Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Leaning Tower - No Regrets

Spring has come to Pisa. The sweet smell of the profusely-blooming wisteria fills the town and has turned the walls of every garden and terrace into miniature Gardens of Babylon. It's a perfect time to climb the Leaning Tower, something I have never done. 

During our first stays in Pisa, the tower was closed to visitors - essentially because  it was falling down. When it reopened in 2001 after years of very costly repairs, I still put off going. New Yorkers don't visit the Empire State Building; Parisians and Pisans  don't climb their respective towers.

In 1867 the American writer Mark Twain visited Pisa and gave this account of the tower in his wonderful travel memoir The Innocents Abroad.

At Pisa we climbed up to the top of the strangest structure the world has any knowledge of--the Leaning Tower....As every one knows, it is in the neighborhood of one hundred and eighty feet high...There is no record that it ever stood straight up.  It is built of marble.  It is an airy and a beautiful structure and each of its eight stories is encircled by fluted columns, some of marble and some of granite, with Corinthian capitals...The winding staircase within is dark, but one always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end; others only on the other end; others only in the middle. Standing on the summit, one does not feel altogether comfortable when he looks down from the high side; but to crawl on your breast to the verge on the lower side and try to stretch your neck out far enough to see the base of the tower, makes your flesh creep, and convinces you for a single moment in spite of all your philosophy, that the building is falling. 

After reading Twain's account, I decided that the time had finally come for me to experience the Leaning Tower. There was no line and the ticket seller informed me that I could go up with the next group of people in just a few minutes. Admission: 15 euros.

Fifteen euros, that's about 20 dolllars! Are they crazy? "I'm not paying that," I said to myself. The tower's not even that high. I turned around and began to walk away. 

And just like that, I had a vision. There I was a very old woman sitting in a retirement home with similarly old white-haired friends. One of them asked me in a very creaky, but wistful voice: "You lived in Pisa, tell us what it was like to climb the Leaning Tower?"  The disappointment on their faces was palpable as I turned to them and said:  "I never climbed the tower.  I was going to, but I didn't because it cost $20."

I turned around, bought a ticket and climbed the tower. I tried to lean over the edge, but the guide wouldn't let me. 

For more views of the Leaning Tower, click here.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

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