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In our exclusive interview with de Blasi, she shared some fascinating insights about her background, her inspirations, and her life in Italy.
"Everything is inspiration to write. A writer never stops writing, even if it's in his head or on paper napkins. I've been desperate enough to scratch half phrases on my bedsheets, not finding paper and fearing to lose a thought should I get up to look for such."
"I don't think writers can be raised up in a creative writing class. I think it's a bold, bad lie to convince someone he should -- or can -- be taught to write. I think writers' groups can sometimes be helpful, but I'm mostly wary even of them. Writing is a private, solo, isolating, and very lonely job. But if you're a writer, it's all you ever want to do."
"[My first job] was as a radio voice and TV voice and face. My best contracts were with Peugeot -- (‘the best-kept automotive secret in America -- Peugeot') -- and Coty perfumes -- (‘if you want to capture someone's attention, whisper') and other sort of soft-sell products."
"I taught cooking on a PBS channel for a few years. I was very passionate about this opportunity and wanted the audience to not just learn formula, but to be inspired by the beauty and sensuality of the raw food itself. My first show was live. And not understanding my gaffe until the producer explained it to me, I opened by holding up a single, great, and splendid leek. Camera in for a close-up. I smiled my TV model smile and said: ‘First, you take a leek.' I know someone has since written a book with that title, but I can assure you my traffic with those words came long before it."
"Since I live in a 14th-century palazzo on the via del Duomo in an Umbrian hill town, there's not such a great deal from which to unwind. Our life is simple and full of rituals such as sidling up to the bar in our favorite caffè -- Montanucci -- at least four times a day for cappuccini, aperitivi, pastry, chocolate, and sympathy; I write very early in the morning for a few hours, and then at about nine we go to the morning markets, shop for lunch, sit in the caffè and talk to our friends, come home to cook and put our bread in the oven. We sit down to lunch at one, get up from the table at about two-thirty or three, nap for an hour. I write until about seven-thirty, when we take the passeggiata -- the evening stroll -- the moment when the whole town is out and about. We pick up a few things for supper, take an aperitivo with our friends, head back home, where we'll dine at about nine-thirty, or go out to dine at one of the typical, tiny osterie for which Orvieto is famous."
"How wonderful you ask about dislikes, though I'm not certain this sits in that category or in the one labeled ‘things that hurt.' But I find readers who judge style -- my style -- tiresome, presumptuous, often using the critical forum to air barely disguised ‘issues' of their own. And is there some glint of jealousy in their criticism? I'm not sure. That I see and feel life in a certain way and then write about it in my own voice, well, that belongs to me. Also I think it's that I find sarcasm, in all its tortured forms, to be simply naked insecurity. It's grand whenever a person states their sentiments. Better, if done so with a fine set of civil manners."
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In the summer of 2003, Marlena de Blasi took some time out to talk with us about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
I really don't think there was a single epiphanous book. I cherished and was touched by so many. But I was still in my teens when I first read Man of La Mancha, and I suppose because it resonated how I was already looking at life, it took on a certain sacredness which it's managed to sustain. The chivalric approach of it still appeals.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
I'd have to go way back and begin with The Little Red Hen and The Little Engine That Could. When my children were small, I came to love Bread and Jam for Frances. I would say that among these three little stories, layer upon layer of wisdom is revealed.
I read and reread the Russians -- Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy especially. It's their expression of and their embrace of fatalism that appeals and instructs. But it's the work of Rainer Maria Rilke -- among it Sonnets to Orpheus, The Book of Hours, and Stories of God -- that nourishes most.
What are some of your favorite films?
Anything black-and-white and produced before or just after the last great war. Or any lavishly wrought period piece, no matter when it was produced. I like my cinema splendidly costumed. Dangerous Liaisons, for instance. A Room with a View, or Enchanted April, Tea with Mussolini, albeit the presence of Cher. Before I met Fernando, I often evaluated a potential companion by observing his reaction to Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.
What kind of music do you love to listen to?
I move from Paganini to Astor Piazzolla and toward nearly everything from the Baroque and Romantic eras. But Mama Cass can still make me cry. I love some Italian pop music when it's throaty and smoky and desperate.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
If it's here in this little hill town, we might read Dante's La Vita Nuova . Here, that text is ever fresh, relevant, titillating. My butcher quotes it as he's boning my rabbit. Here, the medieval is now. But if this book club is in America, well, we might read Lee Smith's The Last Girls. I think Americans like to meet up with themselves in the books they read.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I give poetry books to almost everyone. History books to the rest. Of course, they're what I want for myself.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
We have to go back to Rilke. Romanticism, spiritualism.... That his truths and his dreams were the same things. That he was always a beginner.
What are you working on now?
A sequel to A Thousand Days in Venice. The working title is Dolce Salata. It means "sweet and salty," because that's how life tastes to me. The book opens on the day we leave Venice and arrive in the southern Tuscan village of 200 souls where we'll spend the next two years of our life. It's not a "restructuring the Tuscan villa drama" -- we lived in a barely renovated, heatless, telephoneless, rented stable/farmhouse -- the perfect place, we thought, to reinvent our lives. The Venice book was principally about my taking chances, whereas this one is about the two of us taking chances together. Along with the simple, delicious glories of Tuscan farm life, a complicated character who animated our lives and who was our muse is the protagonist here.
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