I spent a week in Florence and Siena over the Easter break, a welcome transfusion of sunlight, culture and architectural splendour. Among other fascinating explorations we chanced upon the Casa di Dante in a backstreet near the Duomo, just after enjoying the most wonderful lunch of ribollita and chianti in a tiny, narrow trattoria round the corner.
The Dante museum was less than illuminating but Florence, so well preserved despite the incursion of designer stores, MacDonalds and multinational crowds - and even more so the mediaeval labyrinth of Siena - felt like the perfect spur to inspire me to revisit the Divina Commedia and immerse myself not only in what CH Sisson calls the "luminous clarity" of Dante's early Italian (and me only a Duolingo novice, hoping the poem will "communicate before it is understood") but also in the complex historical contexts of this densely-wrought masterpiece, poetic cross-currents and echoes which seemed to resonate around me as I walked.
"But the first sight of Dante, for one who catches a glimpse from afar, is of a tailor narrowing his eyes to thread a needle, or a gaggle of cranes stretched across the sky. That does not give you a style to imitate; it gives you a perception of the maximum which can be done, in a few words, to evoke a physical presence." (Sisson again, 'On Translating Dante')