In amongst the many books I have read in my research during my time here in Sicily my all time favourite has to be the autobiographical A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps. It is a wonderful love letter to Sicily that became Daphne’s home after inheriting a grand old house built and designed by her talented Uncle, painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson from 1905 to 1907.
What plays in my memory about this book is the mixture of poetry in its descriptions and the harmonious mixture of art nouveau and Sicilian styles in that wonderful house and its gardens. The house itself seems to become a living character as does the Sicilian landscape and the lively Sicilians that inhabit it. This house in Sicily seems to have been this magical, chaotic place that attracted many artists and intellectuals to it as its guests in a special pocket of timelessness.
Over the past few years I have obsessively been trying to track down this house in Sicily. I have visited Taormina several times with friends and family but I have never had a moment to search for Daphne’s house. Scouring the internet I discovered that Daphne died peacefully at her beloved Casa Cuseni on 30th November 2005. She left the house to her nephews and nieces who opened the house and garden to tours and appointed an architect for restoration. The project couldn’t be completed and the house was put on the market. The Cundari/Spadaro family have taken up management of the Casa Cuseni turning it in to a museum and luxury bed and breakfast.
Even though I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay at Casa Cuseni I’m sure it would be very satisfying to sneak into the gardens to picture Daphne wondering the rooms and look through the museum to place this magical house deeper into my memories to give it another layer of timelessness and keep it alive beyond that wonderful book about a house in Sicily.
The unwilling expat
sources:http://www.casacuseni.com/ ,casacuseni.org, thebestofsicily.com and images from Google