Leaning Over the Edge

Pisa, The Leaning Tower.The train to Pisa leaves every half hour from the Florence station. After my near encounter with the local fuzz, I was happy to board any train pulling out of town. The landscape turned rural and I lowered my window. The murky river passing by was lined with lush trees and shrubbery baking under the sun. The aroma was intoxicating. Funny, but I didn’t expect Italy to remind me of the carefree summer days of my childhood.

Pisa was as beautiful and charming as Florence, but smaller. We decided to walk to the tower. The residential streets weren’t too different from streets back home. People washed their cars, got their mail, and chatted with neighbors. Suddenly it came into view above the roof lines. I always thought the tower sat in a central urban location, so was surprised to see it located on the outskirts of town in a park-like area.

Of all the photographs I’d seen, nothing could prepare my eyes for this. We rounded a corner and once it came into full view my heart raced. My goose bumps got goose bumps, once I realized how tall and old looking it was. What really got me was seeing how much it leaned! My inner psyche interpreted this as a major problem. I wanted to run the other direction.

“Let’s climb it!”

“Alex, come back.” I said. “It’s been closed for years – too unstable, too dangerous.”

‘Look Dad!” Chris pointed at people walking around the top.

“Holy son of shit.” I said under my breath. It’s open.

 

* * *

 

The 25-foot wide column is hollow and the perimeter staircase inside is approximately three feet wide, which is about six 6 inches less than my stairs at home. The first few steps were especially difficult thanks to the law of gravity – then things leveled off – then got real easy. Then back to difficult

Imagine eight stories of this.

All the while, we could look out the occasional window to chart our progress. The stairs eventually terminated at an open area known as the bell tower, which I found downright frightening. I couldn’t imagine it was designed for the public to wander around – maybe a brave bell ringer that wasn’t afraid of heights. Encircling the base of this level was a set of stairs leading down to the edge. The only thing preventing one from tumbling over was a simple iron railing. We had to navigate around this open part to reach the stairs to our ultimate destination of the “roof.” We passed a man who slowly and carefully traversed the steps. He seemed terrified.

We made it safely to the top. A uniformed woman reminded us we only had minutes to enjoy the view. There was something terribly wrong with walking along a very uneven surface at this height, yet it was absolutely exhilarating. We bellied up to a waist-high railing, took a firm grip and took in the sights of Pisa – the green lawn below, a soccer game at a nearby stadium, tile roofs, green hills, and blue sky – all while realizing one slip of the foot would be curtains.

* * *

Back on the ground, we found a spot on the lush green grass just below the tower. Using each others legs as pillows we relaxed and watched the people around us – smiling grandparents playing with babies, kids kicking soccer balls, intellectuals smoking and discussing world issues. The five of us just sat there enjoying an afternoon with the locals and talking about whatever came into our heads. We didn’t have any plans and hardly noticed tour busses pulling in and out hemorrhaging camera-clad tourists. We had something they didn’t – time.

Ah, precious time.

NEXT: It’s a Hot Chocolate Morning

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