With Dante, in New York. Part II. Purgatorio and Paradiso.

(Apologies for the delay in posting Part II. A technological fail meant that I lost the original draft to this post just a few hours before stepping on a bus that took me into the Amazon rainforest, where I stayed for the last 40 days. However, now that I am back in the land of electricity and Internet I have finally rewritten the second chapter of my New York odyssey and hopefully updates will get more regular)

My mouth is dry, my vision is blurred. I decide to force my legs to move, and walk away. I keep moving east, towards the 8th, the 9th and the 10th. I move fast, I move east, I move south. A long but rather uneventful journey through purgatory begins. Minutes go past, hours go past. Towering buildings mask the sunlight, roaring car engines block out my thoughts, but there are no shops in sight, just a few wandering souls, no fire around me. I am confused, I am lost, but I am not turning back.

 The road felt longer and more desolated than it probably was to everyone else. Cars adverts. Clothes adverts. Beauty shops. Wigs for sale. A mother with child, an elderly woman, business suits marching before, next, past me. The sun is setting, the shades are longer and darker at each step. I try to put my headphones on, but I can’t find the right soundtrack to purgatory. Submerged in white noise I continue to walk like a somnambulist in the middle of a senseless dream.

 “Necessity brings him here, not pleasure” Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio. Canto XII.

After walking for what seemed to be an eternity or two, I heard some cheerful sounds coming from the deep shadows on my right. The sounds woke me up from the sleepy torpor that walking so long had induced, and suddenly made me freeze, listening, alert. I carefully started to follow the sounds, like a hungry dog follows the smell of freshly cooked food. After not much walking I reached a strange looking tower, carrying the weight of a suspended bridge. A metal staircase appeared from the darkness right in front of me, leading to the top of the tower and bridge. This apparition seemed to be a sign, an invite for me to proceed, but I was nonetheless hesitant to move forward. Only then I noticed two figures moving at the top of the staircase, gently undulating like willow trees in the wind, whispering softly to each other and erupting into a laughter of joy from time to time. I couldn’t see who and how old they were from down below where I was, but knowing about their presence fed me drops of hope.

“I opened – wider than before – my eyes;
I looked ahead of me, and I saw shades
with cloaks that shared their color with the rocks”

Dante Alighieri, Paradiso. Canto XIII.

Like Odysseus and the sirens, I was attracted and pulled towards those figures and their gentle manners, so much that my fears dissolved in their laughter and I started making my way on the dark staircase. It wasn’t long until I reached the top and laid my eyes on what, all along, had been there, hidden away like New York’s most secret and treasurable gem, thirty meters above my head. The High Lane, a several mile long track suspended over the ground, a long serpent peacefully resting in the middle of Manhattan, a railway line converted into a place of quiet, joyful contemplation. Not only two, but tens of blessed souls were waiting for me at the top, all swinging gracefully in the cool autumn air, floating in the golden light of sunset, adorned by bright and colourful garments that resembled the quality and tints of the many flowers that blossomed around me. The sky was a perfectly silent explosion of shades, washed by the softest clouds and mixed by the perceptive hands of an artist.

“With the color that paints the morning and evening clouds that face the sun I saw then the whole heaven suffused” Dante Alighieri, Paradiso. Canto XXVII. 

A deep breath, a whiff of perfume, a loud laughter behind me and light breeze through my hair. As the sunlight became a sweet melancholic memory in that vivid September sky, small colourful lights appeared all around me, hidden behind the many flowering plants and the rich bushes. I started walking along, the cars only small innocuous tin boxes now, the chaos of the city seemed far and not worth of my attention. Couples were kissing on benches, children chasing each other, groups of people singing sweetly out of tune, holding hands, walking slow, looking up, at the stars, at the moon, at the skyscrapers, at Tomorrow and their Dreams. I newly wed couple was enjoying their sweet time surrounded by friends, the dress reflecting the city lights like an enormous terrestrial Moon. A few hundred meters ahead a slow melody was being played. It had to be J.S. Bach and a warm deep cello, as no other music could possibly be as perfect, loving and moving to be played in heaven.

 “Like the lark that soars in the air, first singing, then silent, content with the last sweetness that satiates it, such seemed to me that image, the imprint of the Eternal Pleasure” Dante Alighieri, Paradiso. Canto XX.

With a smile on my face and Bach in my ears, I knew it was time for me to return to the world of the living, more aware of my limits, more conscious of what I need and do not need in life, more ready than ever to finally go from an urban jungle, to a real jungle. This day helped me to remember that it is down to us and our sole responsibility to recognise what makes us happy, to seek out that joy in life, as far as our minds and feet can take us.

And so I did. Twenty-four hours later I embarked on a plane to Peru, destination Manu National Park.

“The greatest gift that God in His bounty made in creation, and the most conformable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of will, with which the creatures with intelligence, they all and they alone, were and are endowed” Dante Alighieri, Paradiso. Canto V.

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