TWELVE DAYS IN ITALY
by Irwin Hirsh
(First published in The Metaphysical Review 26/27, July 1998, edited by Bruce Gillespie)
We walked out of Santa Lucia Station, and as the sight before us hit a rush of adrenalin went to my head. There lay Venezia's Canal Grande and two rows of gondolas gently rocking with the movement of the water. Above the gondolas was an impressive looking church, San Simeone e Giuda, with an entrance porch framed by white Corinthian columns and topped by a huge green copper dome which doubled the height of the church. And over to our left was the Ponte degli Scalzi, a simple, neat looking white stone bridge connecting the two banks of the canal. All around us was a sea of activity as people rushed to and from the station in their early morning rush to get to work.
Of all the cities Wendy and I visited the one for which I was least prepared was Venezia. I knew that it has a rich cultural and artistic history, is built on an archipelago of more than 100 islands, that its gondola is a symbol of romance, but the idea of a city with no cars, or one which can not grow outward was something I had to work hard at to grasp. The city is connected to mainland Italy by a long low bridge. As I looked out the train window it looked like our train was skating across the top of the water. Watching the water skim past I pondered the days ahead. We hadn't made any connections with Italian fans, so for the first time in our trip we would be left to our own devices.
First on the agenda was finding a room for our stay. Lista di Spagna, a street to the left of the station, had been described as a good place in which to start our search. The first place we tried charged 80 000 lira (about $85) a night, well out of our price range but curiosity demanded we have a look at the room. The next place charged 55 000 lira, which was still a bit too much for us. The Hotel Marte offered us a room for 33 000 lira (plus 1 000 for every shower), which we took. The size of the rooms in each of the three places decreased along with the price, but fortunately the size decreases were not in the same ratio as price decreases. Still, once we'd laid out our bags around the bed there was not much floor to be seen. The room was not grotty or dirty, but its size and darkness did the trick of making sure we were out and about for as much as possible.
The Canal Grande runs like a S through Venezia, splitting the city in two. Water that enters the Canal near the Station flows out past the Piazza San Marco. This square is Venezia's most famous landmark, and for centuries a magnet for Europe's artists. And it is not hard to see why, for as we turned into the Piazza another rush of adrenalin went through me. No postcard, no exotically filmed ad, had prepared me for this. Lots of people, lots of pigeons, the gold of the Basilica of San Marco, the pink of the Doges' Palace next to it, the red of the Belltower in front, the open-air cafes making up the other three sides of the square, and above the cafes three floors of a neo-classical facade of arches and pillars. There was a beautiful air about the whole square, and with all the people a delightful buzz completed the atmosphere.
However, between the sight across from the Station and Piazza San Marco, Venezia lacked a drive and I was never really grabbed by the city. By contrast Wendy was enchanted by it, and ever since we've each jokingly tried to assert own individual feelings about the city onto the other. Those artists who were drawn to the place may have unwittingly provided me with the evidence that Venezia is not an enchanted city. As we visited the galleries of Europe we saw many, many paintings of Venezia and apart from an occasional view of the Canal Grande at the Ponte Rialto, all were of Piazza San Marco.
Away from the Canal and Piazza San Marco Venezia is a dark, colourless, crowded city, dominated by architectural styles I find garish and overbearing. The buildings aren't very tall but with the thin streets and small squares the buildings tower over and darken the pedestrian ways below. I missed a bit of space and a plot of grass, and I was relieved when we stepped onto a train to go to Roma.
To the right of Roma Termini is Via Palestro and it was on the fifth floor of a building in this street that we found a room for our five day stay in the 'eternal city'. Our room was large and reasonably priced at 40 000 lira a night (and included free showers), and overlooked a courtyard which could've been out of any number of Italian films. Clothes lines connected opposite windows and it was easy to imagine one of those great, arm-waving Italian arguments going on, cutting across all the floors. Our host was a nice middle-age woman who spoke no English. Despite this barrier we only once had to get out a notepad and Italian/English dictionary to converse. A nice touch provided by our host was that when she was aware that we were awake she would bring cups of coffee to our room. The single negative aspect of the room was that it was on the wrong side of the railway station. Everyday we had to cut through the station, adding time and distance to our adventures.
