Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Au Revoir Paris - Ciao Pisa

                   Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.

                   Do you know the land where the lemon trees grow,
                   In darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow,
                   A soft wind blows from the pure blue sky,
                  The myrtle sands mute, and the bay tree high?

When the German poet Goethe wrote these famous lines about Italy, he was in the midst of a two-year, sun-filled escape from his cloudy northern homeland.   

We've come to Italy for only two months, but we quite understand Goethe's sentiments. On the morning we left Paris' Orly airport bound for Italy, we could barely see the runway through the cold, thick fog. Just two short hours later, we walked out of the plane and into the warm Italian sunshine.

Pisa has to have one of the most convenient international airports in the world. The Galileo Galilei Airport  is so close to town that you can walk to the historic center -  something we have done in the past. This time, however, we were met by an Italian friend who dropped us off at our apartment in Pisa, which is located in a 12th-century Casa Torre.(Click here to read Travel Oyster's Medieval Skyscrapers of Pisa.)  

In the eyes of the world, Pisa has one main attraction and every day, thousands of tourists come to Pisa with a single thought in mind: to see the Tower in all its leaning splendor. And splendid it is, but the Piazza dei Miracoli, where the Tower has been leaning almost since it was erected in the 12th century, is also home to Pisa's magnificent cathedral founded in 1064, its Bapistery and the Campo Santo. At one time, tourists to Pisa came to see not the tower, but the Campo Santo, whose walls were covered with frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli. Tragically, most of these frescos were destroyed by American bombs during the Second World War. (The small number of frescos that survived the bombing are still on display in the Campo Santo and viewing them, it's easy to see why people came from the world over to see the entire series.)

Almost 1,000 years ago when the site for the cathedral complex was chosen, it was located in the center of the action near the busy port of the now non-existent Auser River. Today, however, the Piazza dei Miracoli finds itself on the edge of town. So, if you live just a few blocks away in the historic center as we do, you don't see the tourists, who arrive principally in buses and cars, which are parked in a huge lot outside Pisa's medieval walls. They walk across a busy street, visit the famous monuments and leave. Most visitors never see the rest of Pisa, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in all of Italy. 

The date of its founding is uncertain, but Pisa is a town that ancient Roman writers were already calling old. Archeological findings date the city to somewhere between the 3rd and 6th century b.c. If tourists ventured beyond the tower, however, they would find that Pisa is also one of Italy's youngest cities since it is home to 60,000 university students. Most of them attend the University of Pisa, one of the oldest and best universities in Italy. Even more prestigious are Pisa's two elite institutions, the Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoleon in 1810 on the model of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna.  

Fittingly, our first event in Pisa took place at the University. We deposited our bags at the apartment and walked across town to the Sapienza, a Renaissance building that houses the University's Law School. In the library, filled with ancient volumes and precious manuscripts, we listened to a panel discussion on a friend's recently-released book translating 12 sonnets of the Portuguese poet Antero de Quental into Italian. (Amore lotte pessimismo morte, Dodici sonetti di Antero de Quental, F. Franceschini, Felici Editore, 2011.) 

It was a full immersion into Italian and the two-hour discussion (some of it in Portuguese) had our heads spinning well before we joined a group of friends in a nearby bar for a celebratory toast. 

As in years past, we had our inaugural dinner in Pisa at Giorgio, our favorite pizzeria in town. Giorgio, himself, always greets us like returning heros and the pizza is crispy and delicious.  

Our first week in Pisa has been a busy one filled with work, lectures, dinners, catching up with friends, and with walks under "the pure blue sky."

So to all those who have asked: Isn't Pisa boring after the big-city life of Paris? The answer is a resounding NO.

To see more photos, click here.

A presto,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. God, I LOVE Pisa. I would never think anyplace in Italy was boring. I love it there. Sounds idyllic, Geraldine. Jealous. Big time. Have a wonderful trip!

  2. I haven't seen a real lemon tree. Does it grow in cold places only? I wish I could see one someday. I love the syllogism you've made.


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