Chile | 2004
Carlos Franz was born in 1959 in Santiago, Chile. In 1997, he founded the National Library Literary Workshop in Santiago. In 2001, he was named Visiting Fellow of the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge. His first novel, Santiago Cero won the CICLA Prize for Latin America Novels in 1988. He recently published a collection of essays, La Muralla enterrada, and resides in England.
I have been traveling for a long time now. In the last four years, I have lived in four different countries: Germany, England, Chile and Spain. For the last six months I haven’t had a house, living in hotels and boarding houses with my wife and little daughter. Along this journey, I became more and more anxious and skeptical, concerning my writing. For, all along this journey, and before that, I was writing a long novel, unable to finish it.
Then, I came to Santa Maddalena. I arrived in a rainy –actually, stormy day. When I hopped off the train at the train station in Saint Ellero, Brigida was waiting for me. She drove her yellow Volkswagen beetle along winding roads and through small, deserted villages. At some point, we left the main road and took a long muddy path, soon escorted by dense woods. The car bumped along the rutted track. Gradually, I had a feeling of detachment. It was like I was abandoning civilization in the middle of the old Toscana. It was a very strange, and at the same time familiar, sensation: the modern European landscape, almost always tarnished by human industry, receded. I felt like entering a Claude Lorraine painting: the classic Italian landscape enhanced only by a little hamlet, by the side of the road.
A low, gray sky hovered over the house when we arrived. Two wet dogs appeared to inspect me, before I entered the house through the kitchen. It was late in the afternoon and the dining room was almost in the dark. It took me a few seconds to accustom to the light and then I noticed the slim, petite, bright eyed lady offering her hand and a discreet smile. ‘I am Beatrice. Are you hungry?’ she asked. At first, I tried to deny. But then, I don’t know why –maybe because of the marvelous aroma that came from the kitchen, or the months traveling without a house- I felt immensely hungry. She invited me to sit, and a gracious cook produced a plate in front of me: two small birds.
‘Quaglia’, said my host, ‘how do you call them in Spanish?’ I tried to remember, but I couldn’t. She sat in front of me, and remained almost silent, allowing me to eat. I ate with concentrated hunger, I drank the light frescobaldi wine, I felt in my forehead the warm touch of the fire in the huge fire place. Outside, a lightning flashed in the small, deep, window. At the other side of the garden, a watchtower, made of yellow, wet, stone, illuminated. Beatrice said: “you’ll be in that tower. There is a studio in the top floor, where you can work.” Vaguely, I felt like a medieval pilgrim after a long search for a place to rest and pray; a place to find the elusive end of my works.
And so it was. In three weeks, surrounded by the silence and peace of Santa Maddalena, and the warm, delicate, hospitality of Beatrice, I finished the long novel that I couldn’t finish anywhere before.
After that, I reassumed my wandering life. I am living in Madrid now, in rented, anonymous rooms, again. From time to time, I wake up in the middle of the night and the silence reminds me of something; something that at first I confuse with a dream. And then I allow myself the daydream of still being in the watchtower.