Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy. Right now, we're in Pisa, visiting the Leaning Tower.
After we had listened to music happening in the baptistery of the Pisa Duomo, we went and climbed the infamous leaning bell tower. The lean has been stabilized – at great effort and expense – and today you can climb it all the way up to the top. The climb is a deeply enjoyable head trip. The lean of the tower is only four degrees from vertical, but four degrees from vertical raised sixty meters in the air can feel like some considerable angular displacement – almost four meters. Go check your trigonometry.
A spiral staircase around the perimeter of the tower climbs sixty meters to the top, housed in a stone shell between the inner and outer walls. There are a few narrow windows here and there, but almost all of your orientation comes from your inner ear. Part of the time you’re climbing uphill, and part of the time you’re almost walking flat, and part of the time the stairs are twice as tall as they should be, and ALL of the times that you pass a window, the view is just plain WRONG. Sort of stomach-dropping, and inductive to manic giggles. XXXX
XXXXAt the top of the tower, the stairs pop into open air and you circle the sloping tower on a narrow walkway with only a metal mesh between yourself and the view. There was a breeze at the top of the tower – a soft, cool, gentle wind that would certainly pick you up and toss you against the mesh, and the mesh would burst and you would blow outward and fall -
“It's strong, see?" Mr Tabubil said, leaning on it – leaning out and leaning DOWN. "Made of steel!"
I burst into tears. I don’t do heights, and I do depths even less than I do heights, and when the depths are more than fifty meters deep and you’re leaning toward them on a slippery stone ledge that doesn’t stay flat like any respectable stone ledge fifty meters in the air –
About when I was ready to release my death-grip from the door-frame, we popped back inside the tower to climb another thirty-six steps up another weirdly sloping stone shaft up to the very top where the bells were.
“Steel.” Mr Tabubil urged. “Strong as houses. I’m an engineer. I know these things. Would I lie to you?”
I believed him implicitly, but my stomach wasn’t hearing it. I wanted to do a circuit of the roof sitting flat on my bottom and sort of scooting around with my back pressed tight against the tower wall. And to look at the view with my eyes closed.
But I did it. Slowly, and stiffly, but on my very own two feet and with my eyes wide open. It took some time; most of our group was half-way back down to the ground level by the time that I was half-way around the top. But I did do it, and even I stopped to admire the view. On the uphill side. On the downhill side, I moved faster and I may have cried again. Just a little.
Back on the ground, I fell asleep on the grass, and Mr Tabubil took photographs of people taking photographs of other people pretending to hold up the tower. Out of context, it makes for MARVELOUS family photos.