Dear Your Holiness:
First, let me congratulate you on your retirement.
After eight years in the Holy Office, thirty-nine tweets, and your final ride in the Popemobile, I understand you are kicking back at Castel Gandolfo. It ain’t chopped liver but, let’s face it, Benny (okay if I call you Benny?), the Vatican must be a tough act to follow.
Like that mighty fortress, Gandolfo is also surrounded by guards and high walls. So you’re still a prisoner, in a manner of speaking. You may feel claustrophobic, develop cabin fever and want to break out. Escape to somewhere away from prying eyes. Pad about in your skivvies and bare feet (or red velvet slippers) without attracting the paparazzi.
Which is why I’m extending an invitation to visit us in the Florida Keys. The guestroom (queen-size bed, large windows, ceiling fan, walk-in closet) and en suite bath are clean and comfortable. (Feel free to bring your own monogrammed sheets, if you wish.) In the drawer of the bedside table are a Gideon’s Bible, left years ago by a previous guest, and a box of coconut patties. Have at them. For $10 at the local flea market (Saturday and Sunday, 8am-3pm) you can pick up a rosary of cowries and candy-striped snail shells.
The small porch off the bedroom may remind you of St. Peter’s Balcony. But on a smaller scale, of course. Instead of delivering messages to thousands of your flock in the piazza, you can address the flocks of pelicans, egrets and herons worshipping in the sanctuary across the street. We’ll even toss in field glasses and an Audubon guidebook.
In the living room you’ll find an honor library to help you pass the time when you’re not praying or snorkeling. As long as you replace the books when you’re done, mi libre, tui libre. Among the authors filling our shelves are John D. MacDonald, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen. Give us an hour or two and we’ll translate them into German or Latin; explain the humor.
Meals here are simple. We grill fish most evenings, heat a loaf or two which you can dunk in sacramental wine—or oil and chopped garlic. After supper we cast the bread crumbs into the canal behind the house, attracting mangrove snappers and the occasional barracuda and blotto sinner.
No need for you to be concerned about drawing attention to your holy self. Trust me, nobody will recognize you in shorts and a Key West wife-beater shirt. You’ll blend right in with the local fashionistas on their tricycles and mopeds. Hell, most of the citizenry left the church when they dropped out in the ‘60s. They don’t know what day it is or (meaning no disrespect) who shares their sleeping bag. So they’ll accept you at face value─buy you a beer, flash a gold tooth and blow smoke in your face at the local tiki bars. To them, you’ll be just another white-haired hippie who tired of the rat race.
A word to the wise: Be yourself. Keep it simple. Try, “Hi, I’m Joe from Bavaria. Got any ganja?”
We hope you’ll take us up on our invitation to get outta Gandolfo and experience Paradise, Keys style.