Casa Cuseni is perched high up on the hillside in Taormina Sicily. The house was built by Robert Hawthorn Kitson in 1910. Kitson was a talented watercolorist who enjoyed travel around the Mediterranean collecting and preserving fine art objects. The house, gardens and much of the furniture was designed by Sir Frank Brangwyn. Daphne Phelps, Kitson’s niece, inherited the property in 1947. After much debate and deliberation, Daphne decided to keep the house and started to let out rooms to raise the cash to maintain the property. Because of her late Uncles vast connection to friends in the artistic community, Daphne attracted notable writers, painters, poets and designers of the time to stay for weeks if not months of rest, relaxation and inspiration. A few of the notable artists in residence where Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel and Pablo Picasso. In fact two works of Picasso hang in the office of the B &B. It’s not everyday that such a gift is given, but that was the power of Daphne’s great spirit. She made sincere, complex and long-lasting friends of her guests. She created an oasis of tranquility at the casa. My stay was too brief but I had the experience of being in the presence of great beauty and the living artistic energy still embodied behind the vanilla cream stucco walls.
I stayed in a comfortable large bedroom tastefully laid out with old English furniture but Italian in the habit of a floor to ceiling curtain in front of a beautiful door leading out to the balcony. The host opened that door and it is where the magic began. I will happily never recover from my first view of Mt Etna. The enchantment began by looking on alongside the statuary at the impressive smoking summit of the volcano. Apparently, there had been an eruption the day before and I could see lava flow in the night. I have been too close to a tornado and felt a jolt of fear for what could happen when you least expect it. But, people around me went about being tourists or living a busy life tending us, aware of the potential for ruin but accepting the dramatic beauty all around. The view of the Mediterranean with its mix of azure and aquamarine calm waters keep Etna’s feet cool as she gently rumbles. I am reminded of a saying: Cool feet, cool head.
On the wall in my room where several lovely watercolors. I could not find a signature but I believe these were painted by RH Kitson. The bed was comfortable. The shared bath in the hall was spotlessly clean with abundant hot water. Every window had a view into a pocket of delight. Being a sort who prefers quiet, I could have stayed at the B & B the entire visit, never stepping out into town but content nevertheless for being on that balcony. Perhaps than, when I die, I can transfer my energy into one of the statuary and remain on watch as the years roll by.
My neighbors in the next room where an English couple on tour of this great island of Sicily. I forget now where they are from but they had been to my home state of Massachusetts. They surprised me completely in saying they’d made a stop in the City of Springfield. This is the third largest city in the state. No, they didn’t visit the Basketball Hall of Fame. No, they didn’t know much about the French and Indian Wars, never heard of Metacomet or William Pynchon. They went to see where Bart Simpson was from. I am not sure if the television program, The Simpsons, is based in this Springfield. I am not a fan but certainly was amazed at the idea that they were so loyal to the show they made a stop to see what it was like. Not quite on a par with coming to Sicily. But, people travel and do what makes them happy. That’s what it’s all about.
Being a proper English woman, Daphne left a gorgeous brimming tiered garden boasting several fine water fountains. The house is in superb condition. Guests are well tended by Mimma and her husband, the current owners. Mimma is the daughter of Concetta, fans of the book ” A House in Sicily” cannot forget the loyal cook and housekeeper of 50 years. What a thrill it was to meet her. I only regret not meeting Don Ciccio’s descendants. Daphne spoke so often and with such fondness of the Don that I did have to ask Mimma, was their relationship more than platonic? She thought not but Daphne was a free spirit in matters of love and it was a possibility. However, some things are better left a mystery. Although, in Taormina, anything may be possible.
The town is a bustling resort and a magnet for tourists from all over the world. It’s a hopping place any night of the week. Or, a classy hang out for any cat taking the cool evening air. A person could spend hours wandering the streets of Taormina. People watching is part of the journey and some of the best sights on tour are kids playing calcio in the square, or young teens break dancing in the streets. I highly recommend visiting Isola Bella, a tiny preserved nature park in the bay of Mazzaró. For a small fee, visitors can walk among its cool paths along rock formations and small shallow caves. The park boosts beautiful fauna including bird of paradise and lupine. Walk along the rocky shoreline and soak in the sun and sea of Sicily.
Do not leave town without seeing the great Teatro Greco. The ancient Greek Theater has attracted artists since 2C AD. This immense open air amphitheater is in frequent use during the high tourist season staging plays, ballets, operas and many musical performances nightly. It’s an absolute wow to walk around the site. Every view is majestic. And, ever-present, Mt Etna watches over. Perhaps that is why the locals cope with the proximity of a live, active volcano in the backyard. She’s kept preoccupied by the artists and soothed by many a lovely song. She wouldn’t want to interrupt the show below.
Come to Taormina. There is no place like Sicily. Come to this little Eden and stay for a day or 100 years. The goddess of Etna welcomes travelers. She is awake and will awaken those dreams inside of each of us. They will play out here. Sono contento qui in Siciliá. Va bene. I am happy here in Sicily. All goes well.
Un caro salute
Written by Frances Ann Wychorski, May 19, 2015