I’m lying in bed in our hotel room at the Royal Victoria Hotel on the banks of the Arno River in Pisa (as in Leaning Tower of). It’s a grand, spacious old hotel, with wide staircases and terraces with potted plants on them and multicolored marble floors.
It’s advertised in the guidebooks as a prime example of old-world luxury, which so far seems to be another way of saying a complete lack of modern conveniences.
It’s a miracle that I’m even coherent, let alone in a cheerful mood, since we got almost no sleep last night. It was difficult to figure out exactly what was going on outside our window until five AM, but I think I finally hit upon the most plausible explanation.
At first, I thought it was a continuation of what was going on when we arrived yesterday afternoon. We got off the train from Siena at about four or so, and hailed a taxi, but the driver threw out his arms in that very Italian way and said, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t take you there. The streets are closed because of the manifestazione.” We assumed it was a political demonstration, but as we walked to our hotel (quite a pleasant walk, actually, since there was no traffic), we saw people with megaphones exhorting the passersby to do more exercise. There were small basketball courts set up along the main street and a huge number of stationary bicycles in a roped-off area, with loud, pounding rock music. We were forced to conclude that in spite of their ravishing beauty, Italian youths are not really into exercise (and maybe they eat too much chocolate!), and the government is trying to change that.
Anyway, back to last night. There was a dull roar outside our window that went on into the wee hours. From the sheer volume, I knew there had to be, at a minimum, two or three thousand people down in the street. Finally, at about three AM, I hit on the most logical explanation. I had learned the day before that Pisa was an old Roman town. Bingo! What was going on outside had to be a modern version of gladiatorial combat, with successive roars of applause and delirious bloodthirsty shouts punctuating the demise of each new Christian.
Last night I ate pigeon for the first time, and it was really good. The tiny, dismembered body was so small, smaller than a quail, and the meat was firm, dense, chewy and dark. Reminiscent of duck.
It was served with a yummy sweet and sour sauce and pieces of fruit, apples, strawberries and prunes. As I savored every bite, I tried not to think about what this tiny bird had been nourished on. Cookie crumbs, peanut shells, old pizza crusts. . .God only knows what else. Rick said it probably wasn’t the garden variety of pigeon, but I’ll bet it was. In fact, I’ve decided this could be an innovative solution to the problem of “flying rats,” as I’ve heard them called in New York City. Instead of poisoning them, cook them and serve them up as a gourmet delicacy! It would be a form of recycling: we feed the pigeons our garbage, and then we eat them.
After breakfast, we’re going to see—you guessed it—the Leaning Tower! More on that next week.