Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pisa 2014

On our last full day in Paris for this year, I went out early to buy bread and a final croissant or two. The city was still abed; the streets were swept clean; and everything was aglow in the early morning sun. It was a good day to be out and about in Paris.

My friend Marcelle invited me to lunch and we went to a nearby restaurant which I had always meant to try, but never had - Des Gars dans la Cuisine. It's a modern, glass-fronted restaurant on the ancient rue du Vieille du Temple.  It's a bit pricey a la carte, but like many restaurants in Paris, it has a very reasonable, very good lunch menu.  Afterwards, we picked up some pastries and headed back to the apartment for coffee and dessert. JR was there and opened a good, bubbly bottle of Vouvray to celebrate another great stay in Paris.  

That night, with the apartment all cleaned, we went off to a neighborhood restaurant, Page 35, for crepes.  When we left, the three owners gave us a card they had all signed, wishing us a speedy return to Paris.

The next morning, we left Paris' Orly Airport bound for Pisa. It's only an hour and a half flight, but it takes you to a world far from the big-city hustle and bustle of Paris. Here in the center of historic Pisa, life is slower; buildings are older and smaller; and change is less obvious - although a new giant IKEA did open during the last year on the outskirts of town. And, of course, Italy has a new government although that is a common occurrence. According to a recent article in The New Yorker, Italy has had 63 governments in the last 68 years.

Economically, the situation in Italy remains depressed and young people continue to leave in droves to find jobs in other countries. Still, for a visitor, some things, such as the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the landscape, seem never to change. Baristas, bakers and pizza makers welcomed us back. Friends called and on our first night in Pisa, we were invited out to the opera at Pisa's beautiful Teatro Verdi.

The opera Andrea Chenier was a perfect transition from France to Italy.  Written by the Italian composer Umberto Giordano, it is the story (tragic, of course) of the French poet Andrea Chenier who, along with the love of his life, goes to the guillotine during the French Revolution

The next day, to wash away our sorrows, we went to the thermal baths in Casciana Terme, a town about 40 kilometers south of Pisa. The numerous towns in Tuscany with the word terme or bagni in their names attests to the fact that the region is rich in hot springs. Their curative powers were heralded as far back as Etruscan times. The Tabula Peutingeriana, a 12th-century copy of a Roman map dating back to about 70 A.D., shows the thermal waters of the Tuscan towns of Volterra and Populonia. 

Legend says that the hot springs of Casciana were discovered by Contessa Matilde di Canossa, a famous and powerful noblewoman of the Middle Ages. According to this legend, a little bird told her. The bird in question - an old pet robin - would fly creakily off each morning to an unknown destination and would return in the evening rejuvenated. A bit of reconnaissance revealed that the bird was spending its days soaking in a natural hot spring. Matilde decided to do likewise. The water's effects on Matilde are unknown, but it is known that at age 43, she married the 17-year old Duke of Bavaria. She lived, reigned and commanded an army up until her death at age 69, which is a ripe old age for medieval times.

The thermal waters at Casciana surge out of the ground from a source 700 meters  deep (2,300ft) and have a constant temperature of 35.7 degrees celsius (96.2F). The spa at Casciana offers everything from mud baths to medical rehabilitation. We contented ourselves with three hours in the toasty warm outdoor pool.

In the evening, we drove into the nearby hills to attend a friend's Mardi Gras party.  "Fat Tuesday," the usual day of Mardi Gras parties and parades had long since past and Lent, the season of fasting, had already begun. Nonetheless, there were costumes, dancing and plenty of great food. As I said, in Italy, things move a little slower.

To see more photos, click here.

A presto,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

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