Death and Dante

“In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.” –Inferno, Canto 1

DivineComedyFresco

Dante’s “La Divina Commedia” speaks profoundly to the human condition. It is a chronicle of a deep psychological crisis and how that crisis is resolved. Much like Dante (the protagonist of the poem, not its author) Diego, the protagonist of CITY OF SORROWS, starts his journey to healing by slogging through the chaos of his soul and the desperation of his muddled mind.

Early on in his life journey, Diego finds himself in a forest of seemingly impenetrable darkness. After losing his wife and newborn baby in a senseless tragedy, he is angry, self-absorbed, confused, and lost. He is in the depths of his own personal hell—the lowest and darkest of places. In CITY OF SORROWS we descend with Diego into the black pit of death, follow him on his tortuous journey through grief, and ascend with him into the light of healing—understanding along with him the ultimate mysteries of love, life, and heart-wrenching loss.

Dante and Books

Dante’s “Inferno” mirrors Diego’s journey as he travels through the self-absorption of Hell, through the Purgatory of forgiveness, and into the acceptance of responsibility that is the gateway to Heaven and the only sure foundation for healthy relationships. For Diego, profound grief turns into measured healing and finally, the rediscovery of love.

As Joseph Luzzi wrote in his book IN A DARK WOOD, “Every grief story is a love story.”

If you are grieving now it is because you have loved. There is no greater nor more painful gift than one born out of love.

To follow Diego on his traumatic but redemptive journey, read his story in my debut novel CITY OF SORROWS.

For a poignant study on what Dante the poet taught a broken man about grief, healing, and the mysteries of love, read Joseph Luzzi’s mesmerizing memoir IN A DARK WOOD.

Mr. Luzzi’s memoir of grief after the tragic loss of his wife when she was nine months pregnant with their first child is striking in its honesty and bold in its reflection of the emotional needs of a man who has lost his partner to tragedy. But as Mr. Luzzi finally came to understand, it was this incredibly difficult event in his life that finally led him back to the man he always wanted to be: a writer for the masses rather than the elite; a father and family man rather than a bachelor.

Where are you now in your own life story? If in Hell I promise you, the chaos you are living there is only the beginning—not the end of your final journey.

 

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Sensuality and Semana Santa

Jesus del Gran Poder 2

In my opinion, no city celebrates Holy Week like Seville. The colors, the aroma, the passion and the pageantry are epic. CITY OF SORROWS captures all the wonder and majesty of this grand event, mostly through the eyes of Andrés.

Holy Week is Andrés’s favorite time of year. A complex person and the story antagonist, Andrés is as wounded as he is passionate about the week between Palm and Easter Sundays. He is a member of the religious fraternity La Esperanza de Triana, a brotherhood whose liturgical year triumphs in the glory and splendor of Semana Santa (Holy Week).

As Andrés says, “Holy Week in Seville is everything he likes about the city. Death becomes a work of art. Grief becomes beauty. Sensuality and Semana Santa go hand in hand. Holy Week is the highlight and harbinger of spring. A time for new beinnings. New life.” (page 212, CITY OF SORROWS)

From dusk to the early hours during Semana Santa, the city’s residents – and up to a million visitors– line the streets to watch the processions that count down the days to Easter Sunday. Rooted in simple storytelling, the processions were devised in medieval times as a way of explaining the crucifixion to the common people.

Today, wooden carved statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried high above the crowds by cofradías – religious brotherhoods scattered throughout the city. Richly-adorned  floats sway through the streets as the human shoulders that carry them negotiate Seville’s cobblestoned alleys. The floats are flanked by a brass band playing iconic Holy Week funeral dirges – as well as the Nazarenos, the cloaked candle-bearers in conical headdresses whose appearance reminds us of the Spanish Inquisition.

As a painter, Andrés would certainly appreciate the glorious artwork paraded on the floats during Semana Santa. Highly regarded artistically are the iconic carvings Jesus del Gran Poder (by Antonio Ruiz Gijón, circa 1682-1692) pictured above and La Esperanza de Triana (possibly attributed to Juan de Astorga, circa early 1800s).

La Esperanza de Triana
La Esperanza de Triana

Sorrow. Loss. Restoration. Redemption. CITY OF SORROWS is a thought provoking story perfect for the Easter season. Enter here to win a free copy: Goodreads Giveaway: CITY OF SORROWS.

Are you as passionate about Holy Week as Andrés is? Please share your cherished traditions with our readers by leaving a comment below.

Happy Easter

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Diego’s Gypsy Family Christmas

Gypsy Guitarists

Diego is one of the three main characters in City of Sorrows. For those of you who have read the book, you may remember that his friend, Rajiv, visited Diego’s home on Christmas Day. Rajiv is from India and this is his first Christmas celebration in Seville.

Like Rajiv, I spent one Christmas Day with a Gypsy family from San Juan del Alnalfarache, a town on the outskirts of Seville. I thought it would be fun for you to see in pictures how a group of Gypsy families celebrate Christmas.

Because this family of Gypsies was Christian, the first thing they did on Christmas day was celebrate a “culto” or religious service. Well, actually, by the time I showed up at 3 pm. they had already celebrated three cultos. Some of the family members had started to complain. Pastor Pepe could not understand why certain members would not want to praise the Lord all day long. Passion, as we know, is one of the signature characteristics of Gypsy culture.

