Writing on Location or “I was Dante’s Scout”

You wouldn’t think that someone with Dante’s status and profile wouldn’t have a scout, his canary in a coal mine,would you?

Down past where Dante found it necessary to report on, I’d been places, seen things – and I didn’t get out.
riverside wreck 2
I was Dante’s Scout. I was in the suburbs. I abandoned Hope.

That’s sort of how it’s felt sometimes these last five years.  I was a city guy used to all kinds of street life and eccentrics – surprises around every corner, the urban “museum without walls”.

snakes his hers 2 ice car yorkville

Moving twenty miles out of the city Casbah, I found that parking was available – you just didn’t have to factor it in! What else? Well, that each colliding town had it’s own character and demographics, that you could get out to the country proper in minutes, and this giant new area code was as complicated and diverse as my favourite downtown ethnic market. There are people in the suburbs who are just as sophisticated as in the city. Maybe most interesting to me was the way different ethnic groups shared space. In the city, you go to Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town, Little India and immerse yourself in one culture at a time. In the suburbs, any given commercial area will have all these groups cheek by jowl in the same neighbourhood. Maybe the “melting pot” or “salad bowl” is more truly realized in the suburbs?

Which is a long way of saying that I grew to appreciate the ‘burbs. Now, I’m going back to the big smoke.

I want to talk about being out in this landscape while I’m still here because all the people I’ve met, roads I’ve driven, towns I’ve visited are not going to come into my city to pose. I have to do this on location, “in situ”.
goose sunset

A painter needs to be in front of his subject/object to do it justice. He or she keeps going back to the landscape, or the model keeps coming to the studio. And although a writer can pull from memory and write just about anywhere, I know I’ll forget. I’ll forget the feel of the place and the flavour. I’ll forget what the air smells like when I walk out of a coffee shop and that first sip outside heightens the fragrance of wood smoke and apples. That’s just one thing.
Some of these things I am missing already before I move. They are memories in the making,

The word “memory” comes from Mnemosyne the goddess of Memory and wife of Zeus. She is one of the three elder Muses. By Zeus she became the mother of the nine younger Muses.

Mnemosyne ▲ Mom and the Girls ▼ Muses


It is fascinating to me that Mnemosyne is the Goddess of Memory AND the inventor of words. What a combination.
Here is what a few other fellows had to say on the matter. 

Back to Dante:
from his “Inferno Canto XXXII:1-39 The Ninth Circle: The frozen River Cocytus”:

“If I had words, rough and hoarse enough, to fit the dismal chasm, on which all the other rocky cliffs weigh, and converge, I would squeeze out the juice of my imagination more completely: but since I have not, I bring myself, not without fear, to describe the place: to tell of the pit of the Universe is not a task to be taken up in play, nor in a language that has words like ‘mother’ and ‘father’. But may the Muses, those Ladies, who helped Amphion shut Thebes behind its walls, aid my speech, so that my words may not vary from the truth.”

I am only Dante’s scout. I can’t rival the above. Nonetheless, before I return “above ground”, I will attempt in a forthcoming post (or two) to write a little about my experience in a place I once thought of as hell. I’ll try to do this before it’s all a bunch of memories. Or I can dial up the Muses.

incense invoke

Today’s Listening:

1. Memory Pain by Percy Mayfield
2. If I’m Still Around Tomorrow – Roberta Flack and Sadao Watanabe
3. Circular Circulation by the GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously)
4. Treasure Island – Bob James with Eric Gale

6 thoughts on “Writing on Location or “I was Dante’s Scout””

  1. Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321), poet and social satirist was born in Florence Italy
    He wrote in the Divine Comedy :
    O human race born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou fall
    The name Dante is, according to the words of Jacopo Alighieri, a hypocorism for Durante.
    James Francis “Jimmy” Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980),singer pianist and social satirist, was born in Brooklyn New York
    He is quoted as saying:
    Be a awful nice to ’em goin’ up, because you’re gonna meet ’em all comin’ down.
    Durante & Durante would be a class act .

  2. I was born down SOUTH on a CHICKEN FARM near Mashville, TENNESSEE. ‘Tweren’t nobody there but a sky full of air, seventeen billion CHICKENS and ME And then one day, I said “Hey, hey, HEY, think I’ll DROP a little LSD.” It BLEW my MIND. I got real KIND. And I set my CHICKENS FREE! And there was chickens in the PASTURE, Chickens in the BARN, Chickens in the CAULIFLOWER, & chickens in the CORN; CHICKENS drivin’ CADILLACS to WASHINGTON, D.C., ~WHEN I SET MY CHICKENS FREE!

    R. Crumb



    Daughters of Jove, dire-sounding and divine,
    Renown’d Pierian, sweetly speaking Nine;
    To those whose breasts your sacred furies fire
    Much-form’d, the objects of supreme desire:
    Sources of blameless virtue to mankind,
    Who form to excellence the youthful mind;
    Who nurse the soul, and give her to descry
    The paths of right with Reason’s steady eye.
    Commanding queens who lead to sacred light
    The intellect refin’d from Error’s night;
    And to mankind each holy rite disclose,
    For mystic knowledge from your nature flows.
    Clio, and Erato, who charms the sight,
    With thee Euterpe minist’ring delight:
    Thalia flourishing, Polymina fam’d,
    Melpomene from skill in music nam’d:
    Terpischore, Urania heav’nly bright,
    With thee who gav’st me to behold the light.
    Come, venerable, various, pow’rs divine,
    With fav’ring aspect on your mystics shine;
    Bring glorious, ardent, lovely, fam’d desire,
    And warm my bosom with your sacred fire.

    Translated by Thomas Taylor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *