Several years ago, I found myself standing in the center of the Piazza de la Repubblica surrounded by hundreds of people laughing hysterically. My husband and I had paid about $50 dollars to stand among these people. We used a little of our acting skills to giggle at appropriate times or shake our heads knowingly, however it soon became evident there was no way we could attend an entire performance– especially because we didn’t speak a lick of Italian.
“I have an idea. I’ll write it down and then Diana can translate what is making people laugh so hard for me when we get back home.”
“Sure. Good luck with that.”
I feverishly recorded any word I heard. Dante…Dante… mangisanista… bellavilada… Dante. I definitely made up everything besides “Dante”. On the plus side, we finally blended in because we too were laughing hysterically at the attempt. However, I knew I was missing out on a once in a lifetime experience – especially for a teacher of Global Literature.
I saw the poster earlier that afternoon: Roberto Benigni tutto Dante De Firenze. I knew enough words to know I needed to be there. The highlights of my tenth grade curriculum were two things: Roberto Benigni and The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. The thought that I wouldn’t understand it seriously never crossed my mind.
We probably lasted fifteen minutes. Okay ten. However our seats were located in whatever Italian is for “nosebleed” section, so we had to politely Scusami our way out of there. The other spectators looked incredulous. How could we walk out with such a dynamic man literally leaping across the stage? [In case my use of imagery is not what it should be to picture this occasion, I was able to access a highlights real of said event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf-qJet3Ql0].
So why, ten years later, surrounded by cascading laundry, ungraded papers, and what appears to be a stampede of goldfish crumbs do I find myself recalling my afternoon with Benigni and Dante?
To answer that, I could explain the structural sophistication of Benigni’s acclaimed film, Life Is Beautiful, where he masterfully infuses humor into the atrocities of concentration camps. The charisma of the characters he invents only exceeded by his real life persona. Seriously, if you have never seen this man win his Oscar in 1999, take a moment to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cTR6fk8frs. He is infectious.
But this is a blog. Not a master’s seminar so not the time for that discussion.
I could address how I landed on this story by focusing on the less charismatic, but equally intriguing Dante Alighieri, a poet from the 1300s. Not the most popular for the average reader, but school aged children in Italy are still reciting the opening lines of The Inferno: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,/ché la diritta via era smarrita.
“Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a dark woods, For the straightfoward pathway had been lost.”
Dante Alighieri, the writer, constructs this text as an exiled man, contemplating his life and his struggle to even produce notable writing. He develops the protagonist, Dante the pilgrim, as a man lost in the dark woods in the middle of his life’s journey. He initially sees a path leading towards hope, but it is blocked, mostly by symbolic vices, and instead learns, through the guide he designs for himself, Virgil, that he must travel through hell in order to get to the stars. The cliff notes version came centuries later by Churchill. And if that is still too much, here’s a meme:
So, here we are. Back in the blueberry stained gym shorts waiting for the microwave to finish cooking dinner.
Most days, I use the wisdom of Roberto Benigni and find the humor to restructure my days. I celebrate what is beautiful about life and ignore the bellows of fear that live underneath it. I reconstruct my story to be a comedy, not a tragedy. And if I could, I too would gracefully jump atop the seats in the mezzanine section to celebrate every victory. (Seriously, watch the clip).
But lately, I have been lost in the dark woods. I am in a desperate search for quick path out of it. Yes, I see the stars, but I too have many symbolic blockades in my path. Sometimes, there are just too many hurdles. I would prefer to use the boyband feature of Waze to find a shortcut, but I fear, a shortcut would just be a patch. You have to actually go through it, to get out of it. At least, that’s what the cat meme said.
So, on my worst days, I’ll hang onto my Virgils and allow them to guide me safely on my journey.
Whether you join me here as a parent, a friend, a family member, a caretaker, or just a spectator, this is a gentle reminder that every day doesn’t have to conclude with a happy ending. Yes, we gain strength when we trudge, but most of the time, frankly, it is just exhausting. Hang on. Grab your own Virgil, and hopefully together, we will see the stars begin to emerge.