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All artwork © 2010 Bruce Davenport Jr. indd_0721 53 7/22/11 9:38 AM M I S C E L L A N Y A DIVINE COMEDY Among the Danteans of Florence By Elif Batuman that I heard her sing—the utterly unfamiliar voice, so pure but so knowing, unfurling like some gorgeous endless fabric out of her tiny Chinese body. Georgia had enrolled in the marathon during a study-abroad term in Florence. Watching footage of the event on her iPhone, I was deeply impressed by the atmosphere of civic atonement. The mayor of Florence turned up and recited from the Inferno.
He admired the mechanics of natural forces, the imperviousness of their self-rule. Because of what steering winds could do, he was distracted from the fate of the Halliburton whistle-blower and the first Bush Supreme Court nominee. indd_0721 44 We were chatting our way through the first anniversary of my sister Pat’s death. Weather facts kept emotion in check. Another storm had gone out to sea. But overnight, Hurricane Katrina intensified and was coming back toward the other side of Florida. My parents relayed the latest to what they pitied as my cable-free pocket of the English countryside.
There had been department stores on Canal Street where blacks could buy clothes, but could not try them on; purchase food, but not eat on the premises. The B-52s and Louis Armstrong blaring from souvenir shops all seemed ironic and the photography exhibitions devoted to Katrina in the silent galleries were beautiful, even when the artists worked hard for that not to be the point. A young white Australian couple with backpacks and maps expertly got into position so as not to miss the opportunity presented by a single-file line of black Catholic schoolchildren in blue, bordered at either end by white nuns in blue-and-white habits, crossing a balconied street.