Jose Manuel Prieto

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Cuba | 2001

Jose Manuel Prieto is a Cuban-born historian, essayist, and novelist who lived in the Soviet Union for 12 years. He is the author of Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire

The month I spent in Santa Maddalena, a picturesque and agreeable place, only few kilometers from Florence, was a new experience for me: an opportunity to enjoy a perfect writing environment. In that short time, safe from daily preoccupations in that ideal environment created by Beatrice del Monti, I made advances in my novel which, working in other conditions, might have taken me months. Beatrice Monti is clearly very concerned that the writers who stay at Santa Maddalena are able to be as productive as possible: in the Tower, so filled with history, the conditions are unbeatable and the sight invites reflection as well as work. The formidable library of Santa Maddalena, gathered by Gregor von Rezzori was, also, very useful in my writing. The place embodies respect and love for literature, and this will impress anyone interested in literature. It was wonderful in that way. Also wonderful was Santa Maddalena’s warm atmosphere and its unbeatable dinners, which were attended by unforgettable speakers and family friends. I can still recall the long conversations I had with Beatrice as the fire burned down in the fireplace, her pretty dogs looking on. Beatrice is an excellent hostess: aware of my interest in Russia, Beatrice thoughtfully invited her close friend, Elena Bolkonskaya, who is of the old Russian aristocracy. Her visit was a great experience and very helpful to the novel I was working on. Nor can I forget the Holy Week celebrations, which were attended by nearby relatives of Beatrice and in which I was amiably permitted to participate, as if were a family member. A formidable place, a lovely and intelligent hostess, and the peace of having nothing to do but write: this summarizes my stay in Santa Maddalena.