Our first full day in Roma was devoted to the aim of visiting another country: the Vatican. We had a nice, leisurely four kilometre wander through the streets as we aimed for the border. Roma proved to be a great city for walking. Rather than staying to the main roads we kept on cutting through the smaller side streets, always coming across nice little piazzas and interesting bits of architecture and sculpture. We crossed the Tiber River at the Ponte S. Angelo and joined the throng making the pilgrimage along Via della Conciliazione, a wide street full of hawkers and cafes. I possess a mental image of walking up a steep incline towards San Pietro, but I suspect this has more to do with the majestic features of the church we could see before us than with anything greater than a gentle slope.
As with the crossing of borders in the UK there are no border guards checking passports, so there is no obvious crossover point between the two states. The maps seem to indicate that when it is possible to get run over by a car you're in Roma. Walking across Piazza San Pietro I was struck by how the Square unfolded for us, its size only revealing itself to us as we walked the last couple of hundred meters to the Basilica. San Pietro is a fine building, clearly one of the great churches of the world and one of my three favourite churches of the trip. However there is a difference between it and Chester and Albi Cathedrals. Whereas the latter two are joys to behold complete in itself, San Pietro is more of a never complete jigsaw - it is perhaps too big, too over-layered and with too much to it to be attractive as something complete in itself.
Our walk began down the left side aisle through to the left side of the transcript, with every few steps leading to new treasures. I was particularly taken by Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Monument to Alexander VII. Built in the space above an existing doorway the pope is depicted kneeling, hands together, in prayer. Below him are four people who are linked by a shroud which is wrapped around the base upon which the pope is kneeling. In the foreground and coming out from under the shroud is a skeleton. I liked the piece for a number of reasons. The first sight of it is a striking experience, with the contrast between the rich red of the shroud against the white of the figures. I also liked the way the pope is presented as human rather than saintly. And finally I like the sense of place with which Bernini designed the piece. While the skeleton was included in the monument for its symbolism, its position serves a useful purpose: it is there to stop the shroud from flowing right down to the floor, blocking the doorway. In a sense the skeleton is not completely successful as the shroud still overflows and hides our view of the top of the door.
Bernini also gave the Basilica its striking Baldacchino, the bronze canopy over the papal alter, which is in the central crossing of the building, directly beneath Michelangelo's dome. I wandered around it, first looking to it in isolation, then within the context of its surrounds. The canopy's size and position spoils the view of the interior of the dome, and limits the opportunity to get a floor-level perspective of the relationship between the dome and main body of the building. This sort of issue shows that while the Basilica was built during the Renaissance period it is very much a palace of the Baroque. It could be said that the late 16th century popes created the Baroque period. They wanted an art style conveying stature and grandeur, and the artists of the period were breaking away from more classical Renaissance form. So that while Michelangelo's building worked up a sense of majesty, Baroque artists like Bernini created an explosive surge through ornate, curved lines and opulent and extravagant materials.
At the end of the right aisle, and almost at our exit from the building, is Michelangelo's sculpture Pieta. Created more than a century prior than so many of the items we'd been before, it provided a contrast to those pieces and seemed the perfect way of ending the tour of the church. Michelangelo signature was the strength and power of his line and was just the antidote after all the opulent we'd seen before.
We walked out of the building with the idea of visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We soon found out that they close in the early afternoon and that we'd have to make a return visit to the Vatican another day. So we sat down at the foot of a statue and just let our eyes wander around the Piazza, including to the spot where the next morning we were asking a Swiss guard for directions to the Museum's entrance. "Through that door, up the stairs, first door on the left."
We followed his directions, confirming things with another guard on the way, but as we waited in line it didn't feel right. The 15 other people waiting were all middle-aged rural Italians, not the diverse mix I would expect, there was no ticket window ahead of us, and the line stopped at a doorway leading to a priest's office. And while I had my hand in my pocket ready to whip out a few thousand lira, everyone around us were eagerly clutching typed letters.
