Celebrating a Lean

If the leaning tower of Pisa didn’t lean, would we like it nearly as much?

Make no mistake–this baby LEANS. When you stand on the stone floor of it’s interior base, you slide downhill unless you brake against the slope. At the top, where four bells sit, marble had to be carved out of one side of one bell’s housing because it still hangs straight, while the building does not. And yet, on a recent trip to Italy, I found out it’s certainly not the only tower to lean–Venice seems to have more leaning bell towers than upright. So what is it about the leaning tower of Pisa that captures our attention?

For one, if you look carefully, you’ll see it’s kind of banana-shaped. That’s because it was built in stages: early construction was halted at like the 2nd or 3rd floor when one half of the foundation began to sink. Something like 100 years later, somebody aded the next few floors and had the great idea of shortening the pillars on one side to give the tower the appearance of standing straighter. Or of curving like a boomerang–your choice. Later, a variety of schemes were hatched to pump water/sand/concrete in/out of the soil around the tower’s base. The lean has been halted at about 5 degrees–although a man using a cell phone at the top the day we visited declared he measured it at 8. That’s when I decided it was time to return to the bottom.

Part of what’s mesmerizing about it is its color–so white against the day’s clearing skies and unusually green grounds. Part, too, is the neighboring church and cemetery and baptistery, where I cried when the woman who sold us tickets to enter came in and sang some notes that echoed off all the walls with such perfection she sounded like four people at once. Part of it is its name–not the “tower of Pisa,” but the “leaning tower of Pisa.” It’s what we’ve always known. It’s not perfect.

Just like my husband and I weren’t perfect when we got off the train from Florence at the Pisa Centrale station instead of the next one, and found out “all we had to do” was take a bus to go meet our day’s tour guide, art historian Martina Manfredi, owner of the touring business Tuscany at Heart. (Martina was an exceptionally knowledgeable, kind and energetic guide and we loved our day with her. That’s Martina, in the picture above. She also does all sorts of other guided tours in Tuscany. You can contact her at the website or via info@tuscanyat heart.it.)

Back to my husband’s and my imperfection, pre-Martina: Catching a bus when your Italian kind of stinks is a little harder than it ought to be, although we must have looked like we knew what we were doing because soon an entire contingent of Asian tourists were following us onto a bus that was (surely!) to take us to the right spot. When the bus driver proved unable to assist, a lovely middle-aged Italian woman told us to just get off where she did, or so we thought. When we still stood behind her, mute and immobile, at the Square of Miracles, she turned around and practically shooed us off the bus. “Get off here!” she shouted–like–“Hoo-boy, how dumb can you get?” only much, much kinder. Like your mother, when as a child you’ve proven yourself only ignorant, and not culpable.

A few feet after we exited the bus, miracle of miracles, we found Martina. In the Square of Miracles.

I think we need a Square of Miracles in Minneapolis. Some place you can go when you’ve messed up, to light a candle or to pray or to imagine the perfection of a human voice sounding like four and knowing it is really only one.

I think the world needs a square of miracles, or maybe miracles squared, or maybe just a greater tolerance for how things lean.




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