LA DOLCE VITA
A Vatican Survival Guide for the Gingrichs
If media reports are right, Callista Gingrich will soon be U.S. ambassador to the Holy See—and face the daunting task of living in the Eternal (and often infernal) City.
ROME — Dear Mrs. Gingrich,
Welcome to Rome.
We understand that you are in the final phases of confirmation to become the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. On behalf of the somewhat bored press corps here who have been out of the loop in terms of Trump-era politics, we couldn’t be happier to welcome you.
Being an ambassador for President Trump is clearly fraught with potential landmines, but there is no better place in the world than Italy for that. You’ll never have to apologize to an Italian for anything the American president does. They’ve been through it all before with Silvio Berlusconi.
The first thing you should know about living in the Eternal City, other than the fact that you can’t get good Cheddar cheese or ginger ale here, is that the transition is often fraught with frustration. Sure, you’ll probably have an easier time than most American expats, who have to wait months to hook up a phone and even longer to find the right coffee bar where they won’t try to water down your espresso or Americanize your cappuccino, but we do offer a few essential tips that might come in handy.
First, just ignore all the garbage piled up around the city. Eventually, it does get picked up, though lately not before the rats and cockroaches have had a heyday with it. Rome’s city government has been going through a somewhat tough time lately with strikes, corruption, and general chaos. And as a result, things are a little bit messy at the moment. But you’ll likely find an ally in Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, who will maybe welcome the fact that she will no longer be the only woman in the entire city with a powerful job.
The next thing you might consider is getting a scooter to navigate the traffic. Uber has had a little bit of trouble catching on here and the taxis are often on strike, and forget about the bus service if you need to be anywhere on time. Romans know that the only real way to get around the city is on two wheels. Might we suggest a little red Vespa to zip from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See halls of power? Just tuck your skirt under your thigh when it’s windy out, and make sure you lock up your wheels or it will get stolen.
On the work front, there are two Americans in Rome who might give you a little bit of trouble in your first weeks on the job. The first is Bernard Law, the Boston cardinal who resigned over his handling of the U.S. child-sex-abuse scandal and who still wields a certain amount of power at the Vatican despite being shamed in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. He’s retired now, but you can often find him around Santa Maria Maggiore basilica, where he was the archpriest for years, or around Santa Susanna Cathedral, the beautiful American parish church in Rome. You might do what all the ambassadors before you have done: Just deny that he’s as big of a problem as he is.
The second troublemaker is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who spends his time at the Knights of Malta on the Aventine hill since Francis fired him from any real power position in the Curia.
He has been involved in a major dust-up among the leadership there and is also behind the move to get your new boss Pope Francis in trouble by insisting he clarify his views on divorced Catholics and same-sex marriage. No doubt that dossier will be waiting on your desk when you arrive.
Speaking of divorced and remarried Catholics, since Newt is your first husband, you won’t have to face the uncomfortable dilemma that many diplomats do when it comes to accepting Communion at Vatican events. Being a former mistress won’t constitute adultery, either, since you weren’t married at the time. Anyway, as a devout Catholic, you’ve probably confessed. Your converted Catholic husband, on the other hand, probably should stay in the pew or, even better, do what Catholics in Rome do all the time: Skip Mass entirely!
We understand that Mr. Gingrich may not be in Rome all the time, but when he is, there couldn’t be a better date-night city or a place to wine and dine visiting celebrities and diplomats. No doubt you’ll soon find your way to the city’s haute spots and make the Pierluigi Ristorante Instagram feed of famous celebrity diners.
But be aware, there is no such thing as a low-carb diet here, though, so be mindful of most newcomers’ mistake of having pasta twice a day so that you can avoid putting on extra weight (obviously this is not your problem, but perhaps gently remind your husband). And be careful at the American Embassy’s Fourth of July parties: Don’t wear spiky heels to the main event at the ambassador’s residence or you’ll get stuck in the soft grass like the Italian women, and do be wary of the tipsy priests nipping into the wine at the Holy See party.
If you are here by next week, your first big test will be on May 24 when the president and the pope meet for the first time. Over the weekend, Francis said he wouldn’t be judgmental and Trump said he looked forward to paying his respects to the pontiff. What could go wrong?
And finally, do be wary of the pitfalls of the job. The Vatican press corps will be much more interested in your views on the issues dear to the Catholic Church—at first anyway, but they will also keep a watch on what you do on your off-hours. One of your predecessor’s daughters made headlines when she had a lovechild with a priest, who she later married (Thomas Williams, who is now the chief correspondent for Breitbart in Rome). Another was accused of sexually harassing couples.
Anyway, if something does go awry, you’ve surely got an ally at the Holy See, because its spokesman is a former Fox News correspondent.
Again, Mrs. Gingrich, as you are packing for your move, bring Cheddar cheese and ginger ale, and lots of patience. You’ll need it here in the eternal, infernal city.