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Tuesday, August 5, 1997

[Brian] This morning we bid Venice arrivederchi and drove to Pisa.

The last time I was in Pisa, the tower was easily accessible and in fact you could climb up the stairs inside to get a view of the city. This time was very different. The whole area around the tower is closed off and there are huge weights on the high side at the base (we estimated over 1,000,000 lbs). Clearly after taking a fairly cavalier attitude towards the tower's increasing lean for hundreds of year, there is suddenly a very real fear that the thing just might fall over.

What is interesting to me is that at the same time that the tower is in this state of unstable equilibrium physically, it is in a state of stable equilibrium economically. Physically the tower right now seems like a bottle balanced on the side of its base - there are physical forces that make it want to either return to a standing position or fall over. But economically either of these alternatives would be a disaster for Pisa and its tourist industry. From an economic point of view the most stable position for the tower is exactly the position it is in, and so there are (I'm sure) tremendous economic forces keeping the tower in exactly its current state of physical instability. (I'm sure the people working to save the tower are being told/incentivized to keep it from falling, but not to actually straighten it out.) Will dollars (or lire) conquer gravity? I'm sure it will, and no more fitting a place than where mankind first started to understand gravity, via Galileo's famous object-dropping experiments.

While waiting in vain for the tower to reach some state of stable physical equilibrium in our presence, we found a couple of 4-leaf clovers and took some goofy pictures.

As we were leaving Pisa, we caught a glimpse of that peculiar italian phenomenon: the rural prostitute. I haven't quite figured out the logic behind this, but the only two times I have seen prostitutes in Italy has been along country roads, where both times there have been a fair number of them in a 1 kilometer stretch. Maybe it's a zoning thing?

After that, we drove into Florence, and had an absolutely wonderful evening. I say it was wonderful not because Florence is a wonderful city (it looks like it is), but because tonight we were the guests of a charming Italian family - Pasqualino and Chao-Mi Assini, and their 2 year old daughter, Libera. The Assinis had us over to their house for an evening of delicious food and fun conversation - they were the perfect hosts. What makes the hospitality of the Assinis even more incredible to me is that they had never met us before tonight. Just before we left on our trip, I did a search on the web for email addresses of people that lived in cities that we would visit, chose a few of these, and sent these folks some email offering to take them out to dinner in exchange for a local perspective on the places we would visit. Pasqualino replied and accepted my offer to meet, but insisted on having us over to his house instead. It was very gracious of him and his family, and it was a very pleasant evening for us. I only hope that the Assinis will come to Seattle someday so that we can return the favor.


Libera, Pasqualino, and Chao-Mi