Susan’s Girl Sophie

by Teresa Lynch

Susan Kelly had a wonderfully busy summer.  The moment she was done teaching her summer session here in the Telecom department, she hopped on a plane and flew to London.  The next day she started teaching a three-week scriptwriting class, which she has been coordinating as a study abroad opportunity for the past year and a half.  When that ended, she allowed herself a brief – though greatly enjoyed –  four-day vacation that consisted of sleeping, swimming, and walking through old town in Nice, France.  But, her trip through Europe was far from over.  She rented a car and drove four hours along the Ligurian coast to the place where she spent the most biggest portion of her summer in Europe; a picturesque town in Italy named Camaiore.  It certainly wasn’t all play as she worked on a scriptwriting class in which she had enrolled, but you might expect that it was a difficult task considering her locale.

A view of the hills and the sea from near Camaoire. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Nestled in the foothills of the Alps and less than two miles from the sea, Susan found herself residing in a Tuscan paradise and enjoying local wines, cuisine, and friends.  The story, literally, that brought her to rent the downstairs portion of a home that belongs to an artist named Maja and set out on a quest to learn about marble, started last winter.

Around Christmas-time last year, on the road to a holiday destination with her husband and son, Susan sat scribbling notes in the back seat of their car.  Like Athena from Zeus’ head, a character had just jumped from her mind.  Now, nine months later, the character Susan fondly refers to as “her Sophie” has become the protagonist for her script Carrara; the script that inspired the grant-funded, research trip to Italy.  The trip was required to investigate several things mostly unfamiliar to her.  First, the marble quarries of Carrara, the birthplace of Michelangelo’s stone, had to be explored.  Next, she had to get to know the people who live and work there so that she could accurately represent her character and the thriving culture within which she lived.  And, finally, she needed to understand the anarchist political atmosphere that plays a pivotal role in the conflict detailed in the script.  Without revealing the overarching storyline, Susan’s story “revolves around the central theme of metamorphosis” – a metaphor played out in the changing of the stone and in the changing of Sophia.

While in Italy, Susan discovered that certain portions of her original storyline could not work and accurately represent the culture of the area she had chosen as her setting.  Consequently, she took on a reworking of the script that entailed leaning on the knowledge of those she met while in Italy.

A marble quarry in the Apuan Alps above Pietrasanta. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Maja, the woman in whose home she stayed and with whom she formed a sisterly bond, proved to be an invaluable resource as she was a professional marble sculptor with contacts in local art circles as well as the quarries.  Susan joined a local book club where she was able to meet a woman with a history astonishingly parallel to her Sophie’s.  She also had the opportunity to observe other sculptors at their craft.  One of the memories she shared with me was particularly magnificent.  The tools that the artists use are power tools that run on intense blasts of air.  As you can probably imagine, the amount of stone dust created by such tools is considerable.  It powdered every surface in range, including, or course, the sculptors themselves.  When the artists took break for lunch, they removed the heads of the tools and “showered themselves with the air.”  In the midday sun of the outdoor studio, the powder thrown into the air generated a brilliant visual display.  Magical is the word Susan used to describe it.

L: A marble mountain above Colonnata. R: A house in Pietrasanta. Photos courtesy of Susan Kelly.

When she returned to Boston, her son, husband, and dog were waiting for her at the airport.  They took a family trip up to Isle au Haut off the coast of Maine before driving back to Bloomington.  The Adirondacks did seem to pale a bit in comparison, but she was happily returned to her family and home and she had accomplished much more than she had imagined.  Not only she had gathered the information needed to complete the story, she had made friends with people who continue to be invaluable sounding boards for her.  As it stands, Susan is back in Bloomington, teaching and writing away.  She never got the chance to carve while in Italy, but it just so happens that she has a friend here in town who has procured a piece of marble for her.  A piece from Italy no less.  This fall, in addition to finishing Carrara, she’s going to learn to carve the stone; to find out, like her Sophie, “what’s in the marble.”

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