From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 68
Dante’s Staring at Me
I was lying in bed this morning with my eyes still closed waiting for Daria’s rooster to tell me that it was time to get up. At the same time, I was stressing a little about the two weeks of work that would have to be squeezed into the six days we have left in Gioviano before we have to head back to Texas. I started to feel as if someone or something was staring at me. It was coming through the wall that separates my window from Sue’s. From our bed, the only village that Sue sees through her window is the high mountain paese (village) of Montefegatesi. Above the village is a statue of Dante that stares right into her window – not mine. For Dante to stare at me on my side of the bed he would have to have X-ray vision. Well he must, because I could sure feel him staring at me this morning.

Sue was sitting on the couch by my window with Crocky and Blue Bunny reading about Lucca. I sat up in bed and proclaimed, “Dante is staring at me! He seems to be demanding that I write a chapter about him.” I had no intention of writing a chapter about Dante, because I never got the feeling that he ever made it to Gioviano, and I have many other more relevant things to write about.

Richard Hawkings was in China this week at a conference of physicists discussing “string theory” and how the universe is composed of tiny submicroscopic particles. I have long held the belief that the universe is composed of not only particles too small to contemplate but also of other dimensions holding mysteries that may never be revealed to us human mortals. I began to think about the mystery of the spiritual vortex that envelopes the Holy Trinity Wilderness Cathedral and which seems to be focused in the area of the Russell Pyramid. Just by chance, the pyramid is in perfect alignment with the equinox. “What is Dante trying to tell me?” I kept repeating to myself.

When God came out of the cloud in the year 2000 and commanded me to purchase the Cathedral, the message was very clear. When the Virgin of Guadalupe revealed herself to me in the clouds at the Cathedral, the message became clear only a month later.
So, I got up, took my shower, and walked over to the Palazzo, still mystified. After opening the front door and walking beneath the eagle and the American flag frescoed on the ceiling, I turned right toward my office and again felt the presence of Dante. Looking up at the ceiling, there he was staring toward the Apennines upon which Montefegatesi is perched adjacent to the Orrido di Botri. Sometime around 1880, an artist had painted over the earlier frescoes on the ceiling of the 600 square-foot sala principale of the Palazzo. On one end of the room, he painted the head of Garibaldi and on the other end, he painted the head of Dante.

I felt that Dante was attempting to communicate something to me. I walked back toward Casa Giorgio. Daria was standing on her front porch and invited me in. I told her about Dante staring at me, telling me to write about him, and she wasn’t the least bit surprised. She said that her grandfather had written many things about Dante which might have held the clue to the mystery I was dealing with, but that his writings had unfortunately been discarded when the Barsanti Palazzo was remodeled in the 1970s.

Upon leaving her porch, I looked down at the seven baby chicks scratching about in their cardboard box. We leave Gioviano in seven days, but what does that number have to do with Dante? I went back to the Palazzo, walked under the portrait of Dante toward my office, and then it hit me. Today is the 22nd day of June, the Summer Solstice. Perhaps I will find the message by studying the Divine Comedy and any references to the Solstice. Giovanni di Paolo had illuminated a representation of the Solstice for a 15th-century manuscript. It shows Dante and Beatrice reaching the sun, appearing at a golden wheel showering the earth with its golden rays.

Dante had been sentenced to exile from Florence for life and spent 20 years, from 1301 until his death in 1321 wandering from place to place. It is said that during his exile, he stayed for a while in Montefegatesi where he was inspired to write the Inferno. His inspiration is said to have come from the nearby Orrido di Botri the upper heights of which are framed by Sue’s window. From Montefegatesi, he would have looked down and seen the ruins of Mostorno which was never rebuilt after the fire of 1170. He would have seen Gioviano as well, which would have been in the process of being rebuilt after its destruction by the Pisans. Gioviano and its castle had been destroyed by Pisa in 1228 during the war fought in the Garfagnana, with Lucca suffering a terrible loss. The Giovianini were either killed or fled into the mountains for refuge from the marauding Pisans. No mercy was shown, and slaughter and bloodshed were the order of the day. Fear ruled the Garfagnana, and it would have taken many decades before Gioviano would have been rebuilt within and over the ruins of Castello d’Edera. The rebuilding of a ruined city would be illuminated by the warmth and symbolism of the longest and brightest day of the year.

In his “Purgatorio, Canto II”, Dante alludes to the Summer Solstice, especially in the seventh line: (Remember the seven chicks?)

“NOW had the sun to the horizon reach’d,
That covers, with the most exalted point
Of its meridian circle, Salem’s walls;
And night, that opposite to him her orb
Rounds, from the stream of Ganges issued forth,
Holding the scales, that from her hands are dropt
WHEN SHE REIGNS HIGHEST; so that where I was,
Aurora’s white and vermeil-tinctured cheek
To orange turn’d as she in age increased.
Meanwhile we linger’d by the water’s brink,
Like men, who, musing on their road, in thought
Journey, while motionless the body rests.”

Dante, is describing today, the Solstice, and me this morning, me, musing in thought while my motionless body was resting--or trying to--until he started silently staring at me.

There must be other associations between Dante and Gioviano that have not revealed themselves. One very real possibility is that Dante had made the acquaintance of Castruccio Castracani and had visited him at his castle in Ghivizzano, which means that he would have passed the path up to Gioviano on his way from Montefagetesi to Ghivizzano and back.

Perhaps he wandered up the path to Gioviano to see the progress of the reconstruction of the village first hand rather than only from afar. I was drawn by some mysterious force to go down the stairs into the gloom of the haunted floors of the Palazzo. A strange feeling enveloped me. I passed my mother’s art studio on the first landing, then down to the next floor. From there I stared further into the gloomy depths down to the next landing. The door to the little room beneath the art studio was moving ever so slightly as if by some mysterious force. I stared at it, watching it do its dance. There was no breeze. I continued down the stairs to the dungeon door feeling every nerve of my body tingle with curiosity mingled with fear. There before me was the large medieval arch, now filled in, that may have been one of the entrances to Castello d’Edera. Was it still being used to enter Gioviano before the Palazzo was modernized in the 17th century?

Could it be that Dante had walked through that arch some 600 years ago, perhaps on June 22, 1306? Could it be that the exiled spirit of Dante still wanders about the Palazzo? Regardless of whether or not I will ever know the answer to the mystery, Dante got his wish, his chapter is now written.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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