When a mysterious person has a mysterious home we can only hope that, when they die, we might at least see how they lived. The Ancien Régime has Versailles; Dali has the Portlligat Museum-House; Elvis has Graceland. We’ll visit these places in the hope of tracing the memories of those who once lived there. If we’re lucky, there might be a gift shop.
But in the case of Casa Malaparte, more than 50 years after Curzio’s death, we still can’t walk around inside to judge his taste in furniture. Instead we’re left clicking through pictures or learning that his living estate occasionally rents out the home for luxury-brand photo shoots. Any more access than this, according to the current owners, “would kill the spirituality of the house.”
What’s in a house, anyway? If you’re lucky enough to own one, it can be anything. Just like our Facebook profiles are carefully curated, warped interpretations of our selves, the home can be this artificial, meaningless convention, or—for those of us with Che Guevara posters in our bedrooms—this central place that encapsulates all the struggle and tragedy in our lives. Malaparte referred to his Casa as “a house like me.” He not only lived in it, but also designed and built it, which makes it all the more mysterious, when the person wholly becomes his house.
This quote reminded me of The Vanishing (1988), a Dutch-French film in which homes are simultaneously at the center and periphery of its mystery. To give you some context and many spoilers, the movie is about this guy’s girlfriend disappearing just before vacationing at her little house called Bois Vieux.
It’s not until three years later that her kidnapper finds him: His name is Raymond, he’s a sociopath, and he’s great with kids. He also owns a second home in Saint-Côme where his middle-class family suspects he hides his mistress. In reality, this is where he’s tirelessly preparing to bury his sedated victim alive and, three years later, her forlorn lover.
At one point, Raymond’s wife asks him about that mysterious house of his, which he supposedly spends so much time building and renovating. Raymond describes his house as his passion, starting “…with an idea in your head. And you take a step… then a second… Soon, you realize you're up to your neck in something intense. But that doesn't matter. You keep at it for the sheer pleasure of it. For the pure satisfaction it might bring you.”
Even though he’s really talking about murdering some lady, the man’s a perfectionist, and who can blame him?
Not until the latter half of the film does the distraught boyfriend finally visit Bois Vieux, which has been built up as this sacred place—inaccessible without its owner and all the more spiritual. Once there he has a spasm of a dream, the same one his girlfriend had just before vanishing. But even after entering his lover’s subconscious, the body’s most sacred place, it’s still not enough. He wants to know exactly what happened to her.
It’s no revelation that access is a sure-fire way to poison any mystery, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to come inside and pee in the bathroom. For the case of Casa Malaparte, the exclusivity, the diligent renovations we’ll never see—that’s all we’re supposed to see. It’s like that Night at the Roxbury nightclub idea where the line to get in is the club itself; you have to dance and drink first to get in.
We want to know exactly what’s in Casa Malaparte because we can’t know exactly what’s in it. There’s no new idea there, but it’s nice enough to take a step back and acknowledge that something like it can still exist today and bait our attention. This is the house of a man who was a Nazi-sympathizer in ’31 and a communist by ’56, so boredom wasn’t a place he spent a long time dwelling. It’s the fear of boredom, or boring, that drives someone to invent a mystery. And maintaining a mystery is just as exhausting as arranging stanchions around some dead guy’s living room where he may, or may not, have etched swastikas onto his armchair.
by TYLER WILSON