(Copyright 2001)

And in an instant, she was a complete stranger to him. Her words were not those he had ever imagined coming from her mouth; even her lips looked different as they moved around the sounds. He stopped listening. It no longer mattered. He brushed past her and walked out of the room. He kept walking, traveling for over a year, wherever chance took him. But, eventually, since the world stubbornly refused to cease turning simply because his own universe had died, he stopped...

"Pardon us, may we share your table?"

The strong American accent made him look up quickly from his cup of coffee. Two elderly women were standing there, clutching cameras, handbags and ridiculously large straw hats. He indicated the two vacant chairs with his head.

"Feel free."

"Oh, you speak English. That's just great. We're not having much luck with our Italian."

The two women sat down. The one who had spoken introduced herself.

"I'm Margaret, and this is my sister Irene. We're over from the States for the summer. We're only in Pisa for this afternoon and it's taken us hours to finally find this place. But it looks just like it does in the movies, doesn't it?"

He followed her gaze to look out over the Campo dei Maracoli. Of course, your eyes were immediately drawn to the tower rising from the manicured expanse of lawn, but gradually you also began to notice the beautifully proportioned Duomo and the impressive Museo dell'Opera dei Duomo.

"I suppose it might," he said. "I've been coming here every day for a week, so I guess I've become used to it."

"Are you staying in Pisa, then?" asked Irene.

"Yes. For a while, at least," he replied.

"On holiday?"

"No, not really."

"We'd like to climb the tower, but I think it would be a bit too much for us," said Margaret. "What do you think? It really does lean quite a bit, doesn't it?"

"It is quite a climb," he agreed.

"But it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Irene.

"Yes," he said.

'Have you been up there?" asked Margaret

"Not this time. I was here about fifteen years ago, and I did it then."

"Were you on holiday that time?" she queried

"Yes. I was on my honeymoon."

Oh, how romantic," exclaimed Margaret.

"Yes," he said.

"Is you wife with you this time?"


"It says here," Irene informed them, reading from a tourist guidebook she had pulled from her handbag, "that the tower was finished in 1360 and had begun leaning even before they finished it."

"Makes you wonder why they kept on building, doesn't it?" said Margaret.

"It's original purpose was as a bell tower," continued Irene. "Galileo was said to have conducted his famous experiments from the top or the tower. Fancy that."

"Who would have thought that a construction mistake could have become such a tourist attraction?" said Margaret. "Back in the States, we would have just pulled it down and built it over right."

He smiled at the American woman's pragmatism. "The doorman at my hotel told me he thinks of it as a metaphor for life," he said

"Sorry?" said Irene, with a puzzled expression on her face.

"The Campo dei Maracoli," he said. "It's a metaphor for life. The Duomo is a place of baptism - it signifies your birth; the Museo dell'Opera dei Duomo is a museum where, in your old age, you store all your precious memories; and just north of the Campo is the Camposanto, the cemetery where the road ends for us all."

"And the Leaning Tower?" asked Irene.

"It's everything in between birth and death. We start out trying to build our life straight, but unseen factors beyond our control soon begin to make things tilt. Still, we continue until we reach the top. There we stand, not quite as we intended, yet not quite past the point where it all comes crashing down. After a while, we just accept the tilt for what it is and get on with life."

The two Americans sat looking at him for a moment.

"The doormen here seem very different from those back home," Margaret said at last.

He smiled and nodded, then stood up, taking a two-hundred lire note out of his wallet and placing it under the saucer of his empty coffee cup.

"Well, I hope you enjoy your stay," he said.

"We will. It's been nice talking to you."

He walked across the Campo dei Maracoli to the Tower, his feet crunching on the gravel pathways. He stood at the base, looking up at the stonework columns and arches for a few moments, before he turned away and began the short stroll back to his hotel to pack. It was time to go home.