When it was our turn to go forth into the priest's office I realised that the standard "Two please" could be embarrassing and insulting. "Umm, we're looking for the entrance to the Museums and Sistine Chapel. This isn't it, is it?"
"No, this is for those seeking a seat at tomorrows Audience. Go back out the way you came in, and on the left wall will be a map on how to get to the entrance."
So we retraced our steps, finding the map just a few meters past that first guard. A kilometre walk and 14,000 lira later and we were in.
The Museum has a reputation for fine collections of art and antiquities, but my main interest was on the museum rooms rather than what is in them. This is because many of the rooms represent some of the history of the link between the various popes of the 15th and 16th century and the artists of the day. This comes down to a feeling that anyone can gather together a collection of sculptures, but very few people were in the position to get the greatest artists of the day to come around to fresco the walls of their apartments. The most impressive were the Raphael Rooms, decorated for Pope Julius II by Raphael Sanzio and his assistants. It was particularly great to see Raphael's School of Athens, a work I knew quite well.
If there is a disappointment about the Museums it was a sense that we'd missed out on one room - that which houses the penises which the Church had replaced by fig leafs on all the male nude statues. Some of the 'improvements' were clumsily done, with fig leaves chosen with no feeling for the lines of the work or the colour of the stone. Rather than suggesting a sense of modesty, the process only pointed to the editing which had gone on.
Entering the Sistine Chapel I was overwhelmed in a most unexpected way. When considering this visit I'd envisaged a gasp with that first look at Michelangelo's contributions to the room, but what took me was the large number of people. As we'd been walking through the Museum we hadn't been given the opportunity to imagine that our fellow visitors numbered this many. We snaked our way through the crowd to the middle of the room, stopped, and turned our heads upward.
"If I stand like this for too long I'm going to get a sore neck and back," Wendy said.
I knew what she was saying and scanned the room for somewhere to sit down. Looking past Wendy's shoulder I saw a gap on the bench running the length of one wall, and told Wendy to grab it. "I'll try to find something on the opposite wall." I took a few steps and to my left saw some familiar people, looking up at the ceilings. Changing my direction I marched over and tapped them on their shoulders.
"Now we can forget about Zurich," I said by way of a greeting.
It was Perry Middlemiss and Robyn Mills. It took them a moment to work out what was going on. Robyn did a very good impersonation of someone whose jaw has dropped while Perry adopted a disbelieving tone of face. Then Wendy came running over, "I was just told to be quiet." We turned to look at her.
"I was sitting there, watching what was going on and in a loud voice I said 'Oh, my god'. I said that in the Sistine Chapel of all places. And all around me these people told me to be quiet."
We regained our composure, chatted for a bit and arranged to meet up again in an hour.
As we walked away Wendy was triumphant "I told you they'll be in Italy the same time as us."
"I never disagreed with you," I replied "I just doubted we'd bump into them."
"Yes. And in the Sistine Chapel!"
And before we knew it, overtaken with the moment we walked out of the Chapel, in the process foregoing any further study of Michelangelo's work.
An hour later we wandered back into Italy with Perry and Robyn, and began the afternoon with some frenzied chat in a cafe. Mr Middlemiss and Ms Mills were doing much the same tour of Continental Europe as us only they were travelling anti-clockwise. So we didn't so much compare notes but swap notes. But we did agree that this idea of meeting in Zurich on the following Monday (the 2nd of November) had played havoc with our itineraries. It was over a beer at the October Wellington meeting that Perry and I had set the date and place for a Continental rendezvous. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the cold, hard, light of the day (in particular the day Wendy and I sat down to work out a schedule for the two months we would be spending with Eurail tickets) we had wished I'd given Perry some way of contacting us to confirm things. As it was Wendy and I intended to go from Roma up to Zurich, and then travel back down to Firenze and Pisa. "Now we don't have to worry about all that extra travel," I said, and Robyn indicated that their plans had, till an hour ago, also involved some serious back-tracking.
