To Hell & Back With Dante: My Trip to Italy May 2007

Life is Language. Language is Life.
These were just a few of the words that made up my days in Italy from May 13th through the 23rd, 2007.


St. Francis of Assisi....Middle Ages...The Castles...Tuscany...the Feudal world...Plato


We travelled through the Inferno passed along Purgatorio and ended in Paradiso. Virgil helped us along the way and Beatrice was also our guide. We highlighted and underlined our texts and compared and contrasted the many translations from the original Italian into English. We even shared some pastry and champagne as we sang Happy Birthday to Dante on the 21st of May.

Our First Discourse...Under the Tuscan Sun

And we studied here, there and everywhere.


In 1972 I was a Junior at Syracuse University and I had the good fortune to spend my second semester abroad in Florence. I lived with two different Italian families and learned the language well enough to impress my parents when they came to visit. It was definitely one of those defining times of my life. The Duomo, from the start was my anchor in Florence. No matter where I was, I would eventually find my way by sighting the great Duomo of the Florence Cathedral. I viewed it from afar and up close and explored it inside and out. I stood upon it's steps.......

Standing on the Duomo steps with my father and my mother............



And then, there's the one the day I was leaving Florence for Greece and a stint on a Kibbutz in Israel.....


Little did I know that it would be 35 years before I would return to Florence, but return I did.....




We not only studied about Dante, The Divine Comedy and Medieval Italy, but we walked it's streets and saw much of what Dante wrote about and the places that made up his life in Florence. As we walked his streets we saw where the petty family battles took place, petty battles that ended with death and bloodshed and we read Dante's poetic words in Italian and English.

In 1215 in Florence Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti is betrothed to Miss Amidei but breaks his commitment in order to marry the daughter of another family, Donati.

Breaking the commitment so enraged the Amidie Family and those alligned with them, they concluded the only vengence equal to the betrayal was to murder Buondelmonti and thus it was done. This murder divided the whole city and essentially became the cause and beginning of the Guelf (Buondelmonte) and the Ghibellines (Uberti and Amidei and others) and the warring between the two factions.
“But Florence in her final peace was fated to offer up - unto that mutilated stone guardian upon her bridge -- a victim.” Paradisio Canto 26 Lines 143-147.

“I answered: Where the lovely Arno flows, there I was born and raised, in the great city.” Inferno Canto 23, lines 94-95.

“The house of Amidei, with which your sorrows began--by reason of its just resentment, which ruined you and ended years of gladness--was honored then, as were its close companions.” Paradioio Canto 16, Lines 136-139



Of course one can't be in Italy for a day, no less ten days, without eating and drinking and drinking and eating and did I mention eating and drinking??

Eating and drinking in Italy is an art form and must be taken very seriously.



On our way to San Miniato al Monte we passed through beautiful gardens and climbed up to the magnificent cathedral where we heard the Gregorian Chanting of the Benedictine Monks. There were views of the Duomo and other sections of the city that were all picture perfect

San Miniato

The green dome is the Florence Synagogue


We spent a day in Sienna

Our American guide, getting her PH.D. in Italian in Italy, was Kristin, bright, perky, pretty and the perfect person to explain to us all about the Siennese custom around the event called Il Palio.

"Piazza del Campo" is still used today for the well known Palio horse race which is one of the most famous popular Italian manifestations. It takes place every year on July 2 and August 16. The Palio is run to celebrate the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary near the old houses that belonged to Provenzano Salvani. The holy apparition was therefore called "Madonna di Provenzano" in whose honour the very first Palio was run on August 16, 1656. The Palio was run for the first time in 1701 in honour of the "Madonna dell'Assunta" the patroness and Advocate of Sienna through all the tragic events since she protected the Sienese militia at the famous battle of Monteaperti on September 4, 1260, against the Florentines.

The Palio is a historical secular tradition strictly connected with the origin of the Contradas of Siena (districts into which the town is divided). The Contradas are spectacular agonistic institutions each having their own government, oratory, coat of arms, appellations, sometimes titles of nobility, emblems and colours, official representatives, festivities, patron Saints, with protectors, delimited territories and population which consist of all those people who were born or live within the topographic limits of the district, according to the proclamation issued by Violante Beatrice of Bavaria on January 7, 1730, at that time, Governess of the town.Originally, there were about fifty-nine "Contrade"; now only seventeen remain, ten of which take part in the historical pageant and in the race at each Palio (seven by right and three drawn by lots).Here is a list of their names, emblems and colours grouped into "Terzi" or "Terzieri" (in olden times the town was divided into three sections called: "Terziere di Città", "Terziere di San Martino" and "Terziere di Camollia"

Kristin, our guide, though American, is actually a full fledged member of one of the 17 remaining Contradas and hers is called ONDA (Wave) a swimming dolphin wearing a crown. White and blue. Kristin is totally serious about this. She is in Sienna when Il Palio takes place and she is as fully consumed by it as any full blooded Italian. It happened that the day we were there in Sienna, a baby was born to one of the families in the ONDA Contrada. This is not a small event in Sienna. Everything stopped. Kristin and the "keeper of the ONDA church" hung a banner, rang the bells and produced a lovely certificate in the baby and family's honor. Take a look. It was crazy!

And Another Day in Assisi

"A Simple Prayer"

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred...let me sow love.

Where there is injury...pardon.

Where there is discord...unity.

Where there is doubt...faith.

Where there is error...truth.

Where there is despair...hope.

Where there is sadness...joy.

Where there is darkness...light!

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:

To be consoled...as to console.

To be understood...as to understand.

To be loved...as to love.


It is in giving...that we receive.

It is in pardoning...that we are pardoned.

It is in dying...that we are born to eternal life.

st. francis of assisi


Ann, Sherril, Suzanne, Mary Jane, Ruth, Paul, Lois, Jan, Steve, Tom, Sean....Kristin, Lucca, Fabrizio...Chula...Donato, Gianni, Sister Agnese Hatchison


There's just one more thing I must mention. If you are familiar with my blog, you may remember my particular affinity for the movie, The Enchanted April and that in fact it is also a fantasy of mine. Well, this adventure, though not exactly the manifestation of Enchanted April, it came very close.

After our 7 days in Florence, with our stints to Assisi and Sienna, we spent the last four nights in Fiesole, which is in the hills above Florence. We stayed at Pensione Bencista. The pensione and its environs were for me, what I believe was the closest I will ever get to my Enchanted April fantasy. As I sat on the terrace and looked out, I saw the gradually sloping Tuscan hills with Cedars of Lebanon and olive trees lining the valley from Fiesole to Florence. I heard bells chiming in the distance that were in concert with the birdsong, not to be outdone by the distant barking of a dog. Dotted in amongst the trees and myriad of greens, from deep forest to a pale yellow-green, were the villas with their Tuscan yellow and red tile roofs. And best of all was the occasional wind which brought with it the scent of jasmine from the terrace below. White jasminde clinging to the walls and purple Wysteria hanging from the vines, both perfuming the sun drenched air, what more could I ask for?

Did I mention we had our very own Geiko?

If this was not Enchanted April, it was, at the very least, the Paradiso of May.
If you are interested in seeing all the pictures from my Paradiso of May, I invite you to click on this link to view the slideshow.

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