I haven’t been back to the island of Pantelleria for four years. The last time was in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic prevented us from travelling as we wished. It’s crazy when you think about it: in 1969 man walked on the moon and in 2020 humans found themselves stuck on earth. The world is turning upside down…
When I arrived at the airport, my heart sank. I’ve spent some of my best summers on this dark volcanic island. Even though a few celebrities from the world of cinema, music and interior design have settled here, the island has managed to avoid a Saint-tropézation that would have been fatal. I hired a little Fiat to drive up to my godfather’s dammuso, the typical lava stone house with the white dome where we spent our holidays in July.
Sirius had bought it when its owner had left it derelict. My godfather was quite a visionary to be able to project himself into this pile of dry stones surrounded by wild grasses beaten by the winds. I think it was the sea that brought him here. And the sky too: when the sun goes down, it’s spectacular. It’s even more spectacular when night falls and there’s no extraneous light to mar its beauty. The star-spangled dome is revealed in all its majesty.
Sirius had built a swimming pool in the shape of a half-moon just behind the terrace. My godfather owned several knitwear and silk factories. He worked for the biggest fashion brands and spent most of his life in Italy. But his great passion was the sky. This amateur astronomer was highly respected in the industry. He loved everything about the sky, including those bits of star that sometimes gracefully fall to earth. When he managed to leave his company for a few days, he went off into the desert to hunt for meteorites. He taught me to recognise the ones that had an oriented shape and resembled a shield, or the pallasites, my favourites, with their crystals of peridots embedded in the matrix, like a celestial stained-glass window letting in the light.
I’m talking about him in the past tense because he left us a month ago. I adored him. He was my father’s best friend and thought of me as the daughter he never had. He had once been married to a sublime woman. Her name was Cassiopea and she was a model working for one of his fashion clients in Milan. He seduced her, married her and loved her madly. Until an illness took her away from him. They were unable to have children. Other women came in his life and went, like comets. He never let his heart be taken away again.
I open the door to the kitchen and mentally thank Carlotta, who worked for my godfather for over 30 years. She came by this morning, aired the house, cleaned up and put clean sheets in the three bedrooms. No doubt to give me a choice. She’s seen me grow up at the same pace as her children: I’m a year younger than her eldest son Alessandro and two years older than her daughter Francesca. We played a lot together when we were little. Ale taught me to dive from the rocks, making me climb a little higher each time. He patiently managed to get rid of my fear of heights. We slowly lost sight of each other.
The clock in the kitchen has stopped. Time stands still at La Favola. That’s what my godfather called his house: a fairy tale. The name suits it well. My steps lead me into Sirius’s bedroom. The midnight blue silk curtains are still impregnated with the smell of his cigars. I feel as if he’s going to come in and say, “How are you, Tesoro? ». He’s always called me that. As if he couldn’t pronounce my first name. Everyone calls me Cassie, but it’s short for Cassiopeia. My mother gave me this name because she dreamt that my destiny would be as beautiful as that of Sirius’ wife. When I was born, she was probably the best-loved and happiest woman in the world.
His brown leather armchair holds out its arms for me to collapse into, but I put off my tears and my memories: I want to explore everything before the sun goes down. I open the cupboards wide. His tailor-made clothes are neatly arranged. His shirts too. I go through them and, as I push back the hangers, I notice a strange recess. The wall, elegantly lined with tweed, is hollow. I run to the kitchen and come back with a knife. I look for a slit and tear the fabric. A lock appears. I fetch the bunch of keys the solicitor has given me and try them all: the oldest is the right one. I push open what turns out to be a door and discover a secret windowless room. Dammusi traditionally have an alcove, but I’d never noticed that La Favola didn’t have one. It seems that I have finally found it.
I flick the switch and a lamp illuminates the room with a soft glow. It’s furnished with a blue velvet armchair, a large cupboard and a few shelves full of fashion magazines and photo albums. I leaf through the first collection and discover images of my godfather and his wife, beautiful as gods, happy as few people have ever been, lying by the pool, or at a party, or holding hands sitting on the rocks. In the wardrobe, sublime evening gowns in silk tulle, gazar and duchess satin still seem to be waiting for the woman who wore them. On a shelf rest precious minaudières and embroidered evening bags. Just a few of the beautiful relics of Cassiopea’s fabulous wardrobe.
When I look up, I make an even stranger discovery: the entire room is painted midnight blue and the domed ceiling depicts a starry sky. As I sit in the armchair, I look up and immediately recognise the constellation of Cassiopeia, with its ‘W’ shape formed by ε, δ, γ, α and β Cassiopeiae, the five brightest stars in the constellation. He had shown it to me so often… So he loved his wife to the point of having kept delicate mementos in a secret room he had dedicated to her. And he loved me enough to leave it all to me. I have a feeling that the house still holds a few secrets that I’ll discover little by little. I’ve got all summer for that. It’s 8pm now. I haven’t seen the time go by. I’m a bit hungry. Carlotta has left me a dish of parmigiana in the fridge and some cannoli with ricotta that she’s made.
I sit down on the pink terrace where the whole family used to watch the sun go down. I think back to those happy summers spent at La Favola. Of the big tables of friends that my godfather used to gather at La Vela restaurant on the waterfront. When it was time for dessert, I’d always treat myself to an ice cream at Il Gelato di Ulisse, just behind the restaurant, before diving into the sea.
It’s late I look at my watch, which has a predestined name: the Arceau Petite Lune d’Hermès. With its aventurine dial studded with a constellation of small diamonds, its mother-of-pearl moon and its pretty aragonite planet, it suddenly takes on a whole new dimension. I let my gaze fly up to the sky. One star shines brighter than the rest: Alpha Canis Majoris, the main star in the constellation of the Great Dog. But everyone calls it Sirius. I smile. I know that from now on nothing serious can happen to me: he’s watching over me…