Saturday, 11:00 pm
I’ve got tomorrow off (for real this time, because we’ve gotten several afternoons ‘off’ that we couldn’t actually use for anything), and what I’d like to do is furiously backpedal and cover some details about the homestay situation and classes. Because I appear to have just hopped over those, and they are possibly kind of important.
But for now, Pisa.
Actually, wait a second. Before anything is said about the city itself, it is good to know that I have probably been biased by the following:
- We were all a little/lot sleep deprived. 5:45 is only 15 minutes earlier than I usually get up, but I still spent the whole morning feeling like my brain was floating along 2 feet behind my skull, and I was not the only one. As a group, definitely not in a seize-the-day mood.
- The train we took from Florence to Pisa was soooo ssslllloooooowwww. Stop-start-stop-start-draaaag. And it was also only kinda-sorta air conditioned, which is a big deal because
- It was painfully hot out today. It’s been mid-to-upper 90s the whole time we’ve been in Florence, and humid to boot, but today was more torturous than usual; both Florence and Pisa straddle the Arno river (and thus extra humidity for both places), but Pisa is so much smaller that you can feel the mugginess absolutely everywhere. And there was no shade, and we were on a walking tour, and…yeah, it just got nasty. Also, we passed a group of people on the sidewalk who were all attending to a girl who’d actually fainted from the heat, so this is an Officially Hot Day, okay?
So Pisa. Overall impression is that it’s kind of dirty and…well, the word coming to mind is ‘decrepit,’ or maybe ‘decaying,’ but perhaps we’ll be kind and say it’s just a little run-down?
What we know for a fact is that Pisa got hit hard by the bombing in WWII. This does not explain to me why so many other towns recovered and Pisa…didn’t, but in any case there is some excuse for the general crumbly quality of all the buildings. Hm.
Well, anyway, even if most of the city is kind of dead-ish, this is indeed made up for by the city’s central square, the Piazza del Duomo of which the Leaning Tower is a part. The piazza actually contains four buildings that are all super-important: there’s the Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campo Santo, and the bell tower (aka that crooked thing). Back in the day, the idea was that one started life by getting baptised in the baptistery, spent their life with the cathedral, and then ended life by getting buried in the Campo Santo (“the holy field,” as in an indoor cemetery) — so as a class, those three were the things we were there to see.
Which means (*insert sad face*) that I did not get any touristy pictures of the leaning tower. I got a couple as we passed —
— but like I said, we were there for other things. Like doors. And pulpits. And floors with skellingtons* in them.
All of which makes me suspicious that they think I’m here to learn ; )
…But seriously, though, if anybody ever gets the opportunity, go listen to a demonstration of the acoustics in the Pisan Baptistery. It’s a round building that was actually designed to give a perfect triple echo (which I stress only because I can’t get my head around it), and a guy comes out every so often to sing; just one voice, and it magnifies and harmonizes until the space overhead is ringing with it. I know that as an American 20-something I’m not supposed to be easily impressed, but…yeah, that was kind of impressive.
Switching topics, guess what this is?
For starters, it’s actually not something we went to see as a group; since this Pisa trip was the last mandatory outing for the weekend, most students packed up and left immediately for overnight stays in beach towns, and only myself and one other student (Ellie) remained to take the train back to Florence with our two professors (Jodie and Katy). While we were making the loop around to the station, Katy suggested that we all take a moment to stop by the white building straight ahead on the left, the building that is actually two medieval towers which were later joined together with that strip of concrete that drops into an arch. It’s the left tower that’s important; somewhere in there, around the year 1289, a man named Ugolino was imprisoned with 2 sons and 2 grandsons for treason agains the city of Pisa. It’s not entirely clear what happened after that, but either the lot of them were soon left to starve or Ugolino himself was decapitated (and don’t ask me how those two things are at all confusable, because I have no idea).
Anyway, my professor wanted to see it because Ugolino gets mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which she’s teaching an entire class on this semester. I’m interested in it moreso because — well, just look at that place. It looks like nothing. It looks like any old half-heartedly prettied-up government office building where some poor clerk is stuck doing paperwork 10 hours a day. (And actually, who knows, maybe some poor clerk is.)
Appearances/deceiving/etc., I guess; history is apparently messy and happens everywhere.
ALSO, although this has nothing to do with anything, the class stopped to get coffee in some Pisan cafe and got blessed with a random Blues Brothers sighting:
+10 to that cafe, definitely…but they got any white bread?
Alright, well, tomorrow I guess. And I will also just nonchalantly remind you in passing that anyone is free to send me emails and facebook spammage and such. Just sayin.’
*Skellingtons = I miss Hot Fuzz T_T