The previous day's visit to San Pietro had inspired a number of religo-symbolic queries in me, and I shot forth a series of questions to the Catholic of the party. But Robyn proved to be very little help. "Robyn, Robyn, Robyn," I tut-tutted, "What would your mother say?"
"My mother! Photos! I have to take lots of photos today. Of you three," Robyn said, inspired. Robyn's parents hadn't liked this idea of their only daughter travelling around Europe with that over-sexed specimen of manhood that is Perry, and in order to calm them Robyn had indicated that she and Perry would be travelling as part of a larger group. The implication behind this lie was that there'd be people there ready to step in and protect the Mills' daughter's honour. Robyn had actually used Wendy and my names in this elaborate scam, and now wanted photos of us as some sort of evidence. "I'd like to be there when you show them these photos," Wendy said, "To see if they notice that we're in the photos from Roma, but not those of Paris, Munich or Amsterdam's red-light district."
The afternoon was spent in walk and talk. When the sun went down we adjourned to a restaurant just behind Piazza Navona, where we had the most delicious anti-pasto. We then spent an hour on the Piazza itself, watching the passing promenade. Perry and Robyn were due to catch an early morning train, so mid evening we bade our farewells.
As we went our separate ways Wendy summed up the day: "God, that was one hell of amazing luck, finding them. And there of all places."
"No," I corrected her, "Given where we were, it was one heaven of luck."
The next day we spent in central Roma, which included visiting the Trevi Fountain, where we cheapskated and tossed in only one coin, and the Pantheon, which because of its dimensions (as tall as it is wide) in such a large building is awe-inspiring. A mid-afternoon coffee and gelati was consumed during a return visit to Piazza Navano. As we sat at a cafe we had Bernini's baroque, grandiose Fontana del Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the foreground, while close behind was Francesco Borromini's elegant facade of Sant' Angnese in Agona. It was a good vantage point from which to observe the most public utterances in the Salieri-Mozart type feud between Bernini and Borromini. The previous evening Robyn and I had been discussing how the figures in the fountain are all looking away from the church as Bernini's expression of his disgust that his rival had obtained the commission to design the building's facade. At least that is the way the myth would have it, because in truth the fountain was unveiled two years prior to Borromini being called in to complete the designs and building of the church.
A travellers visit to the cashing-travellers-cheques counter at the American Express office was required, so we headed off to the Piazza di Spagna and the home of some high-class shops. Almost next door to AmEx is a large McDonalds. I couldn't understand this, as McDonalds couldn't expect to attract the same crowd as would the Gucci shop. But as we walked around to the foot of the Spanish Steps my confusion was resolved as the Steps are a significant meeting place for Roma's youth and the world's Backpackers. In any photo I've ever seen the steps have always been crowded with flowers but deficient in people. We climbed the Steps and at the top found a nice broad view of Roma, the dome of San Pietro being the dominate force.
The next day was our final in Roma, the only rainy day we encountered in the city, and was dominated by a visit to the Museo Borghese. Housed within the Casino Borghese, a building built by a nephew of one of the 17th century popes, this is a fine museum. Our only disappointment was that due to renovations being undertaken we were unable to visit the second/top floor which housed the collection of paintings. This meant we were restricted to a viewing of only the collection of sculptures. And the only half the building itself, for it was something to be equally admired. Each room was richly decorated, from floor to ceiling. Bas-reliefs, niches for statues and busts, mosaics, columns, and frescoes on the walls and vaults. The Museo was small enough for us to do a number of circuits, each time taking in a different part of what was there.
One circuit was for admiring the frescoed ceilings, all of which continued the theme of the walls and used perspective to enlarge the room. One room's frescoes suggested eight sculptured figures holding up the ceiling and a balcony from which someone could look down upon us. Another room had the suggestion of a ledge, along which satyrs, leopards, and naked boys were walking. In one way all this was over the top. It was not enough that this beautiful building is erected, the ceilings have to be used to create the illusion that the place is bigger and grandeur again. On the other hand it was very easy to admire the excellence of the work. There was one room in which I needed more than just a couple of seconds to convince myself that I wasn't looking at some statues but a painting of statues.
