We decided to go to Pisa today but because it is just up the road, we thought we might take it easy and have a late morning. We stumbled around for a while, some of us writing, some reading. Making breakfast and doing the washing. Looking out the window at the bright air and sun, and the glorious landscape that runs straight from our front door to as far as the eye can see. We have a washing machine here, but no dryer. Technically, because it is sunny, I could hang the clothes in the garden, but there is no line and the garden is in shade and it would take a miracle for anything to dry in this cold. So I bake the clothes on the heaters that ring the walls. This means that the kids have to go from room to room to find clean clothes, mostly draped across chairs or directly on heaters. Getting dressed can be something of a trial for this reason.
We were desperate for some external connection and we have no wifi here. We have to go down to the shop of our host (he not only owns this place and a Bed and Breakfast, but runs a ceramics shop in the town) to connect to his wifi. So we sat in his shop for a while and did email and blogging and, for Paris, skyping. And we went in search of ingredients for lunch too, and a little walk around the town. It is really sweet, one square, but booming with people. And not only the elderly. There is a sense, a real one, that these towns are populated only by the superannuated. But while they are a big presence, there is much youth too. The square was teeming with young families have a bit of a run in the sun, and the shops are run by young women. This is a town not too far from major towns so perhaps there are people who live here but commute. It would make a tonne of sense.
After lunch, there was a pretty competitive game of chess between Paris and Niccolo (which Niccolo won – but, as he said, ‘Paris helped me’). I found a map of Pisa in our house and decided to program an actual street into Samantha, instead of our usual ‘Centre’ vagueness. It wasn’t far to Pisa, about half an hour and, like so many of these towns, you are suddenly there, without much fanfare or warning.
Pisa is a sleepy town (at least at this time of the year) and I’m a fan of sleepy towns. We parked in the carpark closest to the leaning tower and we were the only car there, along with some weeds and a few old bins filled with water. Pisa is, on this side at least, a walled town. We parked outside the wall and then walled through one of the gateways and into the town. And you are there, right in front of the leaning tower. I wonder if it is a phenomenon of being Australian (or generally from the ‘new world’) that historical objects or places are expected to be hidden away – to be driven too, to be heralded by signs and symbols and much bated breath. But here, all these places of interest are right in the towns, next to shops and road and people’s homes. It is less of a big deal.
The tower itself is all white marble and has been recently restored. They did a big forensic thing on it and worked out how to get rid of the black mould and where all the cracks were appearing and what to fill. As such, it is shining white and looks like new. The marble comes from Carrara. Apparently, it didn’t initially; it was from a more local town, but the replacement marble is Carrara. And it leans like the clappers. We were all vaguely keen to go to the top; even the more anxious about heights among us. I think it was something to do with the kookiness of the tower itself and the idea of going up a tower that was not quite right.
But the ticket office gave us a fright. For one person, and this for all people regardless of age or income, it would be 15 euro to go to the top. Niccolo was no allowed to go at all (there were tears) as he was too young. And I was cross about the price. So no one went. We did lie down on the ground underneath the tower to get the full effect and the movement of the clouds did make it feel like the whole tower was coming down on us.
It wasn’t busy. There were a few tourists taking photos of one another pretending to hold the tower up (or push it over, depending on your preference.
The tower is a belfry for the church beside which it stands. Now a church standing there, wide open? We had to go in. This one, like the Duomo in Florence, has this distinctive geometrical design. Here, instead of green and white, it is black and white stripes right through the whole place. Amazing paintings inside too, and the ceiling is covered with metals casts of different flowers. The altar is a golden mosaic of Christ (very like San Marco, actually) and there was a terrific nativity scene with – yes! – a donkey. Niccolo was still upset and sulking because of the tower fiasco, but Zelda and I discovered a relic of the local saint – San Guido. It was his skull. She thought Niccolo might like this, and indeed it was this that finally coaxed him into the church. They stood in front the skull for ages. Relics are something.
I wanted to look at the town so we went walking towards the Piazza del Cavelleri. This is certainly a sleepy town, with very little car traffic and a lot of people of bicycles, including elegant, older ladies. This is a very pretty place, with great colours on the buildings, made all the more dramatic by the dark shadows of neighbouring buildings providing contrast. Lots of churches that sit flush with buildings and a long street that contains interesting shops and cafes and, notably, a chocolate shop that made things like horse shoes, and nuts and bolts out of chocolate that made it all look very real and rusted. Zelda was all for going in and buying the lot.
Niccolo began to complain that I had not yet bought him a bag (a new school bag). So we went in and out of shops looking for the perfect bag. It must be a certain colour and shape and size with a long strap for over the shoulder rather than a back pack. The bag didn’t exist in Pisa. Perhaps it doesn’t exist at all.
Why is shopping an acceptable activity anyway regardless of the time or place? Here we were, a million miles from home in a completely new place and we were shopping. Hmmm. Not good. I looked at a few bags with him, and then we walked back to the car. It was getting dark, glorious pinks across the sky. We walked back passed the leaning tower and farewelled it.
It was a short day. We didn’t get excited about anything else on the way home. We came back and shared some bread, and played some cards and chess. The house is now warm, we have managed to get the heating right so we can curl up on our return from adventures and feel cosy.