The train arrived in Pisa at about 2:00 noon. Fratelli was glad to set his feet on the ground as he stepped off the train and onto an ornate, platform. Gianni followed, stretching his legs awkwardly strutting like a rooster. Jan and Mario said nothing. They simply carried the cardinal’s bags, directing him into town.
This section of Pisa sat right next to the coast. Well within sight, the ocean’s crystal blue waters glittered and stretched endlessly towards the horizon. Gianni gaped.
He then turned, yanking on Fratelli’s sleeve,
“Can I go swimming, please?” he begged.
“We’ll see. First we must be settled in,” Fratelli answered.
The cardinal strolled, ducking his head somewhat, trying look inconspicuous and failing because of his scarlet garb. Several people stopped, bowed and greeted him. One woman ran up to him, asking advice about her children. Gianni laughed, seeing Fratelli caught off guard, stumbling over his words. After the woman left, he quickly darted towards the palatial hotel, which was near the capitol hall and reserved for esteemed visitors. More people greeted him, some polite talk was exchanged and finally, Fratelli was lead to his room where immediately, he shooed Gianni away and shut the door behind him. Outside, Mario and Jan exchanged glances then shrugged. Gianni, seeing he couldn’t open the door, insisted on something to eat. It sounded just about right.
Sighing with profound relief, hearing no sound but faint birds’ chirping and tree limbs rusting in the wind, Fratelli sat down in a nice chair by the window. He felt all the weight of his ecclesiastical duties leaving him, slowly dripping away...Vacation… Sunshine flowed in, touching his face, bringing a smile.
“Thank you, O Lord,” he whispered.
Fratelli quietly unpacked and changed into a black suit accented with red buttons, black trousers, tall, red stockings and black shoes. When he emerged from his room, the others looked up from eating and Gianni gawked.
“You’re wearing pants!” he blurted out.
“Well, I am on vacation.”
He approached their dining table and sat for some time, eating some hearty soup, cheese, bread and rolled up prosciutto. Finishing with a small glass of sweet red wine, he glanced at the window, at bright sun beaming down and cheerful city buildings. Beneath the table, he shuffled his feet, anxious to get outside. Finally, Fratelli rose and set off down the hallway. Mario followed close behind. Gianni scampered after but Jan held him back.
“Want to go swimming?” he suggested, hoping to distract him
It worked, for the boy’s eyes lit up and a smile widened on his rosy lips.
“Yes, yes, let’s go!”
Grabbing Gianni’s bag, they left.
Hearing Mario’s soft footfalls behind him, Fratelli walked outside and squinted in bright sunlight. A fine Mediterranean breeze swept over him, cooling his head. Although Mario clutched a broad- rimmed, black hat with red cords, Fratelli didn’t feel any use for it. He enjoyed cool wind against his hair. Closing his eyes and smiling, Fratelli headed towards the coastline. People in large crowds gathered there, some children playing, lovers strolling hand-in-hand, families picnicking and groups of women swimming in long, white dresses. Best of all, they ignored Fratelli as he made his way through.
Deep green foam lapped the sandy shore ahead of him. Removing his shoes and carefully rolling down his socks, the cardinal carefully placed them on the sand well away from the water. He then walked forth, dipped one foot into the cold water as Mario distantly watched. He giggled boyishly then strolled bare foot on the wet sand. He dared not enter the water, making sure he remained dry from the ankles up. When this brief reverie had ended, Fratelli recovered his shoes and socks then put them back on. Appearing dignified as ever, he marched back between two palm trees where an iron-wrought bench waited and sat.
He watched the bustle around him. A small boy bumbled on the pathway, holding a red balloon in his hand. It bobbed upwards but did not escape that little, tightly clutched hand. His mother hurried behind him. Growing rather restless himself, Fratelli rose and began walking.
He covered about a mile before passing a second bench where several young ladies in summer dresses congregated. The one who stood closest to him idly twirled a pale, blue parasol. She called out to him as he passed.
“Yes, do you need something?” Fratelli asked.
She just laughed, smiling coquettishly, staring at him. He stared back, attentive to her dark eyelashes and vivid eyes…green like a ripe vine. Now, as he was staring, Fratelli didn’t realize he still walked. He swerved off the pathway and collided face-first into a palm tree! More laughing.
Utterly embarrassed at being distracted so badly- and easily, Fratelli darted away. Once far down the path, he took his hat from Mario and pulled it over his eyes, feeling somewhat ashamed. Certainly seeing Pisa’s grand cathedral would take his mind off of this…
A long walk from the beach, rested Pisa’s sprawling Piazza Dei Miracoli, called “The Square of Miracles”. It indeed looked miraculous, as something fashioned by the hand of God. Standing at the center, tall and casting a stout shadow, was the cathedral. Strangely, unlike every other cathedral, this one had its bell-tower standing separately off to the left. And unlike any other bell-tower, Fratelli had ever seen, this one leaned peculiarly, as if it were ready to come crashing down- yet stayed in place. This leaning tower reminded him almost of himself, stately, stern but a little off. Coming around to the cathedral’s front, he gazed up at its pearly, white façade. He realized then, he must go inside.
