The Magic of Casa Cuseni

by Christopher Morgan-Smith, May 2004

In the spring of 1949 after R.H.K. (Uncle Bob, my great-uncle)'s death, my aunt Daphne had gone out to Sicily to organize the dispersal and sale of Casa Cuseni on behalf of Auntie Bea - Uncle Bob's sister and executrix, (J.B.K).

The family had all agreed that Casa Cuseni could never be the same without Uncle Bob.
Those were the memories that they wished to treasure.
Cynthia (my mother and Daphne's elder sister) took my brother David and me out to Casa Cuseni, as the last chance for her children to see it.

David was eleven and I was nine: It was heaven:
Herds of goats, bells jangling wandered up and down the lane past the house.
Chickens scratched in the dust, not to mention the odd white rabbit.
Donkeys, hidden under huge loads of hay trudged down the hill; their handlers stopped to recall fond memories of 'Don Roberto'.

Terraces of vines and olive trees stretched up to the bare mountainside behind the house.
Not another building in sight . . . . .

Looking out over the bay: No high-rise hotels, no honking of car horns, just the gentle sounds of local people going about their lives preparing for the evening meal.
The occasional mother screaming at a miscreant child, or husband.

Wandering down the Corso, being hailed from almost every doorway by well-wishers and friends.

Getting up at crack of dawn to go down to the fish market with Don Ciccio, R.H.K.'s man servant; being embraced, most embarrassingly, by the enormous Maria, R.H.K.'s cook.

Going up the mountain with my friend Pancrazzio, with his donkey, to water his tomatoes.

We trudged down dusty paths to Isola Bella, where we bathed, paddled and picnicked, to the astonishment of the locals.

In the evening a band of musicians would come up from below to serenade the nieces of Don Roberto: To be filled with so much wine that they would have to return in the morning for their instruments.

Daphne naturally fell under the spell and persuaded J.B.K. to keep the house on, as, having no family commitments, she would be able to take up permanent residence.

Under extreme difficulties, she managed to recreate the dream.

My fear, now, is that soon Casa Cuseni, without its Grande Dame and stripped of its treasures for the sake of prudence, although a house with a good view as long as future development allows, sadly will have lost most of that magic: The magic so brilliantly created by R.H.K. and which Daphne so valiantly tried to preserve will be gone forever.

R.H.K. had travelled the length and breadth of Europe searching for the ideal position to develop his ultimate dream. Had he anticipated the inevitable development of Taormina, I'm certain Casa Cuseni would never have been built where it is.

I am privileged to have witnessed the magic and I align myself with the previous generation, treasuring memories of the Casa Cuseni that Uncle Bob intended.

edited by Philip M-S