This issue of The Florentine celebrates Florence’s Supreme Poet ahead of Dantedì on March 25, the date when Dante is believed to have started writing his ‘Divine Comedy’ and the date that the Italian government has dedicated to the writer as a symbol of Italian culture worldwide. For Eugenio Giani, president of the Tuscany Region, Dante is the “cultural father of all of Tuscany” as well as a “friend… a familiar presence even to those who haven’t studied literature”, while for Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, “Dante will be our most powerful driving force for rebirth”. (Read these institutional greetings on page 12 of the magazine.)
For me, there’s something about the power of poetry and the timelessness of the Commedia that hits home in these pensive times. The terzine and cantiche are a rollercoaster of a read, an emotional experience and a journey to enlightenment during months of purely armchair travel. Or, as Tuscan butcher-poet Dario Cecchini, puts it, “it takes you away from everyday things, from thoughts, from everything”. (He explains more on page 21.) Another way to experience Italy for restless readers elsewhere in the world is to tune into the new wave of aural entertainment that is currently emerging online. Check out the podcasts and Clubhouse chats on page 7.
What Dante and his fellow greats continue to spark is undying creativity. While the situation in Florence is dire—in recent days, craftspeople have protested in piazza dei Ciompi after a year’s loss of earnings, declaring that one out of four businesses are on the brink of shuttering indefinitely in 2021—some citizens are taking matters into their own capable hands. Luciano Leiva, a fourth-generation leather worker in the Oltrarno, and his wife, Tammara Hsiung, are taking action by founding a cultural association. Artisan Quarter is about to launch an online store to sell handcrafted products by San Frediano botteghe around the world, providing promotional support and organizing masterclasses to secure the future of Florentine arts and crafts.
In lieu of exhibitions to visit and events to attend, here’s my plug this month: ascend the steps to San Miniato al Monte (in your mind’s eye, if restrictions and geography fail to allow the real deal). For Dante, in Purgatory 12, “the church that dominates the well-ruled city” was where “the dead seemed dead and the alive, alive” and frequented by too few people (“This invitation’s answered by so few: / o humankind, born for the upward flight, / why are you driven back by wind so slight?”). As you climb the steps, the weight might well lift as it did for the Florentine poet, and the early spring view, scented with mimosa and magnolia blossom, feels like paradise-sent invigoration.