UK | 2009, 2015
Adam Foulds was born in 1974 and lives in south London. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and his poetry has appeared in a number of literary magazines. His first novel, The Truth About These Strange Times, was published in 2007. For his verse novella The Broken Word he won the Costa Poetry Award 2008.
I arrived at Santa Maddalena tired and depleted after years of work and the bewilderments of life as a writer suddenly in the public eye. Indeed, the first use I made of my time there was to sleep for sixteen hours. Weeks later, I left Santa Maddalena restored, recentred and with a new novel underway.
What is so vivifying about Santa Maddalena takes some describing. It is the balance of various elements that makes the place unique. Firstly, there is its peace, the silence, that silence Yeats thought necessary for the creating mind. Up the mountain you are both removed from the world and returned to it. The profound quiet there is not that of simple isolation. Nature surrounds you, the forests, birdsong. With sightings of deer, hares, porcupines and hoopoes, it sometimes felt like living in a Pisanello painting. Actually that analogy obscures my real point which is that your contact with the world at Santa Maddalena is unmediated, fresh and nourishing. It is not digitized or virtual. You are freed from the dull pressure of email (available in only one room of the house, far from any of the working spaces,) likewise the noisy surf of the internet or TV. This is a liberation of your time and powers of concentration that can’t be overstated. So is having your meals prepared for you and cleared away afterwards. Life’s daily tasks, all the bits of stuff you have to do that eat into and corrode your time, are held wonderfully at bay. At times it makes you feel almost weightless.
What diversifies the solitude of your work at Santa Maddalena is the time you spend with the other people there at mealtimes and whenever else you choose. Conversation seems to me to be a crucial element of the Santa Maddalena experience. Its presiding genius is Beatrice who leads conversation at dinner, encourages and controls it. She has a collector’s passion for anecdote and insight that matches her skills as a collector of art and objects. She speaks of her friendships with Bruce Chatwin, with Fellini and Volker Schlondorf and many others as well as her late husband, Gregor von Rezzori whose presence is everywhere palpable at Santa Maddalena. Doing so, Beatrice opens up for her guests a world of European culture it is a privilege to visit. Then there are the conversations you have with your fellow fellows. My sense of the variety and possibilities of the world were decidedly, excitingly extended when talking with Hisham Matar, Nam Le, Stacey D’Erasmo, Jordi Punti, Tristan Hughes and the former fellows who returned to visit, Adam Thirlwell and Colm Toibin.
Altogether Santa Maddalena is an extraordinary place. It struck me as a kind of ideal life, one devoted to what really matters: art and friendship.