Norway | 2001
Gunnar Kopperud was born in 1946 and studied theatre in Strasbourg and at RADA in London. He also took a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Oslo. Author of the much praised The Time of Light (2000) and Longing (2002), he has also worked as a journalist for, among others, Associated Press and the leading Norwegian daily paper, Dagbladet. He has spent the last few years mainly in Africa, winning acclaim and respect for his journalism. He lives in Norway.
REPORT FROM A NORWEGIAN SKIER
Minus eight degrees, the trees in the forest heavy with snow, the ski tracks silken, the light soft. Santa Maddalena is a season and a continent away now, but the feeling is the same; the calm pleasure of skiing alone in a quiet white landscape, the calm pleasure of writing alone in a quiet green landscape.
My name is Gunnar Kopperud, I am a Norwegian, male, born in 1946, a newspaper reporter by profession. In the past five years, I have written three books, one collection of short stories and two novels. The two novels, The Time of Light (2000) and Longing (2002) have been translated into English and published by Bloomsbury on both sides of the Atlantic.
I am now writing a third novel, which I plan to finish this spring. Although one year in preparation, the six weeks at Santa Maddalena were crucial to to my work on this novel. Beatrice della Corte’s invitation to come and stay, for which I shall always be grateful, arrived at just the right moment.
I am a slow thinker, writing in long hand; if I am allowed to think and write undisturbed from morning till night, I am content if I have two pages completed when I go to bed, looking forward to the next day’s work.
At Santa Maddalena, I found myself doubling my daily quota, writing four pages a day, then six pages a day, then eight pages a day. It did not surprise me, I knew somewhere deep inside that it was a natural consequence of the place, but it is only now, weeks later, skiing under a low winter sky, that I am able to put words to it.
Santa Maddalena is a place of serene beauty; rolling green hills covered in trees with distant castles on top, not a sound, not a distraction. And ‘distraction’ is the central word here: what Santa Maddalena offers is a six weeks’ retreat from an everyday life of distractions, just as skiing alone in the forest is a day’s or some hours’ retreat from the noises and deadlines of everyday life. Six weeks of thinking, contemplating and writing, it really is a privilege; six weeks of escape from the fragmentation of modern life, it really lowers the pulse rate.
But there is more to be said. The buildings at Santa Maddalena breathe history, the rooms breathe culture. And there is space; I stayed in the Tower and had one room to work in, another room to sleep in, a bathroom, and a shared kitchen and shared sitting room with a fire place, absorbing paintings on the walls and piles of interesting books for the evenings.
But to me, more important, Santa Maddalena is company. I am not unused to going abroad for periods of time to write; I need sometimes to get away from all the Norwegian spoken around me to be able to hear my inner voice, the one telling the story. It can be a strenuous thing to do; breaking up from the safe routines of everyday life means exposing yourself to both the lights and the shadows of life. I can take that, what I cannot take is the sole company of Gunnar Kopperud for more than two weeks; I sit and think and write all day, and then, when I drink a glass of wine in the evening and talk to myself, it’s the same nonsense coming.
At Santa Maddalena, that problem did not exist. Beatrice is wonderful company, full of humour, knowledge and warmth; having dinner in the evening with her, her occasional visitors and the other resident writers was something I looked more and more forward to, something I enjoyed more and more. And it was easy to look forward to it, as Beatrice also is a person of respect; she leaves you completely undisturbed all day – come for lunch if you feel like it, we’ll meet at dinner.
Writing this, I can feel I miss Santa Maddalena, but in a good way; I miss the days there, the people there, the evenings there, the night raids we sometimes went on to village restaurants, raids of laughter and fun. Some times I close my eyes and think, this really happened to me. To you reading this report, if you have been invited there, go, let it happen to you. You owe it to yourself.