By Aurelia Dochnal '19
18:23 - Breathing in the Arno and breathing out pure joy, our team of ten students bravely lines up, Infernos in hand. Sasha crouches underneath with the microphone and Alex, camera in hand, gives the cue. We recite our ten lines calmly, getting them almost perfect. Loud Florentines pass right in front of the frustrated director, creating golden bloopers. After a few (hundred) retakes, the video is ready, and our trembling voices will merge in Italian and English to recreate the thirteenth Canto from memory as a class.
Our brave team at work
Arno in the afternoon
Next came a visit to the peaceful church where Dante married Gemma Donati. Known as the church of love, the atmosphere is one of perfect calm and worship. We are then free to find the “best gelateria in Florence.” We learn to never make the rookie mistake of going for the first one we see and devote a good hour and a half to the search. Needless to say, it was worth it.
Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi
10:07 - A cloud furls around the Santa Croce, the air hangs still. A piercing violin resounds over the chatter of people. I feel the stony gaze of Dante Alighieri on my back when we stop by his monument in the square. Awed, we stare at his seemingly all-knowing self. Continuing, we stroll down the cobbled alley, trying to keep up with Dr. Love’s pace. The voice of a passionate Florentine echoes as we turn the corner to Dante’s house, and as we come into the courtyard, we see… Dante. He looks like him—face painted white, characteristic nose, famous red robe—and his fervent voice recounts the thirteenth Canto of Inferno, which he knows by heart. In fact, he knows all 14,233 lines of the Divine Comedy.
After a total of six kilometers of walking (in just three hours), we sit down to get a sandwich at the iconic Ai Fratellini. Munching pecorino, mortadella, and black truffles, we rest our legs. We walk on to Santa Maria Novella, imposing its treasure-filled marbled presence on us, meager humans. A quick stop, admiring the Annunciation and small Botticelli, and we are off again for our modern adaptation workshop. We are assigned to write a modern adaptation of one of the Cantos in the Inferno.
This is a poetic experience. With our newly connected group, we sit down in Cafe Niccolini, which is like a travel back in time. The elderly cafe master is the only person there, and he walks up and down the counter, serving, cleaning, muttering to himself. We sit in silence, writing our adaptations, brainstorming, and creating. Dr. Love helps us in our muddled ideas and gives a pointing word here and there.
After dinner, we go to see Dan Brown’s Inferno screening at Cinema Teatro Odeon. It’s by complete chance that a Dante-related movie is being shown at what is in my opinion the most beautiful cinema in Europe. It’s not by complete chance, however, that we now call Dr. Love Professor Langdon sometimes.
11:06 - With the sunny morning devoted to exploring the Santa Croce (which holds the tombs of Michelangelo and Rossini, among others), we visit the Battistero. While disappointed we didn’t find a mask of Dante in the baptismal font, at least we could enjoy the golden mosaics that made up the ceiling. This ceiling was key to me in my study of Dante, as it gave me insight into his world and why his works are structured in such a way, especially his design of Inferno. We then climb to the top of the Duomo. Now this indeed is not an easy feat, but the rewards are huge. The view is breathtaking in all senses of the world, and not for the weak-kneed.
Our chaperones: “Dottore Amore” and “The Feds”
18:26 - The same day, we visit the Uffizi with one of the best guides I have ever seen. She is energetic, which makes us all excited about the tour in the first place. When we enter the treasure chest that is the Uffizi, our eyes are as big as plates. There is no better place for Dante scholars to learn about his past and his Florence.
16:43 - After a visit to the delicious indoor food market, we went for a hike up to San Miniato, the incredible church overlooking Florence. It is over 1000 years old and where Dante used to go to study and think in peace. The unforgettable atmosphere was everywhere.
The Pilgrims outside of San Miniato al Monte
Our poor, tired legs are worked to their maximum as we search for the enigmatic clues left to us by Dr. Love. The class is sent for a Dante-themed scavenger hunt, and one of the clues is “Dante’s font.” Little did we know this meant his baptismal font, not the font in which he wrote! The only Pilgrims who understood the obscurity were Mr. McKee’s little girls, Delaney and Greer.
19:56 - On the train back to Lugano. We are due to arrive after 21:00. I sit looking out of the train window and reflect on our journey.
The purpose Dante felt when writing the Inferno was to give future generations an understanding of their souls, the journeys they must undertake to explore their darkest parts, and the difficulties yet ultimate rewards of those journeys. However, in order to fully understand the Divine Comedy we must understand Dante himself: his times, his story. Florence, for him, had a significance incomprehensible in our times: he felt connected to it, it was a “mother” to him. On our visit to Florence, I could visualize this. I could feel the heartbeat of the city, in a way that reading about it I never could have. And I realize this now, after having completed the Inferno with my Honors World Literature class.
We get off the train and I look around me: Lugano’s traffic and its familiar lake with the ripples filled with streetlight. On first glance, it could not be more different from Florence, but when you listen to its heartbeat, you see all hearts are the same.