Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20: The Leaning Tower of McPisa

May 20

This morning I woke up to the daunting task of stringing a violin without tweezers or any tools, but at the end of it Benny had a functional violin and was able to march around the little town with his violin and his sister, playing duets for the entertainment of the neighbors. This resulted in one of our more lengthy conversations in Italian, when we were able to chat about how old the children were. Quite an accomplishment, just in a question/answer exchange. My mother would be so proud. :/ And I did some laundry.

The other thing I did, which is pretty surprising in my mind, is to start my new novel over again, and grind out a chapter and a half. I’ve been stuck on this book since November, so being able to write it even while the children were awake and frequently poking at me with requests and sticks – this was significant. Felt like an enormous weight had been lifted. The only problem is that there was a paragraph in that first draft that I really liked, but it’s not on this computer and I don’t have internet. I know that at some point I’ll be able to squish it in, but just at this point it would be nice to have it, to sort of anchor the book. For those of you keeping score at home, I decided not to go with first person. Too many feelings and too much intellectual intimacy, you know I don’t like that.

Dan had a long ride to do this morning, so when he came back it was lunch time. We ate salad and fruit and then set off for Pisa to see the Torre Pendente. Pisa is a coastal town and lots and lots of people want to go there and see the leaning tower. The town around the medieval part is fairly nondescript. We saw our first billboards there, for places like Carrefour. GPS led us to within visual range of the wall to the old town, and we managed to park beside a fence, again ROCK STAR parking for this little ragtag band of adventurers. We found that the tourist traffic inside the cathedral plaza (piazza il duomo) was not so bad, since it was mostly tour groups.

Hear me now: Watching the tour groups we’ve seen so far in Florence and Pisa, I am loathe to become one of those dead-eyed zombies, following the brisk person holding a numbered flag, each zombie with a matching number pinned to his or her garment. Flocking to the bathroom, flocking to the important painting in each room, jostling politely to be the nearest one to the front, falling behind and looking about them nervously, and mostly never having an interaction with an Italian person. I am sure that with our Suzuki group it will be different, being as we are chock full of lively children and rowdy parents. Most of these people are senior citizens. However, it does give me pause.

When we came through the wall and got to see the leaning tower right there in front of us, we were shocked and amazed. It is really leaning, big time. It’s one of those things, like the Eiffel tower was, where you look at it in person and it looks fake, because it’s so iconic that it doesn’t seem like it could actually be real. Benny and Sadie were delighted – they love to find things they can recognize, and they’re all about visiting iconic things. They often have discussions about which artifacts are most famous – the coliseum or the leaning tower? The Eiffel tower or the leaning tower? The Eiffel tower or the coliseum? These are very important distinctions for the kids.

We got our tickets for the various things to see and do around the cathedral. The leaning tower is actually the campanile of the cathedral, like the campanile we climbed in Florence. There is also a baptistery, and a cemetery. This is something we’re noticing about Italian cathedrals – rather than having a baptistery, cathedral, and tower all in one building, the Italian ones are separate, with separate entrances. We vowed to Google this at our earliest convenience. Unfortunately Sadie was too young to go up in the tower – I think maybe it’s a matter of spaces between the guard rails or something, being too large to safely let tiny people climb it. Really we’re lucky any of us got to set foot on it – it’s periodically been closed for years at a time because of the… leaning. It leans, you know. So Dan and Benny got tickets to climb the tower at 4:20 and we all went to wander around the cemetery.

The cemetery was fully enclosed by a high wall, like its own building but without a roof. There was a central courtyard with lush green grass and flowers, and all around it was a sort of hallway paved with graves, with decaying but interesting frescoes on the walls, and sculptures and whatnot lining the path. We like cemeteries. We found much to like here, with spooky skull and crossbones on the graves, and weird memorials. We went into the small attached chapel and found a lot of really really spooky reliquaries. You know how the joke is that if every skull in a catholic church that was supposed to belong to St. Peter actually did, he would have 47 heads? Well we saw some skulls today, let me tell you. I don’t remember any of the reliquaries in France being windowed, but these are proudly transparent, so you can see every finger bone, every little bit of saint. A bit gruesome, in my eyes. But who doesn’t like gruesome, you ask? I do like gruesome, but I guess not mixed with my religion.

Speaking of religion, having looked at a lot of art in the last few days that deifies saints in the various ways they died, and hearing about all the modes of torture and how many people were burned, torn apart, etc. not just by people in other religions trying to repress Christianity but by Christians trying to repress different sects of Christianity, it makes sense to me the urge to raise up a few particular people to a different level than the rest of us. As protestants we don’t really believe in saints, but maybe at the point that protestants had the luxury of splintering off from the catholic church the concept of saint wasn’t really as meaningful or necessary as it had been in medieval times. It was a dark, horrible period of history, mostly, with a lot of ignorance, a lot of suffering, and a lot of abuse of power. The idea that there were sweet, good, pure people who had such beautiful faith and strength of spirit must have been really needed.

Anyway, Dan and Benny went to take a look at the top of the tower, and Sadie and I began a long leisurely crawl down the stretch of souvenir shops. Reuniting, we went to the baptistery, a beautiful round building where we heard an echo demonstration. A man stood in the middle of the room and sang the notes of a chord, and the sound reverberated through the dome so long that the whole chord hung there at the same time. It was really cool. Benny desperately urgently wanted to try it for himself, but there were a lot of shushing Italians around us. The man who did the demo told us there was a statue near the pulpit which was supposed to have been used by Michelangelo as inspiration for the strength of his David, but we promptly forgot to look at it.

Next was the cathedral: massive, exotic, and elaborate. I just kept gasping and saying, “It’s so FANCY.” Even the floors were tiled mosaic, and there were beautiful marble mosaics left and right. And gold. And huge beautiful paintings. This cathedral was not austere and it was not perfectly made – there were a lot of asymmetries and strange little design flaws. But its sheer enormity and all of the details and elegant parts still had an awesome effect.

After the cathedral we fed the children at the only McDonald’s we have seen in Italy (it’s where the Simpsons went while they were in Pisa, you know!), hoping for WIFI but finding none. There was a sign on the wall that promised a hotspot, but when we asked about a connection, we were told “It’s not working these days.” Dan had to urgently check and manage work email so he used a bit of precious data roaming while we ate. It was 7:30 by the time we left Pisa, walking around the outside of the wall to the car. Benny proclaimed it a great day, and we motored on home. At home we got the children bathed and in bed, and I, much to my amazement, finished chapter 2. It’s quite possible this book is fairly dreadful. Let’s face it: all first drafts are weedy at best. But at least it’s getting written, and I am pretty happy about that.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had an amazing time there. I always wanted to tour these places in Italy with my family.