A decade ago, though it seems a lifetime hence, we made a return visit to Sicily. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to find the final resting place of a daughter of Northumberland, Florence Trevelyan, whose life had intrigued us when we encountered her bust in the public gardens of Taormina.
Now that the prize winners at the twenty-second Poetry on the Lake competition have been announced, I can do what I like with my poem on the theme of ‘serendipity.’ This effort was at first so obscure my writing colleagues balked, shaking their heads in despair. I tidied it up to reveal more of the setting and the story, but as I reflect on her life today, I’m struck with the way that adventurousness can be infectious. Not only in physical travels, but also in imagination can we be stimulated to broaden our horizons and develop a creative side we may have neglected in life’s bustle.
I feel that sense of stimulation still, though the intervening years have wreaked a certain toll on our bodies. We may not hold enchanted salons with the best creative minds of our time, as Florence did, but we can participate with delight in a shared experience of artistic wonder The island of Isola Bella, Florence’s haven for wildlife, is connected to Sicily by a narrow causeway of sand. You could say that each of us is connected to each other by a fragile thread, a thread that is plied, plaited, and strengthened by creative endeavour.
It’s never too late, then, to delight in new perspectives. Tonight on the BBC we may watch a new documentary about Sicily, exploring the arrival of the ancient Greeks who built a city civilisation rivalling that of Athens. We’ll likely be reminded of our exploration of the Greek theatre in Taormina, where great drama still plays out under the sky, the smoking peak of Mt Etna as backdrop.
Perhaps we’ll never get back to Sicily, but there are many ways to return, and many paths yet to pursue, as we search for new meanings, new joys, in our lives.
The Prodigal Daughter Two tourists in Taormina, visitors from the cold northeast encounter a bust, rather plain. Unsmiling, she monitors her gardens, once the playing ground of silver stars. Once Hallington Demesne? ‘Say, isn’t that the place just on from Wallington? That’s down the road from us?’ We felt a shiver of affinity as if the smallpipes of Northumberland trickled back to when a century ago the rough zampogna droned the ciaramella keened and Florence’s body borne across tumultuous waves of flowers to rest upon the mountain face far, far above the sea. Discounting all the later lies embroidered fantasies of royal lovers, we read she made her life her own, never returned to northern pastures green. Her parents gone, her family uncaring what she did, or did not do. She lived just as she pleased. In salons of renown, she entertained tall Oscar Wilde, the King of Prussia, Guido Gozzano of stories crepuscular. Edward, King with Alexandra visited, through living tableaux made swank promenades. The Villa Communale remains. There tourists delight in faux-aged buildings, folly hives, remarking on the wealth of vanished love. Eccentric reclusivity. Her memory comes back home with us.