Oscar Wilde in Sicily

Things had to cool down after the further scandal which had involved Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas while they were in Naples and Capri. So, Wilde quickly left the island and with the little money he had left, headed alone to Taormina in 1898. Wilde was not only attracted by  those magnificent rocky and enchanted bays of the dark blue Mediterranean or that mythological fascination that Sicily offered to its visitors. At that time Sicily, with its ancient Greek associations, had become a sort of dream land for homosexual literati of the time. It was the place where to project their sexual fantasies and invoke the legitimization of the ancient ‘Greek love’ tradition. This is the Sicily Wilde had in mind when he wrote the following lines taken from ” Charmides” in 1881.

“He was a Grecian lad, who coming home
with pulpy figs and wine from Sicily
Stood at his galley’s prow, and let the foam
grow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously,
and holding wave and wind in boy’s despite
peered from his dripping seat across the wet and stormy night»

Of course, Bosie had not been forgotten. Once arrived in Sicily and soon charmed by Taormina’s beauty and atmosphere, he missed him even more. He would have liked to enjoy his lover’s company in that magic place and so he started to send him passionate letters. This was more or less their tone: “my arms without you, grasp a void”, or “I’ve discovered a lover’s paradise where we will come to live together one day”.

Wilhelm Von Gloeden

In Taormina he stayed in the Hotel Victoria, which still exists today, on the Corso Umberto at number 81. Wilde made numerous visits to Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden’s studio inTaormina, which was already famous throughout Europe. Von Gloeden had invented a new, extraordinary artistic genre: recreating the archetype of Magna Graecia with a backdrop of magnificent vistas and the close-up of beautiful and primitive Taormina children posing naked. Those photographs went out all over the great capitals of the Old Continent and  launched a simple message: in that world homosexuality was not a taboo, but it was practiced as in ancient Greece.

During the thirty days of Oscar’s staying in Taormina, he attended Gloeden, learnt his photographic techniques, adorned and made up the kids who posed for him before the photo shoot.They were the same kids who filled the barrels of sea water that carried on their shoulders from the Bay of Mazzarò to the village to pour them into the writer’s tub, following the example of his friend the Baron, who had the habit of bathing in salt water.

Oscar Wilde left Taormina on the 13th  February of 1898 with his suitcase full of shots of those “marvellous boys”; that is how he defined the boys in the photographs of Von Gloeden. Still today, among the cards belonging to Oscar Wilde, there are two of  Von Gloeden’s photographs. His friend Gloeden hoped to have his friend back soon in Taormina. He took him by the hand, and with great generosity and affection, offered him his house. Wilde responded with bitterness:

«I thank you, but the Mediterranean sun is no longer for me. Alfred yes he loves the southern sun and can enjoy it, so young and in love with life.. I know that he is nearly settled in Capri, who knows if he won’t decide to stop off in Taormina, which we’ve talked about a lot and where we have dreamt for so long of living together one day».

In April 1900 Wilde returned to Sicily, just a few months before his death but he would never walk again the streets of Taormina. He truly enjoyed the beauties of the Sicilian capital, Palermo, under the false name of Mr. Frak.  One day, young poet Achille Leto bumped into him. He was sure of having recognised the famous artist and asked : “Are you Oscar Wilde?“. Oscar looked at him and said: “I was Oscar Wilde“.

He died of meningitis on 30 November 1900.

 

 

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(Un)Happy and Connected?

My mother and technology have always been two worlds apart, the simple tuning of radio stations was a mystery for her, just to give you an idea. So, when long long time ago she decided to buy me a mobile for Christmas, her choice could not but be based only on glamour and price, after all she would have done everything to make her beloved, spoiled, only daughter happy. It was my very first mobile and I can still remember how she was eagerly awaiting to read the surprise and joy in my eyes and how she hurried me to open my gift, after all, such new device was everybody’s wish at that time and so she assumed it was even mine. Once unwrapped my present, I remained a few seconds in silence watching the thing and said : “Give it back , I don’t want it”. It was not her choice of mobile that I disliked – a red, super expensive, flashy “Ferrari ” ( famous mobile brand isn’t it?), but that was the instinctive reaction to a thought that took possession of my mind at once : with that gizmo I could have been controlled. Even if she tried to hide it, I saw tears in her eyes. Since then and after many mobiles that thought has never abandoned me, it has been only put aside, but every now and then it comes back to claim its rights and that’s why my relationship with the connected world has always been something between love and hatred.

