By Sacheverell Sitwell
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Where the island of Sicily alone is concerned, being a lover of lost causes I found myself more interested in Messina, of which the past was nearly entirely obliterated by an earthquake in 1908, than in Palermo where the present is only too obvious in its poverty and hopelessness, the climate and even the painted carts notwithstanding. But in this city of Arabian-Norman antecedent, where alleviation is to be sought in the wall mosaics and Saracenic ceiling of the Cappella Palatina, or at the five red domes of the mosque-like San Giovanni degli Fremiti, there are also the httle chapels or Oratorios of Serpotta.
On Ragusa we went which did have for proprietor a 'baron' reputed to be the local brigand-chief and to hold high rank in the hierarchy of the Mafia. We no more than caught sight of him, a fat man in a brown suit, chewing, I noticed, a handful of aspirin at a time. But this seemed to be the habit of all the better dressed persons in Modica and Ragusa; and I have since thought it may have been something more potent than simple aspirin. Or were they quinine tablets taken as an antidote against malaria?
When I was spending the winter at Amalfi, trying to learn how to write, at about the time of these first impressions, an amateur watercolour painter, who had circled, I surmise, on the outer fringe of the notorieties of the eighteen-nineties, put in an appearance, and he could * The architect of the Villa Palagonia was the open stairways in houses in Palermo. a priest, T. The Principe M. Napoli (1655-1725) author, also, of some of Palagonia, observed by Goethe, was the builder's Probably the family had two generations of 'eccentrics'; the problem might perhaps repay study.
Baroque and Rococo by Sacheverell Sitwell