May 27, 2009

Day 13 : The importance of leaning

Next day morning saw us rise and shine early on under the warm Italian sun on our way to Pisa. Our travel was getting adventurous as most of it was unplanned by this time. I did not have a map, no tourist guides and when we landed in Pisa centrale no idea where to go. As we walked out SR spotted a group of nuns who looked like they were from Kerala and pushed me in their direction. Turns out they were from Nagerkoil and we had a pleasant conversation. Forgetting my purpose I spent the next few minutes happily interviewing them. They were serving in Pisa, many of them and visit home once a year or so, their accommodations and facilities were very nice, they cooked at home and they spoke excellent Italian. The older sister got me tickets to a bus and pointed me to the bus stop and told me where to get down. Heres to forgetting guide books.

As the bus moved on I strained my neck to catch a glimpse of a tower rising above the horizon, above the buildings. But none was visible, not even until we arrived at the very stop. Strangely despite the many pictures I have seen of various things, the leaning tower of Pisa has not been one of them and when I got down and came in line with the gate of the wall it was a delightful shock to see that little tower peeping from behind two larger structures like an impish child.

The tower was somehow smaller than what I had thought and we spent the next few minutes clicking pictures and wandering about the lawn. Beneath a blue sky with puffy clouds the tower looked like a wedding cake about to topple. The rest of the party decided to climb the tower while I elected to stay firmly on the ground. Flashbacks of me huffing and puffing, feeling dizzy climbing the steps to the Vatican dome and all the warnings about people with nausea was one reason. The other was to enjoy the Duomo peacefully. I liked my decision and wandered into the cathedral and spent the next many minutes viewing the renaissance paintings and the pulpit and the mosaic. Later when I came out to sit under the Tuscan sun, I wondered what the moral was. That you need to be out of ordinary to be noticed, that there can be a lot of bell towers but this one has achieved fame because it dared to be different or that a small piece of notoriety can take the attention away from a beautiful piece of architecture which really is the Duomo. I vaguely remembered reading somewhere there were two other leaning towers as well. Perhaps the moral is it all depends on how you market a trait.

The rest of the party joined me with their experiences of climbing the tower and we walked out towards the souvenir shops. A couple of policemen stopped by in their cars and posed for pictures with the tourists. I thought that was amusing - no one would care to take a picture with the policemen in India, the swamis are probably better looking.

We wandered about for some more time drinking in the scenery and then caught the train back to Florence. The day was balmy and we walked about the streets and I reflected upon my favorite hero - the archetype of a renaissance man, in many ways an idol - Da Vinci. Florence is an ancient city, I like to think its similar to my hometown - a living city yet with a rich culture and history. Da Vinci worked here and probably saw similar sights as he pondered on his works. It was not just the city of Da Vinci, but the city of Dante and Macchiavelli and Boticelli. I reflected on the Medici family and the paintings I saw in London and Paris.

We walked the length of the river bank drinking in the beautiful scene and then towards the Duomo. The cathedral, baptistery and the bell tower were stunning despite the many structures I have seen in the last few years. We spent some time walking around and in gazing at the buildings from different points admiring the intricate details and then much later ambled toward the piazza della signoria.

The most memorable parts of a city are often very different from what you expect from tour books when you are in one. It was the river bank in London, the sweeping boulevards in Paris and in Italy its no doubt the piazzas. These large squares, truly large and the looming buildings surrounding them is such intelligent design that I was most impressed. The afternoon was a delightful blur as we went from Piazza de Duomo towards Piazza della Signoria and later to Piazzale degli Uffizi.

I felt like a kid in a candy shop that whole day - Donatello, Cellini, Boticelli -with the highpoint of David. This David is my favorite as the experts say his pose is casual he seems to have decided on the fight but this statue captures the moment before he actually used the sling with furrowed brows and taut muscles. I like the cerebral nature of the statue and it was a thrilling moment to gaze at those eyes.

After what felt like walking many hundred miles in and out seeing many exhibits, we took a stroll amidst a light street painters. We bought some souvenirs, clicked some pictures and eventually came back to the river and enjoyed the evening sun. It is not just art but science too that has flourished. I recollected the statue of Galileo and also the painting in the Duomo at Pisa.

Leaning on the wall staring at the distance, I wondered what made Renaissance possible. It was this city, but what in this city - the patrons? Was it a happy confluence of a wealthy, powerful discerning patrons with abundant talent that caused the turn towards the renaissance. Perhaps I was being simplistic but standing there I could feel the excitement that must have been in the air in the medieval times. Science and art going hand in hand - Galileo and Da Vinci walking this same path - it was a heady feeling.

May 27, 2009