Montalvo Residency

What with packing clothes, food and toiletries, and getting work together to take to the Montalvo Arts Center, I didn’t show up at the Commons building to pick up my key until three. Julie Thorne was there to greet me along with her little dog Griffin. Griffin is named after the two stone animals guarding the Montalvo gate. I’ve met the little terrier before, so she ran up to greet me, tail wagging, a welcome that started things off well for my almost-two-week stay in a studio on the grounds.


My studio is one big room, like a loft apartment in the city. The windows are huge, the ones facing the walkways equipped with shades. My computer sits on a solid IKEA desk and overlooks tall trees and blue sky, an inspirational view for a writer. I’ve brought file after file of collected material I’ve written in the past and never transcribed. I have three goals in mind: to finish my manuscript, Finite Infinity; to find some “golden words” in all those files I brought; and to find a press that is interested in publishing a poetry anthology on Hollywood, its stars, and its myths.

I’ve met three of my fellow residents, all of them from a distant place. That’s the first question they ask: How far have you come? Two of them, from London and New York, are working in concert on a computer project. Last night at dinner they tried to explain it to me. I’ll have to see it to understand. The other lady at the table is a composer who uses the writings and poetry of others as a basis for her music. She is experimenting with a collage approach to the writings. Less hard to understand, but interesting. And Montalvo invites one staff member each night to dinner at the residency Commons to get them acquainted with what goes on outside the Villa. Last night it was Nicole, who handles weddings and other events; she was charming and wields a mean dishtowel.

Last week in the Saratoga News the feature article was on the chef at Montalvo. After transporting all my goods to my studio, I went out to lock my car. Next to it was a pick-up loaded with bag after bag of greens and groceries. Michelle Fuerst, the chef, was just returning from a trip to the Farmers’ Market in Santa Cruz, where she goes every Wednesday. I carried some of her packages into the kitchen in the Commons, where Michelle cooks dinner for the residents five days a week. She has worked at Zuni’s and Chez Panisse, learning all the tricks of two great restaurants. Montalvo brings in an intern (this time Michelle) for a year’s worth of experience in feeding varying groups of people. Culinary fellows are interviewed and selected for a one-year residency, the only one of its kind in the country, and I am particularly lucky to be a resident while this chef is here. Last night we had melt-in-the-mouth salmon, farro with yogurt and herbs, and a crisp green salad. Dessert was figs and tangerines. Perfect. She truly is an artist with a kitchen as her canvas.

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