Life Lessons from Dante and Pink Ice Cream Vans

It’s a funny old life. Who would have imagined a connection between one of history’s most iconic and enduring works of literature and a modern novel about travelling the world in a converted bright pink ice cream van. And yet here we are.

On 1 January, I decided to join a ‘Divine Comedy Read-Along’. Hosted by Nick Senger, this is the first part of his 2021 chapter-a-day project. This was a rather random, impulse decision on my part. I had not previously been harbouring any particular desires to read Dante in 2021. However, as 2020 drew to a close, I was looking for ways to kickstart my reading mojo that had sadly deserted me for most of last year. Committing to reading something small each day, in the form of a single Canto, seemed like a positive contribution in the right direction. And so, why not make a daily date with Dante?

I sat down this morning to write this post about how I have found this project so far. Of course, there was the inevitable noodling about on the internet first (I’ll just check in on Facebook, then see what is happening on Twitter, and THEN I’ll start…..). For once, this proved to be justifiable time-wasting because it led me down a rabbit hole of the most wonderful kind. I stumbled on Cat Walker’s YouTube video, Lockdown Life Lessons, in which she briefly shares with us and her recently deceased father some thoughts from her novel The Scoop. Making the most of a chair placed by a kind soul at the end of a pier, she sits by a gently lapping sea and reads a short extract to us and her Dad. It is utterly beautiful in every way.

And what has this got to do with Dante? Cat’s life lessons happen to encapsulate perfectly my thoughts so far on reading The Divine Comedy:

  • life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it or necessarily want it to;
  • you cannot know all the answers and the more answers you find, the more questions you’ll want to ask;
  • learning is a goal in itself, a reward in itself and a profound frustration;
  • and all of this is normal.

For now, I am just about keeping up with the ‘story’ of The Divine Comedy, with the help of endnotes, internet cribs and my fellow read-alongers (thanks guys!). This is clearly a work to which one could devote a life time of study. But in this moment I am enjoying being in the daily presence of greatness, immersed in writing that seems as relevant now as it did in the fourteenth century, even if it means enduring a constant reminder of how much I do not know. It’s good for the soul (I’m sure Dante would approve!), as is Cat’s writing too. I have downloaded a copy of The Scoop and look forward to reading it – another helpful step in the mojo-recovery direction.

Meanwhile, perhaps the best overall lesson for today is the importance of noticing, so that we may gather to ourselves all those tiny moments of joy and serendipity which bring such unexpected wonder. 🙂

Life goes headlong… Now pause, now possession is required, and the power to swell the moment from the resources of our own heart until it supersedes sun & moon & solar system in its expanding immensity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

18 thoughts on “Life Lessons from Dante and Pink Ice Cream Vans

  1. Thank you sharing Cat’s video message of life lesson’s learned. There is much wisdom in Casey’s words. It’s important to be reminded of them from time to time.

    I remember reading Dante in college, although not the passages that were selected. My last discussions of Dante were workplace speculations with colleagues about which particular level of hell we were inhabiting as a result of the latest decision from on high. Not particuarly constructive, eh?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post, Liz. And that is very funny about your Dante conversation. Unfortunately, with everything that is going on at the moment, it is hard to put any distance between current affairs and Dante’s words.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Liz – you have a wonderful way of inspiring a great conversation. I have signed up to Cat’s YouTube channel and will receive a notification every time she posts. The end of pier scene was brilliant – there is something about being on the edge of water that brings out a sense of belonging. I will be following your adventures with Dante. I’ve signed up for War and Peace so we do make a pair – you and me. By the way, we have been watching Rebus on Acorn. What fun we are all having saying, “we know where he is – we’ve been there! We didn’t go back to Scotland this year but Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith have come to the rescue. Hugs and love coming your way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew you would love it, Becky! And that is brilliant about War and Peace – we can compare notes about our respective read-alongs. I’m turning to Middlemarch after the Divine Comedy (in April) as it is the 250th anniversary of its publication in 2021! Meanwhile, isn’t it lovely to be able to visit Scotland through the pages of great writing. Are there any Canadian novels you would recommend so that I can travel in the other direction? X

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Richard Wagamese is one of Canada’s foremost writers. His books are reflective and challenge personal values so they are not light-hearted books. I read Medicine Walk, which is set in the BC Interior, places where we have travelled. One of the most profound quotes is “It’s all we are in the end. Our stories” I’m not certain whether you have access to his obituary, but I thought you would appreciate knowing a little about Richard Wagamese. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/ojibway-author-richard-wagamese-found-salvation-in-stories/article34422836/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh Becky, I cannot thank you enough for this incredible recommendation! The obituary is so moving, as is the Wikipedia entry about the history of the Ojibwe people. I was delighted to see that there is an audio version of Medicine Walk which I now have in my library. I look forward to immersing myself in Richard Wagamese’s story-telling. Sending many hugs and much love as always xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t looked at The Scoop yet, but will because it sounds so perfect but it is serendipitous that I come here today because this year I’m meant to be reading Dante as my project and have found many excuses to put him off! However the chapter a day project could be just the boost I need, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the Inferno best of the three parts of The Divine Comedy, although the politics of the time did grate on me after a while as I had to keep looking up all the people, footnotes can be the bane of a reader’s life sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to maintain a balance between reading the footnotes enough to understand what is going on, and accepting that I will never fully understand what is going on….. 😂

      Like

      1. It may lead to some really obscure history books though, I remember going down the rabbit hole, same as when I read A History of Christianity, so many forgotten people with their own stories that are immortalised in side notes.

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