Canada | 2006
Anita Rau Badami’s first novel
Tamarind Woman was published in the United States and England in 2002. She was the youngest recipient ever of the Marian Engel Award. She won the Regional Commonwealth Prize for her most recent book
The Hero’s Walk, which was named a Washington Post Best Book of 2001. It has been translated into Italian as
Il passo dell’eroe and won the Premio Berto for international fiction in 2004. Her third novel,
Indra’s Net, is to be published in 2006. She lives with her husband and son in Montreal, Canada.
The letter of invitation from Beatrice arrived one morning when I was struggling with what I hoped was the final version of my third novel – one which had taken all of five years to find itself and of which I was heartily tired. “Will you come to Santa Maddalena, a retreat for writers?” Beatrice asked with no preliminaries. Food and accommodation provided for six weeks. Idyllic surroundings in Tuscany. No expectations of anything, no cooking, or household chores, or phone calls or e-mails. In short, BLISS. I didn’t have to think twice about the curious invitation. It kept me going through to the end of my novel, and until I was actually inside the plane en route to Italy, like the prospect of a treasure to be found at the end of a difficult journey.
And now here I am on my last day, in Grisha’s magnificent study, (with Grisha companionably watching me type away from the big boned leather chair beside me), looking out at the glorious view of spring touching everything with magic, wondering when I can return to silence, endless time to write or think or dream or roam around the garden, play with the dogs, vegetarian concoctions cooked for me, chats with dear Beatrice, (Thanks God for her!), about India of which she has seen far more than me even though I was born and lived there for 29 years. I wonder whether the olives which Beatrice planted (declared by Carlo the driver to be a futile exercise because they would die soon anyway) would survive Carlo’s doom-laden predictions. I wonder whether the helleborus plant which fellow writer Philip Ó Ceallaigh and I dug up from the field near “Dead Frog” Road and carried back to Santa Maddalena will flower as I imagine it flowering. I wonder whether scruffy old Teddy the black lab will ever learn to release the ball after fetching it. I wonder whether the wisteria seeds that I gathered from all over the garden will sprout, grow and survive Montreal winter. And I wonder again when I can return to this lovely retreat where I managed to finish editing the first pages of my novel without hating it too much, wrote two essays that were commissioned for anthologies and the first draft of a short story, and worked through the outline of my next novel.
I will miss every moment that I have spent in this idyllic place. The company of eccentric and lovable Beatrice, her husband Grisha the wonderful writer who kept me company with his fluid, evocative prose and his encouraging, if silent company in my office, Alice with her range of burbling sounds, Giudita with her insistence on affection, Teddy with the slobber-covered orange ball, my fellow writers Tobias and Philip with whom I shared many a laugh and wonderful conversations about books, writing, not writing, life, jewels, food, and everything else in the world.
Thanks God for Santa Maddalena.