Italy/Ireland | 2012
Michael Jacobs (Genoa, Italy 1952) is a writer of Irish/Italian ancestry with particular interest in Travel, History of Art, Spain, Latin America and Gastronomy. His most successful popular work in both English and Spanish has been The Factory of Light: Tales from my Andalucian Village(2004), a true story but with a flavour of the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. His large body of work includes a study of fresco painting in the Veneto, kidnapping by the Farc, and a history of his grandparents’ intercontinental love affair. His work has appeared in places as diverse as Spanish radio and the films of Woody Allen, and he is currently working on his much-awaited first novel.
The Villa Maddalena was the perfect place for me to put the finishing touches to the most idiosyncratic of my travel books,The Robber of Memories, and to make a start on a first novel that draws heavily on my memories of an Italy to which I had barely returned in thirty-five years.
The house and its tower are inhabited with the spirits of so many of the people I have known and admired throughout the world. As a travel writer it was an inspiration sleeping and working in the quarters of my mentor Bruce Chatwin. As an art historian, it was moving to discover that one of the legends of my years at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Bryan Robertson, had had his ashes scattered directly below the tower. But, of course, the spirit that truly presides the place is that of Gregor von Rezzori , a writer whose life had always intrigued me since the time I read Memoirs of an Anti-Semite. He was someone whom I had always imagined as inhabiting a fantastical lost world.
I have never stayed before at a writer’s foundation, and I find it hard to conceive of any other institution as special as this one. The fact that it draws such an international crowd of writers is greatly to its credit, and makes you aware more than ever of the parochial nature of the British literary establishment. Through its library, and my conversations with Beatrice von Rezzori, Mirza Waheed, Max Rabino, Diana Evans, Alexander Starritt and Tomaz Salamun, I have been introduced to a whole range of authors hitherto unfamiliar to me, such as David Albahari, Dany Laferriere, and Jan Kalman Stefansson. My knowledge of poetry in particular has extended enormously, and the experience of sharing the tower with Tomas has also given me much insight into a poet’s day to day lifestyle: two hours of frantic, early morning typing, followed by eight hours speculating on the Stock Exchange.
But there is also something unworldly about the Villa Maddalena’s appeal. From the moment of my first leaving the main road from Donnini, and driving down the track that leads to the villa, I had the impression of approaching an earthly paradise. To stay in a place where every day you encounter a new object of beauty and fascination; where the food is consistently wonderful; where animals are treated with love and respect; where the surroundings are so seductive; and where there is so much of human interest, has been a privileged experience that has convinced me that my early perceptions of the life led by Gregor von Rezzori were perhaps not so far-fetched after all.