A month. An eyeblink. And now back in Prague. Did that just happen?
I had thought to post every delicious detail about my residency whilst there, but as it turned out, I just wanted to immerse in it, instead. I did take a ton of photos, however: some conversations early on in the residency encouraged me to appoint myself the embedded photographer for our Feb-March session of Bogliasco Fellows, and to create a Flickr account for our group to share. (Perhaps 282 pictures are worth 282,000 words. At the very least, they’re more concise, with less likelihood of spelling errors.)
Sunday was my my last full day in Bogliasco, and I was feeling my usual mix of melancholy about leaving a place I’d grown very attached to. It was gorgeous and sunny out: the sea was calm, sailboats leisurely poking along the shore. In between packing, I had a beautiful, simple lunch in the main villa with an early-arrival Fellow from the group following ours, and then I attempted to soak up some sun on my balcony, since it’s likely to be a little while before I have, oooh, another private Riviera mountainside villa veranda to myself. These things don’t grow on trees, you know.
People fall in love with Italy. This is a statement of the obvious. I probably fell in love with Italy the first time when I was 15, and watched A Room With A View. Italy soon moved from background to foreground when I took history and art history courses in college, making me itch to see it for myself. As soon as I was of legal age, I backpacked through Venice, Florence, and Rome, and came back for more a couple of years later. A few years after that, I spent a month traveling around Tuscany and Umbria: a few years after that, I spent a little time in Torino. And then that was it for about seven years. Last summer, I got my first taste of Liguria for a friend’s wedding: this past month and a half, I got the full 5-course meal.
At risk of being platitudinous, I’ve been reflecting today on a series of very simple things related to this residency experience, to the work I accomplished, and to this fantastical setting I was lucky enough to be in.
1. Living by the sea makes everything better. It’s just so comforting. It’s not just the Californian in me, it’s all the years growing up, playing on beaches in Asia and the Middle East, too. In Prague, we live by the river, which is comforting and lovely too, of course. But the seeea! The salt. The air. The expansiveness of it all. I will live by an ocean again. Without a doubt.
2. Italian food makes me believe in the divine. Any food writer can say it about a thousand times better than I, but what struck me more than ever this time around was the almost sacred (but never precious or formal) relationship Ligurians have with their food: fresh ingredients, intense flavors, and good lord, all that focaccia and pasta and seafood. My stomach has been hurting from over-use: I couldn’t stop eating because I was afraid I would miss something! The meals at the villa were amazing, but simple: beautiful risottos, soups, pastas, fresh fish, lovely desserts. I haven’t eaten with such urgency since P’s and my trip to Malaysian and Singapore in 2005. At the time, we couldn’t imagine a better eating trip, and I remember thinking that probably the only other place it could probably happen would be…Italy.
3. Good company makes me productive and inspired, especially when shared meals and excursions are also involved: communitas just works for me. (Alienation, not so much.) While I’d slowly but surely been making some fine new friends in Prague, I’d still been craving a more intense dose of academic and creative conversation. While some people might need a little bit more solitude and less scheduling in their residencies, the collegiality engendered by the de rigueur nightly cocktails and dinner was really critical for me. I was also the youngest Fellow in our session, which was unexpectedly nice. It was so comforting and inspiring to absorb what these more experienced, accomplished scholars, poets, choreographers, composers and musicians had to share: it was also reassuring, in the midst of my present career limbo/uncertainty, to be around folks who really have been able to make a long life of this work. And it was also wonderful that our partners were welcomed at the Center, which also invited a healthy, happy balance of the sometimes-clashing nature of our solitary and social pursuits.
4. I may never live this well again, and I’m OK with that: I can die happy and well-fed.
5. Making work in a real studio makes a difference. I’d somehow forgotten this. My first-year studio in grad school was unusable, so I worked at home. My second-year studio was phenomenal (but that was 3 years ago). After that, I did projects on-site or worked at home. I’m fine working in non-traditional studios: regular rooms, cafes, trains, but wow: space to spread out, to make a little bit more of a mess, to pin stuff up and step back to check it out, made the quality of my studio experience at Bogliasco extraordinary.
6. Respect and generosity hopefully beget more respect and generosity. I feel so utterly overwhelmed by the consideration with which all the Fellows were treated: we were living under such extraordinary conditions at the Center, and treated in ways that I don’t know we could ever afford to treat ourselves. The beauty of the villa. The meals. The views. The warmth, care and friendliness of the staff. The attention to detail. And yet, it never collapsed into just being a glorified holiday. It was simply the most optimal conditions for work that I’ve ever experienced. Little details: Bus and train tickets so we didn’t have to go find our own. When it was cold, they found another space heater to put in my studio, and there was a kettle, tea and sugar to keep me cozy, as well. Utterly nurturing, in the best way possible. The bigness of it all makes me want to be bigger, better artist and person, too.
I wrote about what I love about residencies in general in more detail here, while I was at Solyst, in Denmark, in 2008: all of my experiences with residencies have been very different, but equally rewarding. They’re not the best environment for everyone: some are too social, others, too isolated. For me, though, they’re a perfect fit: I enjoy the new company, and I thrive in new environments.
It’s never clear at the conclusion of a residency just what exactly was accomplished, and this past month is no different: while I’m pleased with what I’ve thrown myself into, the work feels more the blooming of something new and exciting, rather than the culmination of a grand gesamtkunstwerk. I’ve learned to trust that the residency experience often makes other work more possible later: Motel Cucaracha couldn’t have happened without La Napoule first: Flor 1973-78 couldn’t have happened without Solyst beforehand. So, with Bogliasco, I have faith that all of the richness provided will spur me on with imagination and vision.
One last thing I’ll say for those of you applying for residencies: apply for more than one. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get in. I’ve written about the crapshoot that is any competitive application process, but just to put things in perspective, I applied to 8 residencies/residency-type programs in the past year, of which I was accepted into just 1. And damn, if I’m not beyond dumbfounded and deliriously happy that this happened to be the one I was invited for. I’ll happily plow through another 8 or more applications if there’s a chance that one of them might bring me someplace wondrous and inspiring like this again.