USA | 2002
Lawrence Krauser is a playwright, illustrator and novelist. His debut novel,Lemon, was published by McSweeney’s Press. He is currently writing, directing and scoring the feature film Dangerous Dave & The Whalers. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
On the Cusp of Reluctant Departure
I came to my residency at the Santa Maddalena Foundation looking for some things, and I found other things. For instance: I consider myself a “night person” who is happy and most alive and productive in the wee hours and greets the dawn with chagrin. Back in New York, in my Normal Life, which is anything but, I am forced to sleep at night so that I may wake up in the morning for drone duty. So I looked forward to staying up late to work and enjoy Italy’s night sky, because I new that here I would be able to, blessing of blessings, sleep in the morning until Nature woke me.
I found that I went to bed earlier than I could have dreamed, was woken by Nature earlier than I awake by force in my Normal Life, and did most of my writing before noon, sometimes finishing a healthy day’s output by breakfast.
In my Normal Life I wake with alarm, and thus any dreams I may have had are usually lost to me for having to tend to compulsion. I had hoped, while at Santa Maddalena, to count my dreams as collaborators, since, waking per Nature, I would be free to linger in bed, ease myself into day while reviewing my dreams for what they might tell me about the novel I’ve been writing.
I found that during my residency my dreams provided me with no plot twists, new characters, or improved syntax. Yet I did remember my dreams, and savor them as long as I pleased; and I dreamed more richly, with more development and fulfillment, than I have in years.
Well—there were those nights I stayed awake till dawn. And sometimes, true, I would nap the next day, and find a usable image in sleep.
I also talked about my dreams, which is not usually polite. I came to Santa Maddalena looking for solitude, and found friends. The daily company of my fascinating, gracious hostess (Beatrice Monti) and brilliant, big-hearted cowriters (Jens Christian Grondahl, Matthew Kneale, and Helena McEwen) is something I will miss sorely; and yet I am delightedly certain that we will all remain in mutual touch. We happened to really click as a group; each evening we’d adjourn to the living room after dinner and talk, often for hours, until the last of us peeled away to happy sleep.
(Hm. I can also imagine being here with people who keep more to themselves, and see that a routine of more off-hours privacy would be a lovely mode as well. The grounds and surrounds are certainly conducive to solitude if one seeks it. There is a lot of beautiful space here in the mountains of Reggello, and Santa Maddalena offers a host of diverse and comfortable nooks in which to keep to one’s self, indoors and out. )
An inspiring variety of visitors for dinner, sometimes for a day or two’s stay…food to beat La Bande prepared by a jovial trilingual chef…an excellent, enthusiastic staff (from five nations, by my count)…a tour of Reggello by the region’s mayor and his comrade (including a private showing of the local Masaccio masterpiece, still weeks away from being on view to the general public)…festive meals in nearby towns…backstage access to the Uffizzi (Florence is less than half an hour away by train)…the everpresence of the man (author Gregor von Rezzori) who for over thirty years filled this house with fantastic energy and curious artifacts and great stories, in both memories and novels…good music…many deer, hares, pheasants, owls, salamanders, a Chaplinesque pug, a passionate Labrador, a sweet brown beauty whose breed I never knew, and the derriere of one wild boar…forest to get really, really, soberingly lost in (which should happen to everyone at least once, especially a writer in Inferno country)…art, anecdotes, cozy cushions galore—my mind opened. I found myself writing not one novel but two, both of which I expect to finish this year. This was a home to work in.
Oh! Here’s a Gregor von Rezzori anecdote, a centerpiece in my memory of my stay, related to me by Beatrice’s vivacious nephew Alessandro: “Grisha asked me once: Do you know why angels can fly? I didn’t. So he told me: Because they take themselves lightly.”