Where Lady Chatterley Danced Naked through the Vines with Her Sicilian Lover; Frank Barrett Visits Taormina,home to D.H.Lawrence in the 1920s and Inspiration for His Classic Tale of Lust
Byline: FRANK BARRETT
WALKING beyond the limits of Corso Umberto, the pedestrianised main street of Taormina, is not something you undertake lightly. Sicilian road users drive with a terrifying disregard for their own and other people's safety - anybody crazy enough to stroll the narrow highways (most of which are pavement-free) is taking his life in his hands.
On the point of turning back after one nervy excursion, I suddenly spotted a street sign saying 'Via David Herbert Lawrence', better known as D.H.
Lawrence, author of Lady Chatterley's Lover. But why here?
The lady at the tourist office felt sure Lawrence had been a local resident but went off to ask someone who might know more. She skipped back with excitement: 'Yes, his house is on the Via Lawrence - there is a plaque.' Her informant barked more information from a back room: 'He was inspired to write L'Amante Di Lady Chatterley when he was here . . . how do you say, Lady Chatterley's Lover?' I walked back through the morning heat and climbed the steep Via Lawrence until, after much searching, I found the modest plaque that records the bare details of Lawrence's brief residence at the Villa Fontana Vecchia.
Taormina was but one stop on Lawrence's restless wanderings ('Why can't one sit still?' he once complained). His travels took him to Ceylon, Australia and New Mexico.
He died in Vence in the South of France in 1930 aged just 44. He was a writer who courted controversy.
Long after his death, the paperback publication of Lady Chatterley in Britain in 1960 was a cause celebre.
In his lifetime, Lawrence did little to endear himself in Britain. During the First World War he married Frieda von Richthofen, cousin of the German fighter ace the Red Baron.
The couple were accused of signallingmessages to German U-boats from their Cornish home.
Suffering from tuberculosis, Lawrence needed to escape Britain for health reasons. But by 1919, when the couple finally abandoned England, he had decided the country was 'a banquet of vomit'. In 1920 the Lawrences arrived in Taormina - a popular destination for arty, expat Brits - and stayed for more than a year. It was a fruitful period, although by the end of his stay he was typically disenchanted. When he left he was praying that red-hot lava would rain down and engulf the place.
It all began so well. Shortly after he arrived, Lawrence wrote: 'I feel at last we are settled down and can breathe.
We've got a nice big house, with fine
rooms and a handy kitchen, set in a big garden, mostly vegetables, green with almond trees, on a steep slope at some distance above the sea. It is beautiful, and green, green, and full of flowers . . . There are a good many English people but one needn't know them . . .
Etna is a beautiful mountain, far lovelier than Vesuvius.' Frieda was pleased with their home: 'Along our rocky road the peasants rode past into the hills on their donkeys singing loudly; the shepherds drove their goats along, playing their reed pipes as in the days of the Greeks.' Fontana Vecchia was 'our own house above the almond trees, and the sea in the cove below where the sun rose with a splendour like trumpets! …