Near Mount Etna in Sicily lies Casa Cuseni, a beautiful house built in golden stone - and the home which Daphne Phelps was astonished to find she had inherited in 1947. At the age of 34, war-weary from working as a psychiatric social worker, with barely any Italian and precious little money, she plunged into a fascinating Sicilian world. The many ...Read MoreNear Mount Etna in Sicily lies Casa Cuseni, a beautiful house built in golden stone - and the home which Daphne Phelps was astonished to find she had inherited in 1947. At the age of 34, war-weary from working as a psychiatric social worker, with barely any Italian and precious little money, she plunged into a fascinating Sicilian world. The many of problems to be overcome included not only financial difficulties but local authorities and a house staff who initially felt no loyalty to the new Signorina, but who gradually accepted her as a respected member of their small community. To help make ends meet, for many years Daphne Phelps ran Casa Cuseni as a pensione. To her doors came Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell and the painter Henry Faulkner. But just as important to her life and her story, which she tells in this book, are the Sicilians with whom she shared the love and care of Casa Cuseni: Don Ciccio, the local mafia leader; Vincenzio, general manservant who recited while he served the meals; Beppe, a Don Juan who scented his eyebrows and his moustache to attract the local girls; and, above all, the steadfast cook and housekeeper who lives with Daphne Phelps still, and to whom the book is dedicated.Read Less
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Fall in Love with a House, A Country and an Author
In 1900 Robert Kitson left his native home in England to seek a warmer climate for his health. He arrived at last in Taormina, an island off the coast of Sicily and built the house of his dreams under the shadow of Mount Etna. After his death the property passed to his niece, Daphne Phelps, and her story of how she took over Casa Cuseni and became a character herself in Taormina is the subject of this book.
A single Englishwoman, she took on the monumental task of saving the Casa from both the British and Italian governments after World War II and won. And that was the easy part; the Casa required an income to run it and pay the unpredictable natives who made up the serving staff. To keep the Casa going she registered it as a common boarding house and began accepting guests. Among them were Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl and the eccentric Kentucky artist, Henry Faulkner. The portraits she gives of these and other artists are humourous and tender, ironic at times.
Her aqaintances among the local Sicillians range from Beppe, the lovesick houseboy to Don Cicco, the mysterious but entertaining head of the Mafia. How she weaves her rational British self into the passionate life of hot-blooded Sicilly is hilarious but at the same time compassionate and intelligent.
Daphne Phelps never thought of herself as a writer, but she is one of the best I have read in a long time. Buy this book and savor it over Christmas when the Italian sun will feel it's hottest.
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