Soft light bounced off the cathedral’s coffered ceiling as Fratelli strolled in, quietly, carefully, his footsteps making scarce a sound. Sheer beauty surrounded him. This cathedral appeared new while the one in Lucca seemed old and dusty. Fratelli had tried time and time again to remove that dustiness and by then, grew used to it. However, he couldn’t get used to these ornate and spotless surroundings. Approaching the high pulpit and the main altar, he held in his breath, afraid that should he breathe too hard, someone would rush upon him. But no one was even there.
Suddenly, Fratelli’s eyes fell to the left, on a small but elaborate side-altar hewn of pink marble and white porphyry. A thin ray of sun illuminated the face of St Joseph’s stone statue, beckoning Fratelli for a closer look. Such a kindly, paternal face…it was beautiful, the most beautiful altar he’d ever seen. He drew up to it and laid a hand on the cold, stone surface. Then immediately, he knelt.
“O Lord, I thank you for this silent time in your presence. Please strengthen me during this vacation…oh, and please forgive me for being distracted by that woman…I am sincerely sorry, having not guarding myself, for you created their eyes to be very beautiful. Why did you make them so beautiful? Well, Lord, I feel grateful that I am here in one piece. Thank you for this altar and if I may return the following morning, I would wish to say Mass here…”
Heavy footfalls interrupted his thoughts. Hastily, he concluded:
“Holy Saint Joseph, custodian of the Most Holy Christ-child, please pray for me.”
“Holy Saint Joseph, custodian of the Most Holy Christ-child, please pray for me.”
Standing and tracing a cross over his chest, Fratelli faced a heavyset, grey-haired man. He had a small beard and wore draping, purple robes with a matching skullcap. A golden cross glittered around his neck.
“Well, you must be His Eminence, Cardinal Fratelli. Hello!” he said boisterously, opening his arms as if to embrace Fratelli.
When Fratelli awkwardly remained, frozen in place, the man put down his arms. He wondered about Fratelli’s lack of openness then stated:
“I am Rodolfo Fierri, the Archbishop of Pisa!”
Smiling, Fratelli let the archbishop embrace him and heartily pat his back, like a big brother would. Coughing, Fratelli withdrew, nervously folding his hands.
“I heard you were coming here to Pisa,” Rodolfo continued, “I knew it was you…I just knew it!”
Fratelli scratched his chin. Did the entire world know that he was on vacation?
“It is very pleasant to meet you as well, Your Excellency,” he then replied.
“Come, come, enough talk, let me show you around,” the archbishop exclaimed, putting one hand congenially on Fratelli’s shoulder.
Leisurely, they dallied about the vast cathedral, exploring this or that nook and cranny, this statue, that painting and of course, the wonderful side altars. As noon light began to fade, withdrawing from the windows, Rodolfo invited Fratelli inside his home to dine.
“I apologize, I must be back with my own company,” the cardinal said.
Rodolfo understood, nodding and smiling. Fratelli gave a respectful farewell then turned to leave. He suddenly stopped halfway down the cathedral’s long aisle and asked:
“If I could acquire a breviary for temporary use, it would be splendid.”
His voice echoed through the vaulted interior. He covered his mouth, not realizing how loudly it had carried. However, Rodolfo remained unperturbed, friendly as ever, grinning ear-to-ear. His reply resounded back:
“Of course, anything for you Cardinal Fratelli!”
~ ~ ~
It was evening, around 5 O’clock when Fratelli returned to the palace hotel. Coming into his room, setting his borrowed breviary on a nearby stand, the first thing he heard was Gianni’s shrill exclamation:
“Wow, look at all this food!”
Indeed, the dining table was strewn with stewed clams in tomato sauce, crab-legs swimming in garlic butter and a roasted hen on a bed of bright, green vegetables. Two elegantly-clad servers waited for Fratelli and seeing him emerge, they bowed reverently, took his hat, and seated him. Gianni’s hand quivered, reaching for one of the crabs when Jan stopped him.
“You know we give the blessing first…” he said.
“Oh hurry- please hurry!” Gianni moaned.
Fratelli laughed, seeing the boy’s anticipation. He stood, lifted his hands and pronounced God’s blessing over the food. Soon as the word “amen” was spoken, Gianni descended upon the food like a starving fox. Fratelli winced, reminding him about good manners.
The fare tasted delightful, Fratelli acknowledged, biting into a piece of tender chicken. It nearly melted in his mouth. He also sampled all of the seafood and savored it. They drank dry white wine, which perfectly complimented the hearty flavor of the clams. Fratelli smiled. His vacation was finally beginning to feel like a vacation.