An interesting insight by the writer Louis Golding when he visited the Achilleion in Corfu in the early 1950s. The palace was built for the Hapsburg Empress Elisabeth, commonly called Sisi, as a summer refuge which she commissioned following the death of her son.
Although in some ways impressive, including its location, the building feels oddly chill and inauthentic, a kind of 19th century pastiche of classical Greek buildings, without their sense of liberating, uplifting and effortless perfection. It is hard to imagine that it would have provided much comfort to a grieving mother.
Golding visited during his own Odyssey. Having sailed tantalisingly close to Ithaca three decades earlier, he had carried with him a yearning to return, which he took him on a pilgrimage to Troy and a slew of islands mapped (often wishfully) to the places Odysseus visited on his homebound journey.
Golding’s delay was partly due to the intervention of that small event called the Second World War. As the war was ending, by some fluke or other he found himself in a position to visit the bathrooms of both Mussolini and Hitler, where he tried turning on the taps. Several years later, he did the same in the Kaiser-sized bathroom of the Achilleion, which reminded him of those earlier Great Men bathrooms and prompted this reflection on the vanity and ephemera of such apparent power.
… as I idly turned on the taps in the gigantic marble bath, I was seized by a sudden overwhelming sense of the futility of the careers of the super-men, who fill the air with thunder and a smell of sulphur, and then, a few years later, are dispersed like the dust of a puff-ball.
Source: Louis Golding, Good-bye to Ithaca (London: Hutchinson, 1955), p. 173
Photo credit: rgerber at pixabay