Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > A Pisa This a Pisa That

A Pisa This a Pisa That

Dave the Writer“A toast,” I said, raising my glass of Chianti toward my bride sitting across the small table at a sidewalk cafe. She raised hers for a satisfying, gentle ‘ting’ and we both took a relaxing, well-earned sip.

We sat in the pleasant late-afternoon sunshine just outside the north entrance to Pisa’s magnificent Campo di Miracoli, site of the famous Leaning Tower, and the lovely Duomo with its beautiful acoustical wonder of a Baptistery. The sun was sending its clear, golden rays low across the Campo, making a show of that marvelous, incomparable Italian light. We could both truly say it had been a fantastic first visit to Pisa.

Tired in the second best possible way, we had just begun to relive our day via relaxed conversation when that Nigerian Prince who’d sent us so many emails a few years before came over to see how we were.

(Click here for a larger image)

He was just as we’d pictured him: tall, slender and handsome with broad shoulders and jet-black skin. But, it seemed that he was still down on his luck. His parka, sweater and jeans looked quite worn, though clean and neatly mended. Before we could react, he began his patter in the best Pisan tradition.

You may know that in the Middle Ages, Pisa gave Venice and Genoa quite a run for their money at creating a trading empire along the coasts of Byzantium and the Muslim east. The relentless, smiling, hard-sell was one of their specialties. So, the young Prince fit right in to a centuries-long pattern of Pisan merchantry.

In similar situations, when my bride and I are focused on our explorations, we most often make a polite wave away, saying, “No, grazie,” to street vendors who put themselves in our path. But, for some reason, we were both intrigued and pleasantly amused. We had nowhere to be for a while, so we let him proceed. I think it was a combination of our happy fatigue after 10 hours on our feet and the unique air of earnest sincerity that seemed to underlie his pitch. Our talk went something like this:

“No, we aren’t interested in a large, carved elephant, but where are you from?

“I don’t think a small wicker shield with a jagged red and yellow painted pattern would really go with our décor, but how long have you been in Italy?

“The little drum is nice, but our grandchildren make their presence known quite well already, thank you. Do you have any family here in Italy?”

And so on. Still giving no buying indication, we asked him to sit with us and have a glass of wine. At that, he looked around a bit nervously—apparently for his ‘supervisor’—and began to gather his wares back into the two large, black plastic sacks that he’d set down at the start of his spiel. His whole demeanor had shifted a bit.

(Click here for a larger image)

Most young guys of his ilk who we’ve met in Europe communicate strong negatives through their body language, regardless of their words or apparent smiles. This guy was different. He’d done his best, and now he might get in trouble for us taking too much of his time. So, as he reached for his re-filled bags, I passed him a folded five euro note in my palm as I took his hand and shook it to say farewell.

His eyes widened in surprise for just a second, and then the smile we’d first seen returned. He nodded and walked off to entreat a Canadian couple (maple leaf ball cap and a hockey t-shirt) with his irresistible offerings.

You will always find something interesting around the Campo when the sun is low in the sky, the wave of visitors begins to head home and the vendors have their last chance to sell a piece of Pisa.

Arrivederci, Prince. May things go well for you.

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