Another circuit took in the collection of sculptures, chief among them being Bernini's David and his incomplete Truth. The collection also had us thinking back to the Vatican. Having a rest in one room we sat between two male nude statues. One had the approved fig leaf, the other had some restoration work where once had a fig leaf had been. Unfortunately the restoration was not well done, with an obvious line where the penis had once been removed.
I'd been told that Firenze's tourist office is extremely helpful in arranging accommodation. All I know is they certainly gave us good value for the 1200 lira commission. I gave a price range of 30-40 thousand lira a night, and was offered a room for 28,000 lira. As we walked to the pensione I picked up on the vibes of the streets and I knew I was going to enjoy this city.
First off we went to a street market where Wendy finally found a range of leather jackets which hadn't been designed by someone in the US Air Force. Throughout Venezia and Roma Wendy had been thinking it had been decided that she was only meant to look like Tom Cruise (out of Top Gun). It was some relief to know that she'd actually be able to do her impression of someone wearing Italian leather.
Then it was off to Palazzo Vecchio, an impressive building built almost 700 years ago. This was followed by a wander around the nearby Piazza della Signoria, the square where Michelangelo's David once stood, and through to Fiume Arno and its Ponte Vecchio. The latter is Firenze's oldest existing bridge; the only one to have survived the 2nd World War, a legacy, so it goes, of a German army commander who could not bear to blow it up in retreat. The Corrdioio Vasariano, an overhead passageway, runs over the bridge, so that for the most part it felt like we were walking down a street of shops and not a structure over water.
We began the next day at the Galleria dell'Accademia, the gallery which is the home to Michelangelo's David. If this isn't the world's single most impressive sculpture, it is not through a lack of presentation. The Tribune where it stands was designed just for the statue, and the light and space allows for a powerful, heroic sight.
The Galleria is also the home to a number of Michelangelo's unfinished works, the Four Slaves, and St. Matthew. I've read differing opinions about these pieces. Some art historians claim these are intentionally unfinished. Others claim that they are part of monuments - for Pope Julius II's tomb in Roma and for the cathedral of Firenze, respectively - which were decommissioned before completion. My guess is that both groups are correct, only that the former have given the wrong values to the scheme of things. That is not finishing the pieces was imposed upon Michelangelo, and he merely left them as they were rather than doing something else with them.
From the artistic process point of view they are interesting to look at. There's an old joke: "How do you carve an elephant?" Answer: just chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. Michelangelo's philosophy tells this joke in a different way: that the sculpture already exists within the stone, and the sculptor's job is merely to take away what is superfluous. In their unfinished state these five works show what the guy was on about, with the figures emerging out of, and trying to brake away from, the stone.
After the Galleria we visited the Palazzo Pitti, which was built in the 15th century for Luca Pitti, a banker who wanted to have the grandest palace in the city. Over the next 400 years it was taken over by the Medici family, who expanded the size of the Palace and when Firenze was the capital of Italy it was the residence of the king. These days it houses a number of Museums, of which we toured just those which displayed the interests of the previous owners of the place. The rough stone brick exterior of the approach to the palace is quite a contrast to the sumptuous interiors.
Behind the palace is the carefully landscaped Giardino di Boboli. We decided to have a picnic lunch on the steps past the Neptune Fountain. I'm not sure but I think only those with Eurail tickets are allowed on those steps. Certainly all those around us were people swapping travel tales. We chatted to an USAn who was in Europe for two months. He was shocked to hear that we were travelling for double that time. "Is that all? All the Australians I've met are over for at least a year." Then he added that on his travels he thought he'd meet people from everywhere, but all he met were Australians and New Zealanders.
That afternoon we visited the Galleria degli Uffizi. Fate dealt us a cruel hand here for we were unable to appreciate what the gallery had to offer. We still had a further day in Firenze and would've scheduled to visit the Uffizi then, but that last day was All Saints Day and we were afraid that the various museums would be closed. With morning visits to the Accademia and the Pitti we'd reached our threshold of art viewing. My main enduring image of the Uffizi is looking at Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and noting that it is duller than just about every photographic reproduction I've ever seen. I was in that sort of mood.
