Thursday 1 September 2022

 Research Trip to Sicily - Part 2

Day 3 - In novel four, Carlo's mother. Lucia, worked as a servant for a wealthy influential family. Sometimes she took him to their villa with her when he was a little boy. The magnificent building where the family lived was in stark contrast to the modest house where the Rosso family resided in a run-down neighbourhood of the same town. Having read Daphne Phelps's book about 'Casa Cuseni' in Taormina on the recommendation of Sarah Kearney on her White Almond Sicily Blog, I knew I wanted to visit the house and wondered if it would provide inspiration for the villa in my novel. Jo and I caught the 8.30am bus to Taormina, enjoying views of the vegetation and fruit trees as we travelled along the coastal road.The magnificent spectacle of Mount Etna was ever present. In contrast to Siracusa and Ortigia, Taormina is perched high above the Ionian sea with amazing views. 

Our tour was booked for11 am and climbing the streets from the bus station to the villa in blistering heat was a feat in itself. Once there, we sat in the shade waiting for Maria, our guide, to start and admired the stunning views. The house was built in 1905 by the British painter, Robert Kitson. The project was overseen by Sir Alfred East and Sir Frank Brangwyn. Kitson left the house to his niece Daphne Phelps in 1947. Many famous people stayed at Casa Cuseni - Pablo Picasso, Bertrand Russell, Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel, Roald Dahl - to name but a few. We were shown a number of first-edition books and original paintings 

The front of the villa.
View from Casa Cuseni
Greta Garbo's sofa -
she lived there for over
 a year in 1950
My gift from
Signor Spadaro
One of the highlights of the tour for me was standing in the dining room
, the creation of Sir Frank Brangwyn. When I told Maria that I was distantly related to him - my great-great-grandfather and his father were cousins - she was delighted. The wonderful frescoes on the walls remain intact in spite of two world wars and tell the love story of the owner, Robert Kitson, and his partner, Carlo Siligato, who, when Messina was destroyed in an earthquake in 1908, together adopted a child, Francesco. It was a forbidden relationship at the time and had to be kept secret. Sir Frank designed the panelled walls, the high-backed chairs, and the round table in Art Nouveau style. When Maria told the present owner, Francesco Spadaro, about my link to Sir Frank Brangwyn, he insisted that I should have a copy of the book he, himself, had written about the dining room. It's a large, beautifully produced book with fabulous illustrations and I shall treasure it. 

Next, we went outside into the garden. In one area, I love the theme of Fire and Water where the design was made out of pieces of black lava and small white pebbles and, stones from the volcano and from the sea.
Ceramic pots will
definitely appear in novel 4
Colourful shop windows
Leaving Casa Cuseni, the walk into Taormina was much easier and we rewarded ourselves with a delicious lunch in the piazza. The afternoon was spent wandering the pretty streets, visiting the Duomo, and finally the famous amphitheatre before catching the bus back to Catania. 

Day 4 - Our last day! Our pick-up for the airport was not until late that evening so we decided that we couldn't come to Sicily without a trip to Mount Etna. We took a bus tour and after walking nearly ten kilometres each day, enjoyed being picked up by our hotel and taken straight to our destination with its change in temperature and landscape. Seeing a house submerged and preserved in lava on the way up to the top was a stark reminder of the devastation that can be caused when a volcano erupts. I braved the cable car and the views from the top were amazing.
Submerged house
The five days flew by. After spending the day we arrived sorting ourselves out and getting our bearings, on each of the other four days we concentrated on Catania, Siracuse and Ortigia, Taormina, and finally, Mount Etna, respectively. In such a short time, we have obviously only touched the surface of what this wonderful area of Sicily has to offer. I'd love to return for a holiday but at least, I now feel I have walked in some of the footsteps of the characters you'll hopefully meet in novel four.

A huge thanks to my daughter, Jo, without whom I'd still be trying to find my way around Catania - my travel guide, research assistant, travel arranger, geological adviser, and more... Above all, it was so good to spend mother and daughter time together enjoying the evening meals al fresco and especially the cannoli and the gelatos!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about what Jo and I did on Days 3 and 4 in this post. If novel four is accepted and published in 2023 as I so hope it will be, I'd love it if you read it and could recognise some of the places where I walked in Carlo and Claudia's footsteps. In the novel, it will be Claudia's first visit to Sicily as it was mine. 

What book have you read lately where you could tell the author had walked in the characters' footsteps? I'd love to know. Thank you.

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'Her Nanny's Secret' will be published in paperback on Tuesday 6th September. Next week! It's available to order from all good bookshops and on-line stores.