I cannot deny that more than once having a mobile has been more than useful , as
when I broke the axle and the axle shaft of my car while I was on my way to work
or, of course, that time I was left imprisoned in a lift and….. well, actually,
nothing more that vital I can remember. Two episodes in about 25 years! Of course, I love
chatting, texting, googling. ……but on the other hand I believe the control you
have on people being thus connected anyhow, anywhere, has increased rather than
reduced our fears and made our psychological space a bit too crowded and
suffocating. One example ? My mother. Again. I am sure whoever has an elderly parent knows well what I am about to say.  When I call her on the phone at home she rarely answers, of course, I am not worried as she might be doing something and I try and look for her on her mobile number: silence. After many unsuccessful attempts to reach her, my
mind begins to be haunted by the shadows of any possible disgrace, hence, I feel having no other choice than going and seek for her at home. And there she is, peacefully watching tv.  When I enquire about her mobile, she always answers candidly: “Oh, it’s off, my dear”. It’s her revenge for that Ferrari, I’m sure.

Whenever we want to control somebody it is often for a good reason, but hardly ever it is the consequence of a positive thought. We want to put at rest our fears, but if we take the phone any time doubts and apprehension cross our brain, we just end up reducing the freedom of others, even the freedom of making mistakes. Think about how the parent-child relationship has changed in this last decade. I see children continuously connected to their parents for any reason, much more that I used to be at their age, it is a continuous presence that can make them eventually  grow less responsible. I can witness this at school. If they forget their book, dictionary, money, snack or if they feel like having a problem with a teacher, no problem, let’s call mummy or daddy, and they’ll promptly come at any time of the day to help and solve their problems. However, they never forget their mobiles, strange indeed.

I can still remember my years abroad. I usually heard from my parents twice a month! Of course, it was B.E.M., namely, Before Mobile Era and as calls were expensive, I knew I had to manage things myself and that it was no use calling them to tell my problems, if I had any, the only result would have been making them more worried. I’m sure the flavor of those happy years wouldn’t have been the same, had my mother phoned me three times a day.

The princes, princesses and their Queen, of course.

Of course, you may guess, what I might think of Whatsapp with its blue check marks or its noisy, chatty, crowded groups: I hate them. However, I cannot ignore how it has recently become quite common at school  to form Whatsapp groups to share information. There are three kinds of them, which I will list according to the degree of danger of breaking into your privacy: level 1 – teachers (dangerous); level 2 – teachers and students (very dangerous); level -3 teachers, students and parents (madness). So far, I have unsuccessfully joined some level 1 groups.  Last June I had my chance to experience level 2. The occasion was a trip to Sicily with one of my classes. I thought about creating a group for a while, but no way, I could not, I only resolved about giving my precious telephone number to two selected students, with the solemn promise of burning or swallowing it at the end the trip. I have to say that they have been fantastic and behaved like princes and princesses, I am not joking, but even aristocracy sometimes has its faults. One day inTaormina, we were on our way to the theatre, when my two colleagues and I had to stop to help one of our boys who thought he had lost his wallet. By the time we called the coach company and check whether the wallet had been left on the coach, they had all disappeared, vanished. We hoped they had seen the huge sign to Taormina theatre and turned left, but they had not, they had gaily followed the flow and turned right. Once arrived at the solitary gates of the theatre my colleagues started to text them on Whatsapp, of course, they could easily reach all their students and give directions, but  I could not. I was mortified. I was just about to call my two chosen ones, when I saw the name of one of them on my display. He asked me where I was where I was  and assured they would have joined me soon. When they all arrived, my collegues soundly reproached them, but I did not. I could not.I just smiled.