Thursday, April 18, 2013

Two amazing moments in Pisa

I wasn't sure what it would be like actually to see the leaning tower of Pisa, after a lifetime of looking at photographs like this one:

I was picturing something much larger and surrounded by glaring sun and dusty earth; in fact, the area is grassy and the day we went, it was overcast and a little cool.  As for the size... I opted out of climbing it, so I can be cavalier.  Pete climbed it, and I think he would beg to differ on whether it really needs to be taller (or tippier).

Anyway, he did get this lovely view once he got to the top, so yay Pete!

My first sense of Pisa, sadly, was produced by street vendors pushing their way into every group that poured from tour buses, and then from the train-style transfer bus, brandishing umbrellas for sale.  In fact the street fair of vendors and kitsch along the side of the grassy field that contains all of Pisa's lovely old monuments reminded me of nothing so much as Clifton Hill, the cheesy entertainment area in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side.

(which is not to say I harbor any disrespect for the purveyors of excellent fudge on Clifton Hill.)

However, once we were on the monument side of the divide, WHOA.

The buildings are entirely white, with enormous detail carved into sweeping sections of them, as though not one inch of that part of the stone's surface could be allowed to go to waste.

It's the same principle as the intense patterning that goes on in the focal point of a handknit sweater.  And just like that - in this case - the focal point is high up above ground level (see below, for the full picture of the Baptistry.)

The aha! moment

Two of the things that are staying with me from Italy are from Pisa.  Here is the first:

Immediately after Pete's tower-climb we went into the cemetery, which I'd read is less visited but quite remarkable, and I found both these points to be true the day I was there.

Inside are the remains of some frescoes damaged during WWII and still being repaired, and the gist of them is that when they were painted, religious thought was shifting to a conviction that it is wrong to pray for mercy or to be spared pain; instead, like Jesus on the cross, believers should seek to endure with patience any suffering that might come their way.  The illustrations on this point, in particular of what will happen to people who carelessly enjoy life until they lose it, are intensely graphic in that 'I certainly hope you have not eaten recently or plan to eat in the near future' sort of way.

Now, I myself am in the habit of enduring as little suffering as possible, and doing what I can to minimize that of others, so it was news to me that the opposite could ever be desirable.  I mean, isn't that sort of your worst-case backup plan?  If you really can't avoid it, then pray for the strength to accept it?

In any case, it got me thinking because the frescoes are dated around the same general time frame that artists starting producing three-dimensional figures that express emotion - in the case of Jesus on the cross, anguish.  I can't help but feel there's a link there.

Either way, I felt sure the frescoes were an important step in the evolution of Catholic Guilt.  (go guilt!)

The astonishing moment

After the cemetery, we went to the Baptistry.

This is pretty much what it sounds like - a round, domed building used for shelter while baptising people.  There is an elaborate basin in the centre of the room, and a staircase for up plus another for down encircling the sides of it, and a gallery above, and it's all very beautiful.  Also: full of the buzz of conversation in spite of the many signs indicating that silence is required inside it.

Pete wanted to go up to the gallery, which would be odd after the tower climb if it weren't for the fact that he is a runner, and I didn't want to admit that it might be a bit tough for me since I am not, so I started up behind him.

By the top I was sure I had wrecked my knee for the duration, and I could hardly breathe, but a few minutes spent panting while clutching a railing along the inner side of the gallery solved the immediate crisis. And then...

Silence from below.

And a man began to sing.

He had an incredible voice, and what he sang was a kind of melodic chant with sequences of notes, held notes, and crystal silences.  The acoustics were so incredible, each sound unfolded like a time-lapsed bloom and then echoed gently into the background of the next.

His song lasted perhaps ninety seconds and was over, but even the memory sends chills down my spine. I feel so grateful to have been there to hear it.

And the rest

This is the church Pete photographed from above, and now that I am looking at it again I'm not sure I actually went inside, which would be strange because I did have a ticket to do that.

Surely I must have?  Or maybe I just don't remember, owing to my policy of taking no photographs inside a church (though I did cheat once, when the choir was getting ready to perform - I did so very much feel I should have one picture of that, and everybody else was doing it.  Predictably, it didn't turn out.)

Never mind: the outside of the church is stupendous.

This is a closeup of one of the doors.  Are those not the most adorable birds and lizards, tucked in there?  You might get a better view if you click on the image.  My favourite is the owl on the right.

And check out this pillar:

This is what I wanted to show you because it looks so very much like lace cut into marble.  The frothy white is especially lovely, don't you think?  Like what you'd want for a superfancy baby blanket.

Okay, that's all I have for sharing this morning unless you want a few odds and ends from the resumption of life at home, such as:

a/ I got an hour's knit and chat in with Trish the other day, and made progress on my sock, the colours of which (I hope she doesn't mind my saying) she loved, even though she reiterated that she will never, ever knit another sock, which did not crush me.

b/ I was horrified to discover that while I was away, Turner Classic Movies was switched over to a digital feed and is no longer available on my television, until I sort out the digital box and related nonsense that I have been ignoring.  So I persuaded the long-suffering Pete to sort this out because I really thought my head would explode last night when I had to miss The Philadelphia Story, and now the TV is high definition and has PVR and higher monthly fees and I suspect more sports stations but I don't care because TCM works again.  Panic attack: over.

c/ Already, the handknit sock laundry is piling up and Again, I am ignoring it.

And stuff like that.

Okay, off I go!  I wish you a great day with many thanks for your patience over all my photos, and I'll see you tomorrow.

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