April 15, 2008 -- Please do NOT bring Pope Benedict XVI any white sausage -- that Bavarian delicacy of minced veal and fresh pork that's traditional in his native Germany.
Papal aides from recent trips tell ABC News that Benedict has received Bavarian white sausages as gifts from well-meaning folks when he's traveled, but that it's a little awkward to carry back to Rome.
Not that the pope packs his own bags. There's a papal valet -- a typical butler, quiet and reserved. He's a proper papal Jeeves, seen and not heard but prodigiously observant.
As journalists traveling on the plane with the pope, we sometimes spot the butler moving quietly amid the entourage of about 30 Vatican staff -- secretaries, priests and a few cardinals traveling with the pope. He embodies the discretion of all true butlers, rarely speaking in social situations.
The valet's choice of clothes when he packs for his boss remains uncomplicated; the pope has but one public outfit -- the white one.
Business Casual Under Robes
Vatican officials tell reporters that the answer to one of the most common questions about the pontiff has not changed in decades: Under that famous white cassock, Benedict wears normal slacks and a dress shirt (no tie) … just as his predecessor did, as our ABC News cameras were able to record when filming Pope John Paul II at work in his private apartment.
So just one or two normal suitcases is all the papal valet ever needs to include among the valises in the belly of the papal plane.
"Benedict really is a man of genuine humility," said one cardinal long known to this reporter, but who insists on anonymity, "but he is also a man of discerning taste -- in music and indeed in clothes."
The cardinal was reflecting on reports that Benedict had chosen new tailors in Rome, no longer shopping exclusively at the one shop known to clothe popes throughout the last century.
Wearing normal business suits and always close around the pope when he travels are four Swiss Guards -- and possibly more, but it's a secret.
They wear colorful yellow and blue Renaissance costumes when standing guard in Vatican portals, but on the road they blend into the crowd like the highly trained modern security experts they are, two-way radios hidden in their suits along with never-seen guns and other latest weaponry.
Only two other popes have traveled the world by jetliner, and both have been targets of assassination attempts on the road -- a disaffected right wing priest lunged at John Paul with a rusty bayonet at the Fatima shrine in Portugal, and a Bolivian painter managed to get right next to Pope Paul VI in the Philippines and tried to kill him with a stab to the neck.
American security officials have told journalists on background that "security on this trip will be higher than ever." That's saying a lot; modern papal trips have often prompted genuine threats.
This trip's heightened security is apparently due partly to recent al Qaeda threats against the pope and the United Nations. Benedict will visit the U.N. New York headquarters Friday.
The more unruly part of the papal entourage travels in the back section of the plane -- the usual gaggle of about 70 journalists from around the world who are accredited to the Vatican and based in Rome.
In flight, the aisle curtain at the front of the media section may be drawn open and reveal Benedict, ready to answer a few carefully chosen questions, screened in advance by his handlers. But there will be none of the freewheeling give-and-take exchanges that typified John Paul's first 15 years.
John Paul would -- to the astonishment of his aides -- spend up to two hours working his way around the back end of the plane answering any question we could think of. The longer the trip, the more likely he'd get restless and mix it up with us at the back of the plane.
Several ranking American churchmen have told this reporter that Benedict is excellent company on relaxed occasions, and a brilliant conversationalist at the dinner table.
Benedict's dinner tables in America will offer some tasty fare.
For his birthday party -- Benedict turns 81 Wednesday while he's in Washington, D.C. -- Café Milano's executive chef Fabio Salvatore will cater the celebration at the Vatican Embassy.
Salvatore is guarding the four-course menu like a state secret, saying only that "it doesn't happen every single day for a pope, and that day should be perfect."
And while this first papal trip for Benedict to the United States is sticking only to the eastern seaboard -- just two cities: the nation's capital and New York -- the cuisine of America's burgeoning Hispanic population will come to him.
In fact, it has already produced tears of joy -- the symbolic power of the privilege of feeding a pope overwhelming Rosa A. Saenz of the Carlos and Mickey's restaurants in El Paso, Texas.
"I cried because it is an honor that we should be chosen to do this," she told reporters after she was contacted to see whether she and her family could prepare food for the pope on his trip.
The family is traveling to New York to prepare it -- maize platters, gorditas, tostadas and other traditional Hispanic dishes, some of which will be presented to him symbolically as a sign of hospitality and reverence at a Catholic youth rally.
Benedict will have plenty of time for white Bavarian sausage when he returns to Rome.