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Pisa, Italy

leaning tower duomo


Pisa parks index:
Field of Miracles park

Quick story: Paolo the restaurant street barker was checking out the ladies along the street (to call him the maitre d’ would stretch the imagination beyond recoil) just down the street from the Leaning Tower. He is tall, thin, twenty-something, suavely posed, dark eyes and strong jaw. He is many a female traveler’s fantasy, perhaps. Paolo tried to sell his restaurant to passing female tourists— practically ignoring the men—and as they passed, his eyes rolled down from their necks to their ankles. We travelers hear about the rakish qualities of Italian men that have become a cliché bound by truth. I talked with Italian women who say they “never look men in the eye” on the street. “Who wants to be harassed all the time?”

True. But I’d seen men throughout Europe doing some “checking out” themselves (And, ladies? You’re equally guilty, just a bit more sly than men, I’ve found). Anyhow, I’d been to enough castles, palaces, parliaments and official residences to have built quite a catalogue of watching guards watch women. They are, after all, young men. Outside Prague Castle, the blue-suited sentry stood firm at the gates, two Russian women almost draped around him so their friend could take a photograph. The guard did not smile; he was a guard. As the posettes left his side, his eyes dropped to check out their derrieres. Mmmm! At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Saski Gardens, the young guard never moved his head when a group of college girls passed, but his eyes danced along the rise and fall of their hips. Mmmm! The Swiss Guards hold the honor of standing watch outside the Vatican; I’ve rarely seen them miss the curves of women. Mmmm!

And then there is Paolo, back at the Pisa restaurant. Paolo has the advantage of not being a guard. This gives him freedom of movement. He easily slipped into step with all-girl groups, explaining the delights of the restaurant in flowing Italian. At least, that’s what the girls probably thought. His knee-wobbling handsomeness got some business for the restaurant, and I saw why he was the guy to bark for the business. All men like Paolo have a flaw, however: they fail to be aware of other women’s men standing close watch.

Paolo had just given his spiel to three girls. They could have been sisters; they were sisters, as it turned out. As they passed Paolo, they looked at each other and laughed; Paolo watched them walk away, a grin on his face and gleam in his eye. A burst of Italian exploded in the street. The girls stopped and turned around. Paolo turned and saw a furious man gesturing between himself and the girls. The girls looked unsurprised at each other. He was their father; and he had caught Paolo’s act. Paolo tried to be nonchalant in the heat blast from the father’s anger. He spoke, gestured with his hands, shrugged an apology: “I didn’t know you were they’re father” he seemed to say.

The girls came back to the scene. Paolo turned to them and smiled, began to talk and, I think, sell his restaurant (or himself) again. The audacity! I loved it. The father of the three girls did not. He pointed; Paolo raised his palms in defense. Where would it all lead? I drank wine and munched garlic bread from the sidelines. This was good theater! “What was the problem?” Paolo seemed to say. “You have beautiful daughters. What man would not swoon in the wake of such lovely creatures?” Daddy didn’t seem to bite at this excuse.

Now a man came from inside the restaurant. He was about the age of the father. He looked at the scene quickly as he wiped his hands on the white apron tied around his waist. When he understood what had happened, he looked sternly at Paolo, apologized to the father, eyed the girls a bit longer than necessary, and with some well-placed words in soft tones, quickly the father, the mother, and the three girls were seated at a fine table under the canopy. A bottle of wine and glasses appeared, antipasti, bread with olive oil. Disaster had been diverted. The father seemed consoled. The girls chattered on cell phones. Their mother saw through it all. Paolo went back to the street, and the comedy began anew.

Pisa is much like any other city in Italy, and Paolo no more rakish than men (or the odd woman) anywhere in the world. In our commercial entertainment, we get all sorts of stories about men and women, mostly inflated for effect. The best stories come from the overseen, overheard moment (some call it hysteria) that is the mating ritual—a beautiful game to watch. The fun of the live drama creates tales for the traveler to tell friends back home about the greatness of the world—and how small it has become.

pisa city wallPisa Museums and Sites
Pisa’s Duomo is actually a much more interesting site than the city’s famous tower, and once you get to Campo dei Miracoli (“Field of Miracles”) you immediately see why. The Romanesque building has four levels of multi-colored columns. Discs and squares of white, gray, pink, and tope are set into the façade. At sunset, the entire building seems aglow in glorious flames—perhaps designer Bonnano Pisano’s goal, a way to effect rapture in the flock walking across the fields for evening prayer. Enormous bronze doors caste with biblical scenes lead into the cathedral, here defined by the long arcades set in black and white marble. The magnificent pulpit is the highlight of the interior. In 1595 the pulpit was placed in storage after a fire, and was only rediscovered in 1926. Open daily from 10am; Sun from 1pm. Admission €2.

(read more about Pisa, Italy highlights here

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