Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Day enchantment

With much on our minds still, we didn't sleep late after seeing the New Year in, but awoke to a bright dawn and mild morning air with Rhiannon still asleep at our feet on the spare camp bed. Mid morning the three of us went down in the cable car to Mazzaro and walked to Isola Bella Hotel to meet with Kath and Anto, who by now had breakfasted and were ready for the day.

We went down to the beach nearby and went over to Isola Bella itself for a look around. The morning tide tugged back by a waning moon rising early evening almost completely reveals the narrow strip of sand and pebbles about 20 metres connecting the beach and the island, so it's possible if you watch your step to run or jump the last three metres without getting wet shoes. Or you can paddle. I made it on the way out no problem, missed my timing on the return stretch and got soaked up to the ankles.

Anyway, the island visit was a complete and magical suprise to all of us. It's a WWF supported protected site of ecological interest, with a museum which wasn't open on not yet functioning, looked after by the regional museum and ancient sites authority. Rhiannon, Clare and I got in free on account of our ages, Kath and Anto paid €4 each. Apart from a walk around the island we didn't really know what this visit would entail. But, as we walked up the first few paths, the nature of the island revealed itself to us.

At the core of the island is an unusual house, a dream house built by a Messina industrialist. It has terraces at different levels, a high lookout platform, plus a variety of rooms built into the rock each with stunnng views in different directions from their terraces. Almost none of this is visible from the beach fifty metres away. External surfaces, balconies, balustrades and walls are covered with pieces of rough white limestone, appearing like dry stone wall, though all wired and concreted together on to shaped support frames to create flowing curves, arches, even moveable doors. Many trees and bushes provide ground cover, allowed to run wild over the rocky surfaces, making the true nature of the structures invisible from outside. Only when you go up from the shore through the gateway into the domain and walk around do you discover its variety of nooks, crannies, secret pathways and outlooks.

The very nature of this intricate environment creates habitats for lizards, bats insects and birds to make their nests. It left us all wide eyed with amazement. So simple, so ingenious an idea for a dream home. The rooms we could see were unfurnished. Whether or not it is ever lived in, or just used as an occasional venue for events I don't know. It's certainly not difficult to imagine grand occasions in such a beautiful place. This was a sunny New year's Day. What must it be like when masses of birds return as the spring flowers emerge?

We lunched at a restaurant with a terrace above the beach overlooking Isola Bella. It was a little chilly and the service slow, so we quit after the main course. Kath drove us up to Taormina town where we bought our third course in the Bar/Pasticceria on via Pirandello. The lady who served us made a great fuss of Rhiannon and made her a present of huge helping of chocolate mousse. She said she'd recognised me as the pastor from St George's having noticed me walking often by this month. To my shame it was the first time I'd been in there. I don't have much of a sweet tooth any longer, so the feast of gorgeous looking cakes and delicate morsels doesn't catch my attention. The others had 'canole', a crispy pastry freshly filled with mascarpone, fruit and pistachio nuts. I had a strawberry and apple turnover. Not as crisp as the French version, sweeter than I really enjoy.

We also paid the Sisters a visit, to introduce them to our family. It was a delightful meeting, with Rhiannon being made a great fuss of and offered a New Year's gift of sweets. I was glad to be able to show them the cloisters and the chapel which has been such a solace to me this month. I think it may be the first visit Anto has ever made to real live convent.

The Corso was still busy with visitors and some shops were open into the evening, though not many. It is a Bank Holiday after all. After a light supper, when Kath, Anto and Rhiannon had returned to their hotel, I took the bottles to the bottle bank down by the Giardino Publico. There I could hear at least half a dozen owls calling out to each other - screech owls and barn owls by their cries, or their Italian cousins. And so close to the heart of town. More magic to revive our minds after the trials of the past few days.

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