Monday, March 12, 2007

An inclination for history

Bondi adds to Field of Miracles

Guess where we are.

I’m getting ahead of myself: the backdrop for this morning’s activities were less spectacular.

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Walking around on hard ground all day is tough on the legs - human and canine. After Venice's nearly relentless concrete and stone, my calf muscles are near rigid from the shock-absorbing gait that I seem to fall into.

Today would not be ambitious. Jon from the B&B had mentioned an antique-y fair up the road in Vicopisano, so I took Bondi for a stroll to the town square where tables were laid out with the sort of bric-a-brac that you can find almost the world over. Amongst the tin-plate Vespa signs was a lot of old Disney comic albums, loads of Bambi statuettes and even translated Rin Tin Tin books.

There seem to be precious little to represent locally grown characters even from the long gone era of these items: it's mostly recycled Americana. There are echoes of this everywhere: in Venice, the stores selling small glass figurines had sets of South Park characters, or even Bart Simpson urinating vitreously.

Field of miracles
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Pisa is only 15km away so the afternoon seemed a good time to get that leaning item out of the way. Lying in what is known as the Campo del Miracoli or "Field of Miracles", the Leaning Tower is a beautiful sight, more than complemented by the accompanying buildings of the Duomo cathedral and the round Baptistry. The Tower is the bell-tower or campanile, and so has the same relationship as Venice's Campanile to St Mark's Basilica.

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Ignoring the throngs of tourists taking pictures with leaning ensembles or pretending to push the tower back into vertical - and the throngs of mostly African men selling fake Rolex watches and crawling G.I.Joe action figures, it's quite enthralling to inspect the façades of these white monoliths. The bronze doors of the Duomo (cast in 1180) have biblical scenes in quite deep relief - figures rising off the door as if in a diorama. Some of the gargoyles are also quite unusual, with - to my eye - an oriental appearance.

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I made the mistake of taking lunch at a nearby restaurant. I should have begun to expect the worst when the bowl of stale bread arrived - although not busy and more than adequately staffed, service was extremely slow, so the bread may have been fresh when it left the kitchen. When I dropped one piece back into the bowl, the clang it made could have competed quite easily with the neighbouring belltower. At a nearby table, a trio of Irish ladies from County Meath were telling the staff exactly what they thought of the wine, food and service: "terrible" came up a lot.
Cathedral - Duomo
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The remainder of the afternoon was spent in the centre of Pisa. It was monthly market day, and the central streets radiating from the River Arno were full of stalls. The river banks, the lungarni, are shadowed by a long line of 3-4 story buildings which were once a distinctive and noted feature of this city. Today the roads are unkempt, and the landing stages/paths close to the river are decorated only with weeds and shards of broken glass. For most tourists, Pisa is a half hour stop at the Field of Miracles on a day-trip from Florence, and that will not change until its infrastructure is cleaned up enough for its other treasures to be revealed.

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