The family spent the entire day together, from midday until about ten or eleven at night. Family members and friends would come and go, but they always returned, sometimes with a new friend, church “brother or sister,” or another family member.

In the book, Rajiv visited Diego in his home. As he described it, “The homey scent of food cooking on a stove greeted them as they entered. Rajiv couldn’t identify all the smells, but he detected the pungent odor of frying garlic. Onions boiling in a stew. Roasted tomatoes. The spices were unfamiliar, but warmly welcoming.” (page 205, City of Sorrows)

Food is a huge part of the day. Large pots are filled with delicious stews, and the table is laden with meat, potato salad, fried squid, chunks of fried fish, and bread.

There were no Christmas decorations, and no traditional sweets, but there was plenty of good cheer. As Rajiv observed, “The Christmas day celebration extended into evening. The apartment filled with visitors, family, friends, neighbors. Guitars were pulled out. Extra tables. Raw meat was grilled over charcoal on a rack assembled on the balcony.” (page 211, City of Sorrows)

culto torre blanca

culto torre blanca

meat on grill

In the home I was in, the grilling did not take place on the balcony but in an open air patio in the center of the house. The smell of that grilling meat was enticing, and very different from the smells of the Christmas Eve dinner I shared with my Spanish friends the night before. For a description of a traditional Spanish Christmas Eve celebration read Andrés and Adela’s Spanish Christmas.

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This Spanish Gypsy Christmas was amazing, but very different from the Christmas Eve dinner I shared with my Spanish friends. How does Diego’s Christmas Day differ from yours? How is it the same? What do you think Diego might have done after the festivities ended on Christmas Day?

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Andres and Adela’s Spanish Christmas

IMG_1380Andrés is one of the three main characters in CITY OF SORROWS. For those of you who have read the book, you may remember that Andrés took a lot of interest in his little sister, Adela. I thought it would be fun for you to see in pictures some of the places he took Adela during the Christmas season, and how he might have celebrated Christmas at home with his family.

In the book, Andrés takes Adela to see the camels at La Plaza de la Encarnación on December 15. As he describes it, “The plaza was transformed into a Christmas playground. Stalls had been set up, selling everything from cheese to freshly baked breads, to sausage, hand-bags, and jewelry. A small Ferris wheel turned in a slow circle. Children carried balloons. Hot chocolate, Bunuelos, and cotton candy were all available for purchase around the square.”

Here’s a few pictures of the plaza at Christmas time.

Stall selling morcilla (blood sausage), queso de cabra (goat cheese), and jamon Serrano (Iberian ham)
Stall selling morcilla (blood sausage), queso de cabra (goat cheese), and jamon Serrano (Iberian ham)
Stall selling Manchego cheese
Stall selling Manchego cheese

 

In the story, Andrés bought Adela some cotton candy (algodon).
In the story, Andrés bought Adela some cotton candy (algodon).

“And then he mounted her on a camel. There were three of them, tied together. For five euros the handler would take up to six children for a ride around the square. Adela waved to him as she passed by, secure in her basket seat. ”

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In the book, Adela is alone on the camel, just like this young girl who looks around Adela’s age (10 years).

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“After petting the resting camels, and feeding a few sheep, they walked down Calle Cuna toward La Iglesia del Salvador. Then they waited in line to see the church’s elaborate Nativity.”

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Visiting churches to see the Nativity scenes is a beloved Christmas tradition in southern Spain. To read more about this tradition, go to Nativity Scene Routes in Granada and Andalusia.

“On December 24, Andrés’s father carved the Iberian ham. His grandmother prepared the caviar.”

My friend, Antonio, carving the Iberian ham--a meat Andres's family have on their Christmas table.
My friend, Antonio, carving the Iberian ham–a meat Andres’s family have on their Christmas table.

 

Christmas Eve (La Noche Buena) is the most important part about Christmas in Spain and dinner that day is the biggest meal of the year. Foods vary according to family preferences. The only rule is that people eat “well” (and expensively). Lobster and shrimp are common, and a roast of some sort is essential (usually lamb or suckling pig). Andrés comes from a wealthy family, so his family’s Christmas table would be spread with the best and most expensive foods, including an abundance of seafood, cheeses, hams, and pates. And like the dinner I shared with my friends in Seville, a leg of Jamón Serrano may be one of the featured items. Dinner starts late, at about 10 pm, and will go on for a couple of hours—ending just in time to head out to church for La Misa del Gallo (Midnight Mass).

Christmas Eve dinner at my friend, Chelo's, apartment in Seville.
Christmas Eve dinner at my friend, Chelo’s, apartment in Seville.

Of course no meal is complete without dessert. In Spain, traditional Christmas sweets include a variety of nougat candies called Turron, almond paste-based marzipans, and crumbly cookies like mantecados and polverones. For more information on Christmas sweets, go to A Field Guide to Spanish Treats. 

I’m sure Andrés’s family would serve all of these delicious treats, but I think Andrés might just come home with one of these pricey cakes from Confitería La Campana on Calle Sierpes.

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Is there anything I might have missed from Andrés’s Christmas dinner? What do you think he might have done after the festivities ended on Christmas Eve?

Note: Excerpts cited in this post were taken from page 168 of City of Sorrows and were reprinted with permission from the publisher..

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