SPAIN | 2023
Miguel Barrero was born in Oviedo, Spain, in 1980. He has published the novels Espejo (Asturias Joven Award), La vuelta a casa, Los últimos días de Michi Panero (Juan Pablo Forner Award), La existencia de Dios, Camposanto en Collioure (Prix International de Littérature from Antonio Machado Foundation), La tinta del calamar (Rodolfo Walsh Award) and El rinoceronte y el poeta. He is also the author of the travel book Las tierras del fin del mundo and the collection of articles Siempre de paso. He was included in the 10 de 30 program of the Government of Spain as one of the most representative names of the new Spanish narrative.
We writers are so demanding that time and calm are what we only want from life. The calm allows ideas to emerge, which appear timid or hesitant at first and gradually get consolidated, just as the sun rises from behind the mountains at the end of the night and takes a look before consummating the performance of dawn. Time becomes essential to clear a path of words that, with better or worse fortune, leads towards that unexpected light which has no fear to stop in meanders, to get lost in secondary detours, to forget the initial, clear and precise course, and to board on another one, more erratic, with, perhaps, more shadows than certainties, but whose layout seems far more interesting. Neither time nor calm abound in life; like everything important, it is very hard to achieve them. Like everything essential, both tend to be relegated by the dictatorship of the urgent, by the rush of the hasty, by the perverse logic of the pragmatic.
When Beatrice Monti della Corte wrote and invited me to spend a few weeks writing at her residence in Tuscany, she did it in such a generous and enthusiastic way that I could not resist. However, what really encouraged me to accept were the words from Alberto Manguel, who highly recommended the experience to me: “You will be able to write among Florentine cedars and to savor exquisite dishes.” We writers get along well with trees, because they give us the harmony of silence, and we also have the habit of eating at least two or three times a day, preferably well. Therefore, the perspective was so paradisiacal that sometimes I even thought that everything was a joke or a well-meant exaggeration. There could not be a place like that in the whole world, a bastion where worries were banished and where life and literature were the only tasks to be entrusted.
I arrived in Santa Maddalena at the beginning of March and left it as the month began to droop, a few days before my magnificent hostess would celebrate her birthday at the very beginning of spring. I had in my suitcase, when settling in, a galley proof to correct and a “patchworked” file on my computer with some pages of what one day might become a novel. When I packed to leave, the galley proof had become a real book, and those hesitant paragraphs had shaped themselves into a first draft. In a couple of weeks I fulfilled the work that under normal circumstances—that is, with limited time and calm restricted to a few hours a day—would have kept me busy for two or three months. Beatrice Monti della Corte turned out to be a woman with a vast culture and a fascinating life, a magnificent conversationalist, a very attentive tutor endowed with the precise wisdom to be surrounded by a handful of wonderful people —Edoardo, Nayla, Rasika, Manjula, Tonino—and she created a paradise in the middle of the forest, safe from the harshness of the world, a locus amoenus where the essence, at last, had triumphed over the unnecessary. I was located in a medieval tower that surely existed when Dante finished his Commedia and Petrarch kept count of the hendecasyllables that would contain his sonnets, and they invited me to use a studio where, as I found out a bit later, Emmanuel Carrère had shaped some pages of Le Royaume. It became, so to speak, my headquarters, but I tried to wander around to obey one of the mottos they told me upon my arrival: “Write in all the places of the house you can.” Just like a contemporary imitation of Boccaccio’s characters or a wilful caricature of Montaigne, I devoted myself to fables at the same table where Bruce Chatwin sat to write his travel books, and I took notes in my notebooks sitting on any random bench of the garden and let the hours run at the office where Gregor von Rezzori— in Santa Maddalena we all learnt to call him Grisha—used in the barn. However, I did not only write throughout my peaceful Tuscan days: I got immersed in books that had been postponed for a long time, I got lost, a couple of times, in the surrounding forests of the property and I made friends with CloClo and Pushkin, two wonderful furry beings which, together with the birds whose songs lulled my daily awakenings, ratified my conviction that animals and plants are the most sophisticated and sincere incarnations of divinity.
One night, during dinner, I asked Beatrice why she had done all this. She replied that just before the death of her husband, he made a request to her: “Don’t become a sad widow.” Therefor, she decided to transform the Tuscan land they both acquired into a temporary home for itinerant writers, a words’ kingdom where stories crackle at the warmth of the fireplace and memory’s echoes blend with the murmur of imagination. A haven of peace and calm where silence and beauty propitiate the breed of new ideas, an paradise on earth where, here and there, pristine pathways are sensed, ambiguous and shady paths where one senses that they will be worth walking.