Over the years, I’ve learned it is best not to be too judgmental of the decisions others make, as life takes us all in unexpected directions and it is hard to anticipate one’s reaction to a given situation until the waves of change are crashing. There was a time when I would have put money on the fact that I would never have a tattoo. I now have three, and can’t promise a fourth isn’t waiting in the wings. At one point in my life, I would have rambled on about how a bad haircut isn’t that big of a deal; it’s just hair after all. It grows out. Then, I joined Peace Corps, moved to western China and had a hairstylist who swore he had worked on blonde hair before bleach my head a glowing white. I wasn’t nearly as stoic about bad hair decisions as I had thought I would be.
But, over dinner at an outdoor café in Florence, Thad and I pinky swore that on our trip to Pisa the next day, there would be absolutely no “holding the tower up” shots. It’s overdone. It’s not unique. It’s a bit ridiculous.
Apparently, we were the *only* ones who felt this way.
From the time we stepped foot on the piazza that holds the Church of Miracles and the Leaning Tower, we were surrounding by tourists, posing in the infamous “holding the tower up” shot. They lined the walkway leading to the tower. They surrounded the tower, some holding it up and other pushing it over. They even clamored over the chains, bypassing the signs that said “stay off the grass” to get their coveted shot. And while we weren’t after the in-demand camera angle that was so desired, Thad did have a great time documenting the tourists-turned-architectural bulwarks.
And then came the moment that I swore would never come. I did the shot.
Now, before you chuckle and think me a hypocrite for giggling at everyone else, I must say that my circumstances were very different, not in the least because I am holding the tower up from the *inside.* You see, I have this terrible fear of heights, which only seems to worsen with age. (Is it the knowledge of my own mortality that pushes me farther into the world of acrophobia or merely my own wimpiness gaining ground?) The Leaning Tower of Pisa is tall (although not as tall as the Duomo in Florence, which I mostly scaled the day before) and once inside, the lean is felt much more prominently than I expected. As we curled up and around the inside walls of the tower, gaining height with each tilting step, my heart raced faster and faster. I quickly skittered by the cell-like windows that occasionally popped up along the wall, not needing a confirmation of my ever-growing distance from the ground below. Finally, we popped out on a platform, where I was happy to know I’d at least reached the pinnacle of my ascent, only to be told to keep moving by the guard, on what is apparently just an external landing, with the top of the tower still being several more flights of steps above. This last stretch of stairway was tighter than before and now that I had glimpsed the outside world, I was ready to be done. But, with just a few more stairs to go, I couldn’t turn away and head back down, even though the voice in my head was screaming at me to do just that. While I wasn’t quite ready to bail on the whole operation, I was definitely feeling the fear building, so when Thad, who was behind me and yielding the camera, told me to stop and turn for a photo, there was no way I could do that without something to hold on to, but with no handrails in sight, that meant using the wall to steady myself.
Which, as it turns out, looks exactly like I am doing the “hold up the tower” pose!
I’m not! I may have a few tattoos and care about my hair more than I had previously thought, but I did not, I repeat, DID NOT do the “holding up the tower” pose!
So, once again, it appears my jump to judgment betrays me yet another time. I didn’t intend to do it. I swore I wouldn’t do it. In the end, I kinda’ did it.
*Photo credit: Most photos are courtesy of Thad Ross