Brazil | 2007
Bernardo Carvalho is a Brazilian novelist, playwright and journalist, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. His books are translated into more than ten languages and published in many countries. In addition to a collection of short stories, he has written eight novels. Nine Nights, published in the UK by Heinemann, was awarded the prizes Portugal Telecom and Machado de Assis. Mongolia was awarded the prizes Jabuti, the most prestigious literary prize in Brazil, and Associação Paulista de Críticos de Arte.
On the afternoon I arrived at Santa Maddalena, I was received by three excited slobbering dogs. When she saw me, sieged by her jumping dogs, Beatrice Monti von Rezzori exclaimed: “Oh, I’m glad you like animals”. She seemed astonished to hear my response: “I adore them, but I’m allergic”.
A few days later, after falling from the stairs at the tower in the middle of the night and twisting my ankle, I appeared hobbling at the main house, with a huge bluish foot, which looked like a ball. At the sight of it, Beatrice exclaimed again: “I recognized the hypochondriac as soon as you arrived”.
It was her revenge. And I immediately realized how fond of her I was going to grow. We had to become friends. Beatrice is a funny, extreme, strong and very endearing woman. She is fiercely attached to life and to people, interested in putting them together and in listening to what they have to say. Santa Maddalena is the result of her spirit. I can’t tell Beatrice from her house and the life she infuses it. During my five weeks stay, I never held back from expressing whatever crossed my mind, sometimes an absurd or inconvenient thought, encouraged by her own teasing sincerity. It was a playful game, which we played joyfully. Many times I was deeply moved by the stories she told me about her youngest years, her friends and her husband.
I came to Santa Maddalena after publishing a new novel in Brazil — “O Sol se poe em Sao Paulo”. I had a few projects in mind that I would like to work on, but nothing precise or developed. It took me a while to get used to my new life and pace at Santa Maddalena – or even to realize that I had already adjusted and was working better than I had in a long time. The place is spectacularly beautiful and the conditions for writing are great, but in the very first week, since I was by myself and my fellow writers, Andrew Miller and Tanuja Chandra, hadn’t arrived yet, I suffered from the isolation which was supposed to bolster my work, missed my city life vibes, an urban man with a swollen foot lost in the middle of an unseasonably rainy and cold countryside. I felt so estranged from everything that I began naturally to make fun of myself and of my condition and to write humorous pieces as a way to cope with my solitude. Usually I don’t have any sense of humor. And eventually I coined a phrase (“Humor is the expression of despair”) which now opens one of the two novels in progress I began to write at Santa Maddalena.
Looking back I realize that all the initial difficulties were due to my being forced, by my own express choice, to concentrate only on my own work, and that it had been a long time since I had last done it and felt so satisfied with the results. When now I read what I have written at Santa Maddalena, it always surprises me, as if the place had the effect of a radical change in my work, something that I had been seeking for years.
On weekends, I would drive to Arezzo and Urbino and soon I was totally involved and inspired by the world of Piero della Francesca, to the point that one of the two fiction pieces’ main character became a painter and that the other story, which takes place in contemporary Brazil, was indirectly enriched by this historical and cultural environment.
A few days ago, Beatrice asked me whether Santa Maddalena was already fading away from my memory. This is my answer. There is no way it will happen. It is entwined into my work. Many thanks.