A Piece of the Continent, Part II and the Problem with Capri

Today I’m off to Anacapri, ‘the village above Capri’.  I want to see what Villa San Michele looks like in the fall.  When I’d gone back to Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo in Ravello a few days earlier, the gardens were beautiful, but, as I had suspected, not nearly as beautiful as they had been in spring ( Quando, Quando?,  Oct. 26 and Nov.2, 2014).

I wasn’t sure about Villa San Michele.  Apart from the pots of cineraria lining the path to the sphinx, there hadn’t been a lot of colour even in spring.  It might be one of those gardens where it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit.

The white structure above the church tower is part of Villa San Michele.

Above the church tower to the left, a stretch of the ‘Mamma mia road’. The white structure at the top is part of Villa San Michele.

Anacapri is 3 km from Capri (the town, not the island).  Officially, it’s a 10-minute bus ride from one to the other.

As I walked thorugh Pizza Umberto on my way to the bus stop I saw more tourists engaged in illegal activities.  Good thing they're not in Rome.

As I walked through Pizza Umberto on my way to the tiny bus terminal jammed into a small, flat area at the edge of town, I saw more tourists engaged in illegal activities. Good thing they’re not in Rome.


The main bus stop in Anacapri.

Like the buses that go up and down the narrow, twisting road between Amalfi and Ravello, the buses to Anacapri are small.  Even when people cram into them – I’m constantly amazed at the way tourists, from countries where personal space bubbles are much larger, not only adapt to the local spatial norms, but often, to the consternation even of the locals, take them even further – but, as I was saying, even with people cramming into them, unless you’re there in the off-season, when almost all the hotels and restaurants are closed – I know, I went to Capri once in December – you can count on waiting for at least a couple of buses before you are anywhere near the front of the line.  As for the line itself…

In Italy 'line' is often more  'un'idea approssimitiva' than what you might be used to back home.

In Italy ‘line’ is often more ‘un’idea approssimitiva‘ than what you might be used to back home.

It was extraordinarily hot for mid-October.  Caldissimo.  (cal-dee-see-moh).  So instead of going straight to Villa San Michele, I headed for a gelateria I remembered from my last visit.

Some people warn against going back to places filled with wonderful memories.   You’ll be disappointed.  It won’t be as beautiful as you remember it.  But so far, that has not been my experience in Italy.  Al contrario.  Walking along the narrow alleys of Anacapri, past white-washed villas and one of a kind shops was as delightful as I remembered. (Una Passeggiata a Capri, Feb. 16, 2014)


Thunbergia laurifolia aka Blue Trumpet Vine. Exotic beauty or invasive pest, depending on where it’s growing.

The wall in front of one of the villas was covered – and I mean covered – with this stunning purple vine. My guess was that it belonged to the orchid family, but after spending quite a bit of time and getting nowhere searching for ‘purple-flowered vine’ on the internet , I got in touch with a friend who had spent many years in South Africa.  I should have gone straight to her.  She recognized it right away. Apparently it was quite common where she lived.  Maybe too common.  It’s the old story of what can happen when we start moving plants around the globe.

Knowing that local gardeners would go crazy for its gorgeous blooms, growers took it to Australia.  But the plant soon escaped from the lovingly manicured gardens and with none of the plants in its native habitat to keep it in check, has since become more beast than beauty.  As if on some kind of horticultural rampage, it has climbed up over the natural vegetation, smothering and eventually killing whatever plants get left behind in the shade, and the sheer weight of the vine can pull down mature trees.

According to the Australian Department of the Environment it has become a major threat to Australia’s Wet Tropics.  The efforts they are taking to eradicate it sound like a modern version of Sisyphus.  “In dense infestations, injecting the tubers is not practical as they are numerous and large, often the size of a 4WD vehicle.”

Fortunately, on dry, rocky Capri, there is no danger of it getting out of control. Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time and thought it was quite lovely.


Santa Sofia.

How do they walk in those heels?

How do they walk in those heels?

I was partway through my gelato when two young women came walking down the lane.  The clothes and the direction they were walking – towards Santa Sofia – could mean only one thing.  I grabbed my camera, quickly took this photo (I know, it’s out of focus – one of the downsides of always putting one’s camera safely back in its bag when food is around)  and hurried back to Piazza Santa Sofia.


I arrived just in time to catch the last guests before they entered the church.


A  few minutes later…


A bystander had just wished the rather nervous-looking bride, Auguri (ow-goo-ree).



Apart from one time in Lecce, when the church doors were firmly closed after the bride entered, the public is free to watch the ceremony.

Time to head for Villa San Michele on the other end of the village.


As if time had stood still, the same shoe-maker is at the same little table, making Capri’s famous sandali.


How do people ever choose when there are so many options?

After my previous visit (Yearning for Light, Feb. 23, 2014), I had read Azel Munthe’s memoir, ‘The Story of San Michele’, and discovered that I had been so taken with the views, I had missed an entire section of the garden.


From down here, even having already walked by those columns, it was still hard to imagine the views.


The villa was unchanged, although I noticed that I had also missed a few statues.


Roba di Timberio.


I suppose archeologists have a fit when they see things like this, but what a great way to display little bits of antiquity. Besides, at least Dr. Munthe saved them from being into the sea with the rest of Tiberius’ ‘stuff.’


The shade seemed deeper than before – a welcome relief on this crazily hot day.


Perseus still sits pondering, but there were no colourful pots along the walkway beyond.


Please do not tromp all over the grass or pick the flowers.


Now here’s a nice planter for your papyrus – an ancient Roman sarcophagus.


I only found out what this is recently, when I was learning the script to take tours through the tropical greenhouses of Allan Gardens. It’s a banana flower.   After a while it will wither and drop off and the bananas will keep on growing.


A Renaissance-inspired cypress avenue.

I made sure I visited every nook and cranny of the garden.  In the end I came to the view that, unlike any other garden I have visited – except for Sacro Bosco in Tuscany, a strange Mannerist garden – the time of year doesn’t really matter for Villa San Michele.


An Egyptian and an Etruscan sphinx. Puzzles upon puzzles.


The sphinx. Enigmatic, no matter what time of year.


The sphinx’s view. As breath-taking as ever.

Even though I’d already ‘been there, done that’, I couldn’t imagine leaving Anacapri without going up to the top of Monte Solaro.


The ride up was not quite as unnerving the second time.


I had carefully timed my visit up the mountain for the late afternoon, so that the sun would be at my back, where it’s supposed to be for photos, instead of right in front of me, as it had been when I had gone up first thing in the morning on my previous trip.  I was hoping to get some really nice shots of the Faraglioni, rising from the constantly changing blues of the sea, dramatically set off against the blues of the sky by a clearly defined horizon.

What I hadn’t counted on was  foschia (fos-key-uh) – haze – from all the unseasonably warm temperatures.


So instead of being elated, I was disappointed when I got to the top and could barely make out the mainland – a mere 3 kilometres away – let alone the horizon.  Actually I was annoyed, and since that was obviously a totally inappropriate reaction, given the glorious weather I’d enjoyed throughout my entire trip, I was on the verge of a real funk.  Then I overheard a young American tourist say something to her friend that put everything back in its proper perspective: ‘I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen so many, I’m having a hard time, it’s just another beautiful view.’

And that is the ‘problem’ with Capri.  By the time you get here, presumably after having spent some time on the Amalfi Coast, you have seen so many breathtakingly beautiful views, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed – like Stendhal in Florence – and unable to take in any more beauty.


It wasn’t the perfect view I had hoped for, with the sea and the sky tidily separated by a clear, unambiguous horizon.  Maybe it was something more.



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