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A room in the Palazzo

Posted by Suzanne on 11 Apr 2014

The residues of feudalism and faded titles, a closed world of provincialism and a large illiterate class were part of the Sicily that a young enthusiastic Sicilian doctor, Eugenio Carini, left behind when he ventured to the east coast of the United States of America to specialise. It was 1907, the beginning of a new century.

In New York he qualified as a surgeon and was fascinated by a ‘modern world’, its architecture and how people lived. He returned to his beloved village, Polizzi Generosa, in the northern mountains of Sicily to set up his surgery in a room with sets of interconnecting double doors overlooking a small atrium on the first floor of Palazzo Notar Nicchi, his family home.

When we first saw this room in September 2003, months before buying the house from Eugenio’s ‘baronessa’ niece, rows of surgical instruments, still laid out for use, lined the shelves of the tall glass cabinets arranged along the walls. A padded metal framed examination table stood in the middle of the room below a bulb hanging from the water stained vaulted ceiling. Worn texts filled a timber bookcase which stood by the atrium window and in the interconnecting room another case made of Sicilian chestnut was piled high with 18th century Latin texts printed in Venice.

The terracotta tiled floor, cracked and sagging and the swoop and monotonous cooing of pigeons echoing through broken glass panes to the atrium was how his surgery looked on that day in September 2003, many years after his last patient.

For many decades villagers had entered this small room, overlooking an atrium, to be cared for by a New York trained doctor.

Today, a few of those old Venetian printed texts sit at eye level on the book filled shelves of this reimagined small room. An oversized multi armed Italian light hanging over an old Sicilian table dominates; each black extendable arm of this modern light is reminiscent of a study or examination lamp.

Frescoes, in muted charcoal greys, depicting the traditional areas of learning- science and math, astronomy, music and the arts are up lighted on the sides of the reinstated vaulted ceiling. A large glazed door now slides open to the atrium where Eugenio’s patients once looked out to. And sets of double doors open into the interconnected rooms where he had lived with his wife.

It was the level above the surgery where Eugenio would realise the modern style that he liked while a student in New York. The vaulted ceilings on the floors above his surgery were replaced with the popular modern flat ceiling of the early 20th century. And Art Nouveau tiles,with stylised floral and geometric pattern in muted colours were laid on these floors. He had reconstructed a level in Palazzo Notar Nicchi which hinted at a wanting to leave the old world behind. It was a period when The Belle Epoque had made its mark and the energised notions of Italian Futurism were emerging.

Eugenio had studied in a foreign country, and  he had worked and lived in his mountain village where he died quietly one wintery night, in the early 1970’s, sitting by the wood stove in the dining room two levels above his surgery.




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