This Porto-born actress and writer moved to Paris aged 23. A decade later, she upped sticks for Rome, where she wrote her first novel: Vita – La Vie Légère. Italian painting is the inspiration for her second book.
On her honeymoon, Leonor Baldaque was in a hotel in Puglia, where she ended up staying just the one night. “On the second day, in the morning, we discovered the hotel manager’s office had a photo of Mussolini, next to a shotgun. Half an hour later our bags were packed and we were gone.” It was the middle of August and they couldn’t find a hotel. “We were in Lecce at one in the afternoon, and we asked some people in the street if they could recommend a restaurant for pasta alle vongole. Although we were strangers, for them it was a question of honour to take us to a restaurant, invite us to a meal and to their beach house in Otranto, where we had a fantastic time.” It was the beginning of a love story, and a love for Italy, which would last.
The couple moved to Rome in August 2009 and Leonor soon fell head over heels for the city: “the joy, the pleasure of eating, the love of children, the light, the beauty of the ruins”. It was here that she found the ideal place to write. And it was here that found the inspiration for Vita – La Vie Légère, part of the Collection Blanche published by Gallimard, “synonymous of a particular idea of literature: demanding and recognised”, according to the Paris daily Le Monde. From among the 6,000 manuscripts that arrive at the publisher, hers was passed by the reading panel, which is made up of 17 members. “I was very lucky. It’s also a question of finding an editor that appreciates and defends us”, she says modestly. Originally written in French, her début novel was acclaimed by the critics, who praised the story of dream-like meanderings of the cousins Vita, Paul and Millicent in undefined time and place, to the rhythm of a “unique, almost hypnotic musicality”, in the words of Le Nouvel Observateur. Her mastery of the French language is noticed by those who say she speaks Italian very well… but with a French accent.
Leonor Baldaque is the granddaughter of one of the most respected contemporary authors, Agustina Bessa-Luís, and one of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s actresses. She began her film career with Inquietude, in 1998. Since then, she has done 12 films, eight of which were directed by the deacon of filmmakers, having starred alongside such screen figures as Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich and Irene Papas. The most recent was A Religiosa Portuguesa, written and directed by Eugène Green, which was released in 2009.
This actress and writer (or “artist” as she prefers to describe herself) was born in 1977 in Porto, where she attended the French School and where she graduated in Modern Languages and Literature. After she finished university, aged 23, she moved to the French capital, to study drama at the Cours Florent. “It was in France that I found my place, my culture. It was there I grew up, where I became educated, where I experienced all the crucial encounters in my life to mature intellectually”.
After a decade living in Paris, Leonor Baldaque chose Rome as her creative escape. “Paris stimulates a lot of things, but not writing, nor isolation.” She is currently finishing her second book. “It is a novel connected to Italy and Italian painting in particular. Painting really moves me, and sometimes more than writing. It is very different to the first”, she reveals. She will need a few more months to read and revise the text, and such is the intensity of the work that any film work is out of the question. “I can’t imagine what role could drag me away from my desk… Nothing fulfils me like writing.”
Her routine in Rome starts when she wakes up at half-past six. At eight she’s working. After plenty of reading, notes and writing, she takes an hour’s break every day to do exercise at half-past eleven. She starts writing again at two-thirty and it’s at this time of the day that the creative juices really start flowing. At night, she often watches a film (“I’m still a big film buff”), has dinner with friends or has a wander around Rome. “When I give a dinner, I’m a real mamma: pasta à bolognese, saltimbocca alla romana, lemon risotto. And dessert? Ice-cream from San Crispino. The best in my book! As for the wine, I often serve a Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.” In the Italian capital, we can find Leonor in the historical centre, on her bike. Her favourite places are the Pantheon – “I never tire of looking at it” -, the Pincio garden, Via dei Coronari and via Giulia.
With no ties, forever in search of the “foreign” and with the word “freedom” as a constant in her life, Leonor rarely misses things. The last time she was in Portugal was two years ago. She goes to Paris various times every year, what with her different contacts and friendships. “Once in a while, I say: ‘ah Lisbon…!’ And then I think about another new place where I could go. And that attraction of the unknown is always stronger.” She travels more in Italy itself: Umbria, Tuscany, Puglia or Campania, for example. “I love this country, which inspires me”. Between Paris and Rome, she chooses the latter. “Rome is a kind of paradise; although an imperfect one.”
by Isabel Canha photo Pierre Vesperini
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