Dante’s Path to Heaven

Dante Alighieri died here in Ravenna, a little city where any sane man or woman might well choose to live and die.  Like most people, I come here from time to time to stare stupidly at the Roman and Byzantine mosaics—though as the years go by I notice most people are letting their cameras and iPhones do the staring—and to eat simple food that has been prepared carefully and loyally for decades at places like La Gardèla, Ca’ de Vèn, and Bella Venezia.  Anyone fond of eating—I most definitely do not refer to “gourmets”—regards these places as a sultan might look at his wives.  They’re all fine, but which one do I choose tonight?

Betrayed by his fellow citizens, Dante prowled northern Italy, looking for sanctuary and respect, first from the counts Guidi in the Casentino (I have a photograph of Bill Mills and me under the statue at Castello Poppi), then in Verona with Can Grande della Scala, and finally with the Guido da Polenta here in Ravenna.  The faithless Florentines have many times tried to buy, beg, or steal his remains, but here he stays, faithful to the city and family that gave him refuge.  I like to think of him wandering among the most ancient collection of splendid Christian monuments that have survived from the ancient world.

A nationalist might consider the exiled poet a traitor to his country.  If you will read, sometime,...

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