor. Jesse and I look each other in the eyes and burst out in laughter. After about 2 hours, the inspector approaches our cell holding his phone in his hand. He turns the screen towards us, on his screen, the image of me pulling up my Burka in the Sophia Hagia. I thought to myself: “Oh shit, that’s not gonna make it any easier”, he asked me to get out of the cell and explain myself for this act. I explained them. They asked if I was part of an organization. I told them “Nope, it’s just me and Jesse”. They send me back to the cell. Half an hour passes by… In the meantime they decided they had to confiscate our Airbnb. That was going to be interesting. All the props were just laying there, exposed in bright daylight. But we didn’t have a choice. We told them the address of our Airbnb and drove together with them to our home in Rome. 4 cop cars, 8 cops in total, and our so called lawyer, who didn’t speak a word of English. The elevator of the building didn’t work so they had to all take stairs to the 5th floor. Some of them weren’t too happy about that, haha. The inspector unlocks the door, one by one they all get in. “Nice view” the inspector says as he looks out over the terrace. He immediately sees the wooden cross so they all head outside in a line. I was holding my breath. Of course they wanted to know where we got the cross from. Jesse said: “I had it made in Bali and brought it with me”. 2 of the cops stayed on the terrace inspecting the cross while the others were going to do their tour inside. They started collecting all the props we had collected over the past few days. Including: The cross, The fake blood, The priest outfits, A couple of bibles, Jesse’s sketchbook, The rosaries, The crown of thorns, The rope to tie me onto the cross, And… Black Baby Jesus… I must say, it was quite amusing to see them getting more surprised by every item they would find. They take pictures of all the evidence. At first it seemed they wanted to take the cross with them but then they most likely all agreed that it would be too much of a hassle to get this thing down the stairs. So they just took a picture of it as well. Then they inspected all the rooms of our place, went through our luggage, took Jesse’s passport to complete the report. We all headed back out again. The neighbors had a pensive thought on their faces and seemed a bit frightened. They must have thought we were major criminals. We get back to the police office. We get locked up again. They ask if want an espresso. Pretty amazing… We didn’t get that offered in Egypt, that’s for sure. The next stop would be the court house where they were going to take our fingerprints and mugshots. We are 10 hours further from the moment we got busted now. We look jagged, but we are both still in an excellent mood, and just go through the whole procedure as we’ve done this a hundred times. To be clear, this is not the case. When we get back to police station, the report is waiting for us. We sign a few copies. And that was it. We were free again. Hallelujah! Pizza Marinara!!!
Escape Tuesday In Dutch we have an expression ‘A Donkey doesn’t bump into the same stone twice’ Meaning: You wouldn’t make the same mistake 2 times… Well…
Blue Monday wasn’t even digested yet and before we knew it we had the cops chasing us again. We literally ran our hearts out.
This is how we got ourselves in trouble part two: We chose a taxi driver that looked cool enough to let us alone for 2 minutes in his car. The first guy we asked was straight away up for the job. He parked his car in front of Il Vittoriano. Only 30 seconds into the shoot a guy knocked on the window of the taxi. The only thing I was wearing was a pair of red heels, a rosary and sunnies. I told him to get out of the way. As soon as I did that, he lifted up his jacket to show his badge. Jesse just kept shooting. The agent grabbed Jesse’s arm and pulled him aside aggressively. I smacked down the door. Got dressed as fast as I could. Stepped out of the taxi. Put 20euros in the taxi drivers hand and walked over to Jesse who was talking with the agent. Jesse looked into my eyes and asked ‘Are you ready to run’, I said ‘Hell yeah’ Jesse yelled ‘RUN!!!!’ we took off as woody woodpecker would do.. The cops jumped back in their car to chase us. We ran across Via del Teatro di Marcello, without even looking. Hoping no car or vespa would hit us. We disappeared in the labyrinth of roads leading into the old city. We kept running for 5 minutes and jumped into an old cafe to hide. We were completely high on adrenaline and out of breath. What a way to start the day…
What happened on the afternoon of Escape Tuesday doesn’t leave much to the imagination… (images 10-23) I know… These photos might be shocking to many and they are very different from how I usually get portrayed but listen here… I’m 100% sure this is nothing compared to what happens in reality.
