In the 1920s, Robert Ilg, owner of the Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company of Chicago, opened a park – Ilgair Park – in Niles. Soon after the park opened, he added two swimming pools for his employees; however, he didn’t want to completely ruin the area’s natural beauty.
So as to disguise the water towers, he decided to build a half-sized replica – in other words, 94 feet high, 28 feet in diameter, and leaning 7.4. feet – of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Bronze bells were even imported from 17th and 18th century churches in Italy. Construction began in 1931, and finished three years later.
In 1960, part of Ilgair Park was donated for the construction of the Leaning Tower YMCA, with the understanding that the YMCA would pay a small amount annually for the upkeep of the tower.
In 1991, Niles formed a sister city relationship with Pisa, Italy, and in 1997, the Leaning Tower Plaza was dedicated in the park, replete with four fountains and a reflecting pool. Notably, the Leaning Tower of Niles was designated a National Historic Landmark earlier this year, a first for Niles.
But, how does it compare with the Italian original, which was started in 1173 and completed in 1370?
For starters, a lot less tourists. But I’ve gotta give Italy the edge for pizza;)
The first time I went to Bali, way back in 2005, I was a much different traveler. Having just visited a few countries at that time made me nervous about solo travel, and coupled with that, fearful of taking rides at airports, especially after a disorienting flight. So visceral was my anxiety that instead of taking the hotel shuttle to Jimbaran, I walked for about 2+ hours at night, wheeling two suitcases in that exhausting tropical humidity. This was also before mobile phones could show you where you were, so I was working off of rapidly disintegrating printed maps to get to the hotel.
What does that have to do with Balinese Hinduism? Nothing…except that I probably accidentally tripped over more than a few of the ubiquitous canang sari along the way.
What exactly is canang sari? Loosely translated as essence (sari) in a palm frond tray (canang, pronounced cha-nang), canang sari are offerings to local gods left daily by Balinese women, typically in the early morning or around dusk. Depending on the ritual and importance of that day, they may either small or grandiose, and will be filled with flowers, herbs, food, money, and incense.
Canang sari are strategically placed by entrances to family compounds, altars, temples, in addition to restaurants, hotels, and other structures. Chiefly, canang sari show to the deities the time spent by each family in making them, to keep the good and bad balanced, and as a thanks for keeping the family harmonious.
Vishnu, the preserver, represented by a red betel nut
Brahma, the creator, represented by a green gambier leaf
On top of the canang sari are flowers dedicated to sincerity and love, placed in specific cardinal directions:
White petals for Ishvara, supreme lord/personal god, pointing East
Red petals for Brahma, pointing South
Yellow petals for Shiva, pointing West
Blue/Green petals for Vishnu, pointing North
Once that incense fizzles out, however, you might notice some local fauna nibbling away at canang sari. According to tradition, as long as there’s no more incense to be burned, it’s totally ok to do so…not that the animals know anyway!