Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Casa Cuseni-The Infamous Sicilian House Chuck Didn't Quite See

Just one of the stunning architectural displays in the gardens


          We climbed the steep incline of Via Leonardo da Vinci to see a house.

But not just any house.

Chuck, my rascal cat and world traveler, loves a good story and when I sat him down before we took off for Sicily, and told him that I wanted to visit a certain house, he tilted his whiskered face to one side and dared me to impress him. 

“Chuck, Casa Cuseni was left to Daphne Phelps’ aunt in 1948 by her uncle--British painter, Robert Kitson.  She lived in England, and she asked Daphne to travel to Taormina and sell the house for her, but when Daphne saw the house, she fell in love with it and decided instead to live there and open the house up as a Bed and Breakfast.”

“This happened, of course, after World War II, and Daphne needed the support of the local Mafia boss Don Ciccio, which she somehow managed to procur.  She also managed to attract the rich and famous from Europe and America, including Greta Garbo, Henry Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, John Steinbeck, Leonard Bernstein, El Salvador Dali, Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and so many others as her guests for the next sixty years.  

“Her house, or rather villa, was originally constructed by her uncle of stone, marble, wood and terra cotta and then overlaid with a golden yellow stucco and became known as the most beautiful house in Taormina for a number of reasons. 

Casa Cuseni from the rear

         One was the dining room.  Her uncle commissioned Sir Frank Brangwyn to create the dining room, the furniture, and paint the frescoes on the walls.  

Casa Cuseni, a villa, is considered the most beautiful house in Taormina

“The house was also known for its gardens, fruit trees, and roses, and its views of Mt. Etna and the Ionian Sea.”

A peek at the gardens

Well, Chuck finally perked up when he heard the word garden.  

Can you imagine wandering through . . .

I’d read Daphne’s account of her life at Casa Cuseni called A House in Sicily--about her adventures running the villa and about her fast friendship with her housekeeper, Concetta.  Daphne had passed away in 1995 at the age of 94, and her house was closed for the moment, as plans were made to renovate and turn it into a museum or, perhaps, open it again as a Bed and Breakfast.  Nevertheless, I was determined to see this house.  

I’d contacted her publisher and eventually after many emails made arrangements to visit the house.  Initially Mimma, the daughter of Concetta, the woman who’d been Daphne’s housekeeper, agreed to give us a tour, but at the last moment she was called away and an older woman appeared to give us the tour instead.  

She spoke only a Sicilian dialect of Italian and it was difficult to communicate with her, so it took me awhile to realize that the woman who was walking us up and down the rows of the garden and pointing out the high points of the architecture of the villa was Concetta.  

Concetta walking amidst the rows of fresh produce that she grew

The famous sundial

        When I made the connection, I felt like I was in the presence of a rock star.  

“You,” I said to her in my best Italian. “You are Concetta.”

“Yes. I am Concetta.”

Concetta, smiling

“You have seen so much.  You must know so many stories.” And, of course, I was thinking of all the famous people who had come to the villa and stayed there.  All the famous people that Concetta had cooked for.  

She laughed.  “Yes. I could tell you many stories.” 

But she was too much of a lady to do so.  Instead she continued to show us around the magnficent garden and then she took us into the house for a tour.  

Interior shot, courtesy of www.casacuseni.org

      But that was then, and this was now.

The villa, originally slated to be reopened as a museum, had instead been reopened to the public as a Bed and Breakfast.  

Now we were back in Sicily, in Taormina, and this time we were traveling with Chuck.
“What do you say, Chuck?  Do you want to see Casa Cuseni? The gardens?”

So that explains why we were trekking up the steep incline, and I was both excited and a bit nervous.  I’ve learned from long experience that you can never go back.  I had such fond memories of Casa Cuseni and Concetta.

       Did I dare tempt fate?  What if Casa Cuseni had changed?  What if Concetta was no longer there?

And that’s when I decided.  

I didn’t turn that final corner.  I turned around and started back down the hill.  

       "Sorry, Chuck," I said.  "But I want my memories to stay as they are."

The lovely outside gate with a bell buzzer that I couldn't push

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