Our All Saints Day began at Piazza del Duomo, home to the city's Santa Maria del Fiore (cathedral), the baptistry of San Giovanni Battista, and the campanile. This is a most impressive trio of buildings. Mass was in progress when we entered the Cathedral, so we stood at the back of the church, quietly taking in the event and the building. Unfortunately at the end of the service we are asked to vacate the building, so we never had a chance to wander around. Instead we walked around to the baptistry and gazed upon its famed Gates of Paradise, the gilded bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. As we weren't able to climb up to the dome of the cathedral we decided to climb the 414 steps of the bell-tower.
Wendy counted the steps as we went, from time to time relaying to me our progress. We reached the top of one flight. "71" she told me. A middle-age woman resting on the landing heard Wendy and just sighed as we walked past her. At a further resting point we sat down. Soon the woman joined us. "150" she said between puffs.
I turned to Wendy for confirmation. "150?"
"147" Wendy answered.
"147!" said our climbing companion, who wasn't impressed. "Oh no, that's three more I have to climb."
We spent most of the day just wandering around, admiring the city. It may have been the most willingly religious day of my life, as we visited many churches and the city's synagogue. The latter was interesting on a personal level. While I'm not religious I am Jewish. My Jewish cultural experience is based in my families' Ashkenazi (European) background and in a community which arose out of migration away from Nazi Germany. In Venezia we spent a morning in Ghetto Vecchio and Ghetto Nuovo, apparently the world's first jewish ghettos, where we visited synagogues which are 400 years old. Firenze's synagogue is not as old (inaugurated in 1882) but it is with Venezia in being a place of worship to a community which is predominantly of Oriental or Spanish origin. On both the age and origin basis it was intriguing for me to compare things with what I'm familiar with, though it wouldn't have been hard for me to be impressed. Caulfield Synagogue, where I had my Bar Mitzvah, is my main point of comparison. It is also, from an aesthetic point of view, probably the most soulless place of worship I've been in.
A Jewish Museum occupies a room on the first floor of Firenze's Synagogue, and the woman there offered to show us around the building and told us something of its and the community's history. We weren't sure how to take some of the things she told us. When Wendy and I said that the place didn't feel like a synagogue she told us that could be because the architects and builders were Catholic. This prompted me to ask if she knew why there is a large Star of David in the Basilica of Santa Croce, and I was told this was because the facade's designer was Jewish. I haven't been able to determine the religions of the people involved, but somehow these responses didn't feel right. The building may not feel like it is a synagogue but it also doesn't feel like a church. It is of Moorish design, and feels somewhat like a Muslim Mosque. And the Old Testament, and some of its symbols, have currency within the Christian religion. The answers we were given seem too simple.
Over dinner Wendy noted that of all the buildings we'd visited in Firenze the Synagogue, at 105 years old, could be regarded as 'modern'. We laughed at our different perspective. In Melbourne a 105 year old building would be ancient.
Wherever we turned there was someone telling us we had no need to stay in Pisa. Friends would tell us "It's only an hour from Firenze." Europe by Train, a guide book we were given, devoted just two brief paragraphs to the town, advised us to "head straight to the Piazza del Duomo with its famous Leaning Tower" upon arrival. Another guide book advised against walking to the Piazza, suggesting instead to take a bus from the station. Even the town's tourist authority wondered why we wanted to stay there. We walked into their office at the train station and asked about booking a room for the night, and we were told that only the office on Piazza del Duomo offered such a facility.
We'd decided to stay in Pisa because our next journey would be on train which goes through Pisa and not Firenze. To have spent an extra night in the latter would have involved some unneeded back and forthing. Also, it was an early morning train we were catching and staying in Pisa for the night meant we could have an hour or more extra sleep. Standing there in that tourist office we didn't understand why we would have to walk 1 kilometre to book accommodation. Surely the place to offer an accommodation booking service is at the spot there where people arrive in a town? And besides, because we were catching a morning train we wanted to stay near the station. The person behind the desk understood what we were on about and, against the rules, suggested that we try a place 100 meters down the road.
