Down in the Mouth in Pisa

Today’s two goals were to visit Pisa slightly to the northwest of Loro Ciuffenna and then continue northward from Pisa to Cinque (pronounced CHIN-kwa) Terre but tomorrow our plans are to visit the museums of Firenze/Florence. We stopped at the front desk on the way out to get ticket information from Virginia. As we were leaving, I said to Emily, “Does she look pregnant?” I’ve learned, like other older and wiser men, never to ask directly but I noticed a slight bulge today that I hadn’t noticed before. “Oh, yeah, she’s got a bun in the oven,” Emily said immediately. “She’s due in January. I got the story yesterday. We should get her a baby gift.” Emily knew everything but the baby’s gender, but I’m sure only because Virginia didn’t know either. We made finding a gift one of our goals for the week.

We saw our first sign for Pisa and headed to the northwest. Emily admired the scenery. “We’ve got to see Under the Tuscan Sun again,” she said. “Did we see that?” I asked. She said, “Don’t you remember? You must have liked it. You didn’t fall asleep.” I didn’t remember, but I guess I liked it.

The weather started out dry but with gray clouds overhead. Traffic was clear. About halfway to Pisa, we encountered a long delay. Traffic slowed, then halted, then proceeded in spurts for about thirty minutes. When finally we regained normal speed, we looked for evidence of a reason for the delay but found none. Although a police car had sped by us on the shoulder, suggesting an accident, we found no broken-down cars or even any police cars. Nor did we see any construction. We concluded that a family of ducks had crossed the road despite finding no apparent presence of a lake or river. The road opened to three lanes for the rest of the trip.

However, the weather was less cooperative. Drops gave way to sprinkles, which gave way to a downpour that increased in temperament as we approached Pisa. By the time we got to Pisa, the most lucrative business was umbrella sales. The first hustler greeted us as we parked our car and walked toward the tower. He offered us an umbrella for five Euros. We declined his offer; he lowered his price to three Euros. We declined again. Another hustler started us at five Euros. We declined his offer as well.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a testament to humankind’s fascination with human error. My goal was to shoot a picture of the tower with Emily in front of it by angling the lens and having Emily lean in the same direction as the tower so that she and the lens both canceled out the angle of the tower and made it look like it was standing up straight. At least three other groups had the same idea, which I conceded was probably the equivalent of the patient commenting to the dentist about looking down in the mouth.

By the walkway leading to the tower, a series of signs gave the history and the significance of the tower. One sign noted the tower’s “remarkable inclination” but gave no explanation of why it leaned. I read the other signs in a vain attempt to find the reason. Another American reading the same series was equally as befuddled. “We’ll have to Google it,” he suggested.

What I learned, though, was that townsfolk during the time the tower was being built were forced to pay a tax every month until it was completed. I imagined the townsfolk, at the ceremony when the finished tower was unveiled, looking at each other and saying, “No one will remember this debacle in a year.”

Meanwhile, Emily checked out prices to visit the nearby churches and the inside of the tower. The churches were each five Euros, she learned; the tower cost 18 Euros. We went to the souvenir shop instead. There, Emily and Sonja bought ponchos for two Euros apiece. Harrie and I didn’t. “We’re real men,” I said. Sonja answered, “We’re real women.” Emily gave her a high five so I gave Harrie a high five. Harrie and I were soaked by the time we got back to the car.

I had never heard of Cinque Terre before Facebook friends started giving us suggestions on where to visit. Cinque Terre, as the name suggests, is actually five small villages that combine to become one tourist attraction. From what I understood, you go to any one of them and get on a train, which takes you to the others. Unfortunately, the vibe gods were working against us today. First we encountered the half-hour delay on the way to Pisa. Then we faced rains the whole way. Meanwhile, Daylight Savings Time had already ended by the time we arrived in Italy so the sun was dropping an hour earlier than it had two weeks before. Finally, by the time we got to Cinque Terre, the last train for the day had come and gone.

So we created our own adventure. Driving down the mountainside to Monterosso, the third of the five villages, we viewed the Mediterranean through the fog and the dusk. In Monterosso, we parked the car in the only lot we found, capacity maybe eight cars, and walked to the seaside, feeling the roar of the sea underneath the sidewalk. At the point where the mountains drop into the sea, we gazed in wonder and admiration. We barely noticed what was still a steady rainfall overhead.