Published: May 7th 2005April 30th 2005
90 minute trainride through the Tuscan countryside, the one that really is how you see it in the postcards. I arrive. Pisa is quiet at 2:30pm. I have no plans but I know what comes first: I grab my gelato. I stick with chocolate now. All chocolate, no mixing, no second guessing.
CORSO ITALIA is the main drag, and reminds me of Via Calzaioli in Florence. In fact, the cities feel alike, except for the palm-like trees that are characteristic as we get closer to the Mediteranean. It is warm and gorgeous today. I am wearing a sleeveless top and gracious for the warm breeze.. Along unknown streets I run into San Michele and Santa Caterina d’Allessandria. Both churches with gothic facades and white marble arches in pyramid-shape orders. I come to a park, fresh with blooming trees and peeling soft-grey and white bark, clean, beautiful and tranquil and laden with tiny daises waving happily and daintily in the breeze, the same that has swept me here like a gentle undertide upon the beach. I lay myself upon the grass, close my eyes, breath deep, and smile. No wonder Spring is used to symbolize reawakening. I am
reminded of the smells of home-the purity and the forgiving, renewing beauty that I miss in the trees and flowers of my mother’s garden.
AS USUAL, I wander Pisa with no knowledge of where I’m going, and indeed end up walking right out the city wall, only to stumble upon the highway leading away from Pisa and back to Florence. Oops. No wonder I am unaccompanied by other walkers in this area…so I continue on my journey, take a bend in my path, and follow the city wall for 20 minutes until I see THE tower.
YES, THE FAMOUS LEANING TOWER now costs 15 euro to climb. I leave my memories alone-climbing the structure a decade or more ago with my brother-and make a photo like all the others who want this souvenir. The baptistery and duomo are huge, and beautiful, characterized by plain, striped (Arabic influence) marble walls and topped with gothic arches and inserted sculptures. More mammoth than they are decorated-but still clean and white which is think is accented by the immense rich green lawn which surrounds the entire area and used as a comfortable grass welcome matt for the thousands of tourists who, today,
are sunning themselves as well as gazing at the famed architecture.
I WANDER THROUGH THE GIANT WOODEN DOORS OF THE GRAND, WHITE BAPTISTRY and we are hushed as the doors are closed behind us. (What has happened? I begin to wonder?) And the security guard pauses in the silence, begins to walk and cups his hands around his mouth. He sings one low, pure note. I am already captured by the deep, rich quality of his voice and then realize that the it resonates for at least 10-15 seconds. I am unsure when he stopped and the echo began. He sings another note, and 2 more directly after, making a minor chord - 1st, 3rd and 5th an octave below. The notes form into one chord, originating from one throat, simultaneously. I’m a sucker for this. I am mystified at this simple beauty- one echoing chord, as if 3 voices in one. The empty cupola above is guiding the sound around and around and around until it fades long after I’ve already closed my eyes to aide in enjoyment.
THE GOTHIC DUOMO, although much is roped off, is another delight. The ceiling is coffered and gold-guilded. The walls
are still the white and black stripes, and the nave is wide and lit. There is a sculpture by the famous Pisano and above the alter a mosaic created by Giotto of very large Christ, left hand up with thumb and forefinger bent to meet. The side aisles are a mix of Arabic and classic arches (pointed versus smooth, respectively) and are generally lined with large oil paintings. There is more detail above, including more walking space directly above the side aisles (which is rare)-and other frescoes, a very high door and steps leading to it. San Ranier (12th century) is the Patron Saint of Pisa-his remains in the reliquary in one branch of the cross which creates the floor plan of the Duomo.
TEMPTED BY THE GREENERY and the warmth of the golden setting sun, I join the hundreds and rest myself upon the grass for several minutes before continuing on. By this time, 5:45 pm, Pisa has begun to swell with life. On the way back to the train station, I wind my way in and out of people, baby carriages, old couples, large groups of Italian teenagers, street sellers, policemen and construction.
BEFORE MY WAY
BACK to the station and the mess of people in between, I happen to stumble upon a group of Africans selling the wares. I pause, browse, and thinking of my friend Kathryn, am surprised and delighted to see the Senegalese game she taught me how to play months before. It comprises of two rows of 6 empty cups in a carved wooden base, filled with olive-sized, small hard seeds from a tree typical in Senegal. I am drawn to the game, and the young African picks it up to show me. I suddenly grab a seat next to him and within minutes we are setting up the game. I barely remember the rules to the first one, so he shows me the rules for Worre (pronounced wooreh) and we play. Tourists walk by, and I am aware that they are stopping to wonder at the odd couple playing an odd game of seeds and wooden cups. It is delightful and spontaneous, and we continue for the next 30 minutes until I realize the sun is now nearing it’s final decent behind the tuscan hills. His friends are looking on, wrapped in rich-colored African dress, as well as the small girl
who previously participated briefly in our game by grabbing the largest handful possible of the wooden seeds before her mother bid her away, smile and giggle as I win the game. I buy the game for less than he’d asked for. The only cash I had. But the two of us happy-a game well played and a wonderful moment I would have never had, had I not been introduced to the Senegalese culture by my friend Kathryn when we reunited in Florence.
There are more photos below