After the hectic pace set in our previous eleven days in Italy we were in the need of a day to unwind, and Pisa proved to be up for the challenge. We weren't in any rush to visit the bell tower so we just wandered wherever whim took us. Up Corsa Italia, then along the banks of the Arno River, lunch at a cafe on Piazza dei Cavalieri, slowly moving towards Italy's most famous symbol. A lot of the town is tightly packed, with dull yellow buildings, a lot erected after the Second World War, but we found the atmosphere created by Pisa being a university town to be most attractive. During the day there'd be students milling about or rushing to classes. At night we found them out having a drink.
Our first glimpse of the tower was when walking down one of the streets leading onto the Piazza del Duomo. From where we were there was no lean (or, rather it was leaning towards us not across our line of sight) which was a good way to see it for first time in the flesh. With no lean there is nothing to act as a distraction to its fine elegant, Romanesque design.
The Piazza, with its complex of Duomo, Baptistry, and Tower, sits apart from the rest of the town. The cramped, squat yellow is replaced by white sitting within a green, open space. Walking out from a street into the Piazza and the contrast is quite stark, with almost a different light. It is like there is a barrier between the town and the Piazza. The Piazza is also known as the Campo dei Miracoli (The Field of Miracles), a name which is seems to fit.
Back in 1987 it was still possible to climb the tower. The steps inside are well worn, requiring care when climbing. At each level we went out to walk within the arches. The paths were also well worn and uneven. Combined with the lean to the south-east I found it difficult to walk around. It was particularly unnerving when walking down with the lean and being aware that there were no safety barriers. Wendy, however, was quite claim and enjoyed the whole thing, including my reaction. The fiend.
At Perry and Robyn's suggestion we had dinner at Trattoria de Stelio on Piazza Dante. At we entered I recalled being given a description of the decor. Each wall is lined with napkins, each inscribed by the restaurant's patrons. (Tourists leaving behind a souvenir.) Noticing an napkin with a drawing of a kangaroo, I stepped up to have a closer look. The signature said 'David and Elizabeth Kellaway'. "No," I thought, "I'm not even going to try to find Perry and Robyn's napkin."
We were about to sit down at a table when the waiter waved us to a table two down, indicating we'd be further away from the door. We sat down, but before we could settle in the waiter was asking us what we wanted to drink. A delaying tactic was necessary.
"Er... can we please see the menu?"
"No menu... just a tourist menu. 12,000 lira. Three courses. Spaghetti, ravioli, er, er, then roast beef, chicken or steak. Then sweets. 12,000 lira. Okay?"
"Okay. What to drink? Vino, beer?"
"I'll have wine... red," and turned to Wendy, "What do you want?"
Wendy didn't respond, her eyes fixed upon a napkin. "Look" she cried, her pointing finger shot past my nose.
There, half a meter from my left shoulder, was Perry and Robyn's napkin.
Wendy looked up at the waiter. "We came here because they told us to." Then she asked for an orange juice, and we made our choices of the three courses.
A minute later the waiter was back, placed an orange juice in front of Wendy and a 1.5L bottle of red wine and a glass in front of me. I couldn't believe this. "Half! Half!" the waiter said, and I relaxed.
The meal was excellent, a fine way of rounding out our Italian tour. My steak was superb and the wine was good, appropriate, and plentiful. We happily added our bit to the Walls of Napkins.
The next morning we finally caught up with that post-Mussalini Italian tradition of "Train timetable? What timetable?" Our final sampling of the Ferovie dello Stato was the only one to run late. On the other hand the first few hours of the journey, along the Italian west coast, was some of the best train travel we took during our two month Continental travel. At Genova our train turned inland. If the train hadn't been running late we would've had a few hours in which to catch a glimpse of Torino. As it was all we had was time for a quick meal before hopping onto the train bound for France.