USA | 2001
Vendela Vida’s first novel, Girls on the Verge, received great acclaim when published in 1999. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Jane, and The Chicago Sun Times, as well as on several websites.
Since returning from my stay in Santa Maddalena not a day has gone by when I haven’t been astounded by how much progress I made on my novel while at the Foundation.
When I say progress I am referring to sentences that were written and composed into paragraphs that worked themselves into chapters, to the pages and pages I produced while in Tuscany .
But wait, there’s more.
By progress I also mean the research I was able to do in Italy . One of the characters of my novel does restoration on paintings and while in Tuscany I sat in on a number of classes at Spinelli, a famous art restoration school in Florence . I didn’t know about Spinelli before arriving at Santa Maddalena. In fact, my observing classes and talking to professors at the school was entirely due to Beatrice’s suggestion and encouragement (she even found a brochure from the school for me) and for this my novel is all the more believable and rich. And for this I am forever thankful. I also feel that as a young writer I progressed so much from being at Santa Maddalena because of the dinner conversations. It was during these meals and evenings spent with Beatrice and the other three extremely talented writers in residence, as well as a number of guests, that I learned much about the books I now want to read and countries I know want to visit and artists who I have since studied. I kept a list of every new writer, artist, book, painting, place, anecdote, observation, advice, word of wisdom, phrase, recipe, church and museum I learned of while I was at the Foundation. The list is six and a half pages long.
For anyone visiting the Foundation I would suggest going for long walks and exploring the countryside. And also, especially people staying in the tower, I would recommend reading works written about or from the structure. I read Bruce Chatwin’s work while staying there and also Gregor von Rezzori’s Anecdotage. About this work I would like to say a few words. It is a book that is remarkably progressive, playful, and post-modern n its omission of commas, thereby creating rather poetic sentences that can be read in a number of ways—their myriad meanings all being intentional of course. I dare someone to read Anecdotage and then look out of the window of the tower at the Torre del Castellano and not see it as described in the book: “simple as a child’s drawing of a knight’s castle.” Or at the Moorish Palace of Sammezzano without recalling the description of it as being “tucked brick –red into the evergreen obscurity of its park like a comb in the hair of an Andalusian woman.”
It is quite an amazing thing to have company and solitude and stimulation and relaxation in one place. Santa Maddalena, for me, was such a place. And plus, did I mention I got work done? I am still amazed.