“I’m conveying my compassion for everyone who has been a victim of the church. Sexually/mentally/physically…”
I was 12 when a very close friend opened up about what had happened to her when she was about 6 years old. (my stomach is turning while I’m writing this) I was disgusted, in tears and at the same time in complete disbelieve. I had gone to church with my grandmom so many times. I was baptized, I did my Holy Communion, in fact I was part of this whole thing. I couldn’t understand, if this was true and people knew about this, the church still had so many followers. A few years later my boyfriend told me a similar story about what had happened to him when he was a communicant. The pain I saw in his eyes, pierced through my heart. A year later there was a whole media-storm about an uncountable number of similar cases all over the world. I started researching and questioning. I have found some answers but I do not understand… How it is possible that an institution that’s praising to be the light has shown to be in fact darker then anything on this world… is still operating today?
Wandering Wednesday Wandering Wednesday was a smooth one. Much needed after the intensity of those 2 past days. Just photos, pizza and prosecco. Basta.
Vespa Thursday When in Rome spend one day on a Vespa. At least! Cruise down to the Via Appia Antica, Circle around the Colosseum, Jump in one of the many fountains along the way, Make an Espresso-pitstop, And visit any church to lay eyes on pure hypocrisy… I know I already noted this on Sad Sunday but after having visited the San Paolo Fuori Le Mura, a second wave of abomination hit me. If Jesus would have set foot in here, he would be in tears like that barefoot gypsy lady standing in the rain on St-Peters square. Jesus and his disciples lived a life in poverty. He told his followers not to put treasure on this earth but in heaven. The church disobeyed this. So if you think about it… Even the Body of Christ, the main image of their constitution, the body that they worship and pray upon has been raped, abused and exploited. To me, that exactly sums up what the Church is all about. A structure built on perversion, covered in gold… Hopefully about to collapse sooner than later…
Bloody Friday We still had one 1 liter of blood left and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. The only thing we still needed to find was a church. Shouldn’t be too tricky in Rome. Tough there were some requirements the church had to fulfill: The church shouldn’t be too big, this way the puddle of blood would stand out enough. The church shouldn’t be gated The church shouldn’t be under the surveillance of a dozen of cameras The church shouldn’t be next to a police office... So for the last time, Jesse and I put our running shoes on and went for a walk throughout the tiniest streets of Rome. In search of our church. Today we had this at-ease mindset of ‘If this image has to be taken, we find the church, if not, so be it’… Walking and talking and walking and espresso and talking… And then… One hour before sunset Santa Barbara found us. She was the perfect match. She was situated on a cute little courtyard, on the side of small shopping street. 4 pretty plants leading up to her entrance. She wasn’t spied upon, nor was she located close to the Carabinieri. She was the one. She could be our partner in crime. We had to be patient before approaching her though. It was way too crowded at this point so we ordered some vegan dark chocolate gelato and sat ourselves down on the street, close but not too close. We talked and we watched her. Then the night fell. It was still too crowded. The moment wasn’t right… We stood up and walked away. It was painful but sometimes that’s what you have to do… Over some prosecco and spaghetti fungi we changed our minds… Could have had to do more with the prosecco then with the spaghetti but we knew we had see her again… As soon as we licked out our plates we headed into her direction. The street was quite calm now. Not completely lifeless but there might be a one-minute gap that would allow us to complete the mission. She was lit up beautifully. I walked over to her, opened my backpack, poured out the blood and went out of the frame. Jesse clicked a few times and we left. Without even looking back. We kind of abused her, I have to admit. that’s what happens when you spend too much time in and around the Church, I guess… But then again, no biggie… We’ll go to the confession chair next week and ask for forgiveness.
Separation Saturday The holy week came to an end. It was time for Jesse and I to say goodbye. I was going to Napoli for a day. Jesse would stick around in Roma for another 2 before flying back to Asia. We chose a restaurant close to Termini station to get one last plate of Arrabiata. Extra garlic, extra chili, extra olive oil. Arrivederci Jesse. I’m very proud of what we created together. Till we meet again. Probably sooner than we would expect.
— And to everyone else, a Merry Christmas. May you be surrounded with true love and light,