Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004


One of the books I'm reading right now has turned out to be pretty interesting--Tilt -- A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa by Nicholas Shrady.

It's an interesting literary jaunt that hits the high points of the warring northern Italian republics, as well as the planning and construction of the campanile itself, and the workings of the seventeen different commissions that have been convened over the past 700 years to figure out how to keep the thing from tumping over. (The foundation was laid in 1173, the first commission was chartered in 1298 when it was still just seven stories high).

I'm only about halfway through--it's a breezy book with large type, but I always lie down to read it right before bed and it's hard to get anything finished when you can only read five minutes before falling to sleep--but it's a fun book and reasonably well-written. It doesn't go into a lot of technical or historical detail, but it's good for getting a good basic history. The book's also shaped funny--like a trapezoid. Which will make it mighty hard to shelve.

Anyway, if you don't want to have to go buy a hard-to-shelve book, there's plenty of stuff online (of course). Here is the PBS NOVA site from the show that aired in 1999; a pretty good article about the foundation work and restoration from the trade journal Permanent Buildings and Foundations; instructions for creating your own computer model; a very good, comprehensive, technical and photographic site; and best of all, a downloadable paper version from Canon you can use to build your own copy.

I visited Pisa back in 1988 as part of a quarter-long "Study Abroad" program when I was in school. The day we were there was gorgeous, mid-May and sunny. We did our walk-around of the tower and cathedral and baptistery, then set about to do some quick sketches. Anytime you sit down to draw in Italy, you also wind up drawing something else--a crowd of people seeing what you are drawing.

This was actually true wherever we went, and it was a bit disconcerting at first. Again, this was 1988--evil cowboy imperialist Ronald Reagan was in the White House plotting to annihilate Europe with nukes, and there was that bombing of Libya. Added to this was the slide of the dollar relative to all the then-still-in-use European currencies, and suddenly the only reason Americans had previously been politely tolerated--for their free-wheeling spending habits--had vanished.

So, we tried to be on our best behavior and keep a low profile, but the sudden appearance of a large crowd around you was a bit overwhelming at first. You didn't quite know if they were friendly, or were going to start jabbering at you in all those non-English words.

By the time we had gotten to Italy, though, most of us had pretty much overcome that initial skittishness, so I sat and scribbled and quickly was beset by a passel of schoolkids. I finished up, and after several gestures (that I took to be complimentary) from the kids around me, it was time for us to start back for the rest of our day's tour.

We didn't realize it, but we had come on some sort of Pisan holiday and as we started back toward the bus, a gigantic parade came swirling through, full of music and guys flinging flags while wearing doublets and hose. After doing some quick research just now, I assume that this was part of the festivities surrounding the Regatta of the Maritime Republics, but at the time, it was just pretty boys with flags. (Thankfully, it was also attended by incredibly-hot-looking girls in traditional costume. Rrrrowwwll. If you know what I mean.)

ANYwho, we also found out we weren't the only Americans there that day. As we stood there basking in the rich Eye-talian atmosphere, a dumpy fire-plug of a woman clambered up onto a stone bollard with her camera, took a couple of shots, then turned around and in a voice much like that of Estelle Costanza on Seinfeld, screeched out, "IRV!! IRRRRRV!! COME LOOK, IRV!! IRV!! IT'S A PARADE, IRV!!"

Sorta ruined the atmosphere.

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