But now the pigments have faded, the canvas is dry and wrinkled, and the man has white hair, a drooping mustache, and a vast belly. As I stood to take a photo of the river, he stood stiffly, and shuffled off with difficulty. That is me in twenty years, I thought. No tattoos, certainly, and likely having lived a far tamer life than that man – but still, I will have that body, and that hair, and that gait. It’s in the natural order of things.

The lives of cities and men alike rise and converge, according to their season and their destiny. The only thing constant is God. Dante Alighieri, equaled only by William Shakespeare as the greatest writer of Western civilization, wrote in the Commedia that he nearly destroyed his life by loving the things that decay more than the God who stands forever. Maybe, just maybe, a few of the millions who tromp through this Renaissance Disneyland every year will be moved by its beauty to take up the best-known book of its most famous son and read as if their eternal life depended on it.

Because it just might. At dinner the other night, an American tourist asked me why I was here. I told him. We discussed Dante for a while, and I told him that Dante’s poem restored me to life, and to God, after a bad period. This is not art you see, I said; this is art that sees you.

“I’m having some rough times in my life right now,” the American said. “It sounds like I need to read that man’s stuff.”

I left the restaurant later quietly resolving to pray for him to find his way to Dante, and for Dante to show him the way to God. Florence may be a faded beauty, but moments like that don’t happen at Disneyland.