John Burnham Schwartz
USA | 2000
John Burnham Schwartz is the author of two novels, Bicycle Days, andReservation Road, his work has been translated into 11 languages. In addition, his non-fiction is published in numerous magazines and newspapers, including “The New Yorker” and “The New York Times”. He was a recipient of the 1991 Lyndhurst Prize. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
I write my “report” on my time here at Santa Maddalena as a letter to you because it is the only way that feels right. I would write it to Grisha too, were he here. I am writing this in his studio. It’s dark outside, raining, the shades are all down, and I’m sitting at that magnificent table under the big hanging light, and there is no other sound but the rain and the tapping keys. I feel his spirit here, as I have felt it ever since I arrived six weeks ago. At least it’s my idea of his spirit — as gleaned from you and this place and all the people who loved him here and especially his books. Never have I felt so connected, in my own way, to someone I never met as I have these past six weeks to him, walking across the courtyard to his studio each morning and afternoon, climbing these steps, and sitting down here to try to write some good words.
I arrived here feeling — as so many writers inevitably do — desperate for time and peace. It was my outlandish hope to finish a new novel — my third — by the end of the year. Six weeks ago this seemed highly unlikely. Now, it is a distinct possibility. Hardly ever in my writing life have I worked as hard or with as much concentration as I have been able — been allowed — to work here. Much ground was covered, on paper and in my thoughts (often, of course, it’s the latter that counts most). In any event, the end is in sight. I can only hope that the book will be worthy of the place in which so much of its most important work was accomplished.
Add to this the chance of meeting you, the lucky feeling of friendship and conversation; the long, delicious meals; the after-dinner movies (excepting, of course, Morte a Venezia!); and above all the gift you bestowed on David, Aleksandra and me of making us feel that this was our home too. I’ve already told you about one of my favorite moments here, but I will tell it again. I returned to Santa Maddalena one afternoon from an overnight trip to Umbria, and found the house empty. I dropped my bag and went to the kitchen and fixed myself coffee and found some excellent leftovers in the fridge for my lunch. And standing there, sipping coffee and eating, I felt utterly comfortable, at home. I recalled the very first time I’d driven down the dirt road and seen Santa Maddalena, how new it had felt, beautiful of course, but strange; and this thought made the comfort I was feeling that afternoon, just a few weeks later, all the sweeter. And then I walked across the courtyard to Grisha’s studio, and got down to work.