Everybody laughed at me as usual.  The state of absolute passivity outwardly resembling the comatose, but distinguishable from it by voluntary alimentation and libation, was derided by my friends as unattainable.  A Sicilian mirage.

Yet it had been an idée fixe for years, my vision of a holiday so impeccably philistine it would reduce me to the condition of a vegetable, preferably one pickled in Dom Pérignon.  The object was to exorcise the demon of thought, as Byron called the writer’s master, by throwing a monkey wrench of housewifely normality in the twin conveyor of juxtaposition and tergiversation that runs up and down the heart of our profession like the anterior coronary artery.

I had been dreaming of such a holiday “as an accountant dreams of retirement,” in a Russian poet’s phrase.  I yearned for it as the revolutionaries of Garibaldi yearn for idleness in Lampedusa’s The Leopard.  I recalled it “as freezing persons recollect the snow” in Emily Dickinson’s poem.

Yet my pocket is that of a mendicant writer, and it hardly allows for housewifely normality.  How was I then to persuade my demon master to give his favorite guest the chance to eat, drink, and sleep, instead of dragging him all day long through the bogs and deserts of mediated existence?  I hoped that one day a caprice of fate would yield a solution.

Then a couple of weeks before Christmas I ran into Sir Rocco Forte, whose formidable enterprise owns Brown’s Hotel in London and the Astoria in St. Petersburg, where I once stayed as a child.  I knew that during the past decade Forte had been trying to complete a resort on the south coast of Sicily.  About a year ago, to the joy of travel editors everywhere, the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort had finally opened.  I unfolded before Rocco my plan for a holiday of housewifely passivity, simultaneously massaging my pocket pitifully as if it were one of Tiresias’s breasts.  To make a long story short, he said fine.

The added piquancy of the invite lay in the fact that on several occasions during these past ten years some of my Palermo friends who knew of my acquaintance with Rocco would say approximately the following: “You tell him.  You know.  If there are . . . hindrances.  He ain’t no child.  A fine location.  The sun, the sea.”  The halting syntax illustrated the associative movement of dialectal speech, hinting broadly at what we Russians since the days of Gogol call gratitude.

The task Forte had set for itself, meanwhile, had really seemed insuperable in local conditions. It was to acquire some 100 plots of land in the valley that once belonged to Prince Verdura—lately the property of diverse owners, for the most part Sicilian variants of Fagin and Scrooge—joining them anew into a single estate, and then to obtain from the local authorities permission to construct on the grounds such exotic follies as swimming pools, tennis courts, and a golf course.  Suffice it to say the authorities in question chose to treat every hole of the golf course as a separate application for variance.

In the time that his ingratitude had cost him, Rocco refurbished Brown’s, launched new hotels in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva, and Prague, and even forayed into Marrakesh, Jeddah, and Abu Dhabi.  The Verdura, meanwhile, was going nowhere.  I can now confess that, as a sworn enemy of progress, I watched all the stonewalling with bemused satisfaction.  Yet eventually the resort opened despite Rocco’s recalcitrance, while his generous assent to my philistine dream reconciled me to the presence of yet another transnational giant on our socially regressive island.

We went there by bus, for the simple reason that the ticket from Palermo to Sciacca, the nearest town, costs the same as a bottle of mineral water at the Verdura.  To say that the view from the window is divine is to say nothing, because in December the south of Sicily is like Tuscany in April, where in every valley the meadow flowers watch with approval the fattening of the lambs in their midst.  “Vesna smeshchennaya,” a transplanted spring, murmured my musical wife, punning on “Vesna svyashchennaya,” the Russian title of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.

No, it would not be easy to stop that twin conveyor in the head, thought I, what with the rites of spring enacted a stone’s throw away, and more authentic by far than those danced by Nijinsky.  A few miles from Sciacca, at Selinunte, in a wood by the sea chosen by the Greeks in the time of Homer for their acropolis, the shadow of a pagan beauty was dancing unto death on the metopes of its rude temples, more numerous and intact than anything Greece has managed to preserve.  And I was here for a weekend of housewifely passivity.

Yet once again Rocco’s obstinacy overcame the insuperable.  Stravinsky notwithstanding, by the end of my stay at the Verdura my head was something to eat, drink, and sleep with.  At last I was the perfect philistine.