An Italian friend of mine said “Oh, you must meet this woman.” And she lived in Vila Il Palmerino in the hills above Florence. And so, we went up there to meet her, and the minute she opened the gates, I stepped into this world of Vila Il Palmerino. And first of all, I again had the sense I knew this woman. I had never met her before in this life, but I looked at her and I said “I know her.” And she said she had the same feeling about me. She’s an Italian — she comes from a long line of Italian artists, and she herself is a former ballerina. So, anyway we had this instant connection, and then I slowly — I returned a year later and stayed there, actually stayed there, and I kept going back and staying for longer and longer periods of time, because I learned about Vernon Lee, who had lived in — this had been her home for some 30 years, and she died there.1
So, the thing that got me was that — that really grabbed me, and I realized I’m supposed to write about her, because I have to get a certain sense of excitement. I can’t just be historically interested. There’s so much in the world that’s interesting. You have to get this certain sense of being seized by something, obsessed by something. And then you know, oh, that’s it. And so, it took a while with Vernon Lee, but what was happening was I was talking to Federica, she would tell me — I’d say “Well, who was this Vernon Lee?” And she would tell me — and there were a few books, and some of her books were there at the house, at the Vila.
And it started when one day I looked out the window, when we were sitting and talking, and I said “You know, outside right there, that would be a perfect place.” I thought, again, I thought like a film. I said “That would be perfect to have a public show of children.” I had a background in theater, and I used to teach children’s theater, I used to do puppet shows and things.2 So, I just saw it as a puppet show, and she looked at me and she said “Vernon Lee used to give puppet shows out there for the children of the peasants, the farmers around here.” I said she did? And a couple of more things like that I just happened to casually throw out, and she’d look at me and she said — finally she said, “Melissa, perhaps you’re here to write about Vernon Lee. In fact, what I’ve learned is no one comes here unless they’re meant to be here.” I’m like “Woo, this is my kind of thing,” a bit of the supernatural.
And also, when I learned that Vernon Lee wrote — she wrote massive amounts of things in many areas, but today she’s best known for her supernatural tales, and I love that, because occasionally I’ll write a supernatural tale. And in fact, Palmerino is an homage to one of her supernatural tales called Amour Dure, where a biographer comes to research his subject and is overtaken by his subjects. So, I kept being able to see into the past, and the longer I would stay there, and the more by myself I would be. The more I would sort of isolate myself from society to feel it even more. It turned into this book. And I feel that Vernon Lee is still very much there, her spirit is very much there. And actually she had the spirit of Vila Il Palmerino, the genius loci are one and the same at this point. And I know the family who was there, the Italian family, they feel that too, they know that too.