Thursday, May 6, 2010


The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the medieval town wall and the cathedral with its oval Byzantine dome are perfectly framed in my office window. In spite of this priceless view, it's sometimes impossible to stay inside and work, especially on days when the sky is a clear blue and the Tuscan sun is warm and inviting.  

The streets of Pisa are alive with activity.  Everyone is outside, walking, shopping and, of course, talking, talking, talking.  Around every corner there is something to see: a medieval tower house illuminated by the sun; a cafe terrace where two elegant women sip - in a nod to summer - a tall frothy drink adorned with strawberries; tourists whose faces light up with amazement at their first sight of the Leaning Tower; African street vendors hawking their wares of lighters, tissues, beaded jewelry and fake Armani watches.

A Pisan friend, who is very pessimistic - as are many Italians - about the future of Italy, tells me that I have created and written about a Pisa che non c'è.  It's a charming Pisa, he says, but one that does not exist. "Where is your Pisa?", he asks.  "I don't see it."  

What he sees are young people who can't get jobs; public services in disarray; cities in decline; an apathetic, discouraged electorate and a self-serving government. Could it be that my Pisa is a myth made of smoke and mirrors and good camera angles?

I feel at home in Italy, in this land that my ancestors left more than a hundred years ago. After my friend's comments, however, I began to wonder if it is possible for a visitor - even one who spends two months a year in Italy - to really know the country. I may understand Italy's problems, but I don't really suffer the consequences. I read the Italian newspapers; shake my head at the price of gas (about eight dollars a gallon); lament that the garbage has not been picked up or that some ancient stone streets in Pisa have been blacktopped over to save money on maintenance -  and then I get on the plane and go home.    

Nonetheless the Pisa that I write about and photograph does exist and it's very real. There are the beautiful medieval buildings; the back streets that seem always to be deserted except for the wheeling swallows; the friendly, outgoing people; the markets; the thousands of students who give this old town a youthful feel; the wonderful food; the nearby beaches; the Monti Pisani - the hills behind the town that in springtime are awash with wild orchids and tender wild asparagus perfect for a risotto to be shared with good friends; and the beautiful cathedral complex with its improbable tower which, no matter how many times you see it, continues to amaze. 

There are things that are wrong here, but someone else will have to write about them. I plan to continue to concentrate on the wonderful Pisa that is.

For more photos of that Pisa, click here.  


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Bellissima Pisa che non c'e`

  2. This is one of my favorites. Nice story, great pictures.


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