Wednesday, 16 March 2016

"Stockport, it's not exactly Pisa"

These were my opening words to Gill this morning. I guess, after 38 years of marriage, the quality of pillow talk inevitably declines. Even by my usually banal standards I do think I excelled myself today. However with the noon-day Easyjet Pisa to Manchester flight looming, followed inevitably by a slow trundle through the tawdry sprawl of south Mamchester thanks to the 199 'Skyline Express' then my sentiments may have been somewhat unromantic, but understandable.

We have used public transport a lot in Southern Europe. I don't ever recall having been at all disturbed or depressed by my fellow passengers. Back home, I know the day-time users of the 199 will be the old, the workless young and the bewildered. As today is 'Budget Day' the bus will achieve momentary topicality by resembling a non-works outing for George Osborne's losers. It would easy to feel a sense of superiority having jetted back from an extended trip around the Mediterranean, however, we too are stereotypical passengers; both our careers in the public services were brought to a somewhat early demise by Government austerity measures. Though as losers go, I realise we're really quite unconvincing.

So, back to Italy - after a night in the well appointed 'Camper Resort' on the Via Aurelia north of Piombino. it was a short bumpy ride up the SS1 to Pisa. There is a area camper a little beyond the city walls, basically a car park with electrical hook-up, but its good enough for a night. After the south Pisa felt prosperous, the outskirts modern and well designed. Within the walls, a kilometre or so from where we had parked, Pisa is a lovely old city. Even the tourist tat around the Tower fails to destroy the magic of 'The Field of Miracles'. Whereas some Pisan Gothic employs black and white striped marble as decoration, giving monuments a startling Liquorish Alsort look, the Duomo and Baptistery in Pisa itself features white and sea-green marbling which achieves a more subtle, and pleasing effect.

So we wandered about, stared at the sites, risked a slightly overpriced macchiata at a riverside cafe in a piazza containing a statue of Garibaldi. The sculpture managed to look effete and portly at the same time, a rare achievement only bettered in my experience by Russell Grant.

Away from the more obvious tourist traps, Pisa's old centre is basically a university town. I like university towns because they are full of young people. We played spot the hipster bar, easily identifiable by signage in English, distressed ill matched furniture, artisan beers and a long cocktail list. I like universities themselves, they are essentially optimistic concerns. Scholarship is one of the most important bulwarks we have against superstition. Depressingly there seem ever more people in the world convinced of the unique importance of their preferred imaginary being, and willing to kill anyone who disagrees. I am not so naive as to think that humanity is going to dispense anytime soon with its need for divine assistance. Perhaps though, we might accord deities equal rights, a UN Charter of Divine Rights that asserts that all gods are equally imaginary, so there is no competition, Then we could stop killing each other and put a bit more effort into saving the planet and eradicating poverty... Hmmm, perhaps I am naive after all.

So, homewards we go for three weeks. We  all survived scrutiny by the Easyjet handbag police, most of whom must appeared have had staunch supporters of Il Ducio as grandparents. Total respect goes to the young woman in front of us who secreted her transgressive hand luggage beneath the back of a voluminous poncho. I think she got away with it because the Gucci police assumed the bustle had made an unexpected fashion come-back. Now boarded, the PA has just squawked safety announcements in high speed Italian; I only understood two words, Brace! Brace! If we get to that stage we are all buggered anyway. Allegedly this side of the aircraft will get a good view of the Leaning Tower as we bank towards the sea. Maybe Gill in the window seat will get a photo....


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