Finally settled back in at home after being away from the kids for 10 days in Italy. Great trip but glad to be home. For posterity, wanted to write up the down and dirty story of where we did and were we went on our trip.
After our day of cooking in Sorrento we went to Capri. Took ferry boat over and met a private guide for a boat tour around the island. Choppy seas made for.. um.. interesting ride. Beautiful island, saw some of the famous Capri grottos. Lunch at a cool little restaurant next to some ancient Roman ruins next to the water. Caught a water taxi back to the port and caught a cab to Anacapri, which is a small town at the top of the island. Lots of tourists. Lots.
Walked around, most shops closed for siesta hour (I know, not the Italian word). But think they’re on to something. Maybe I really AM an Italian as Bunky likes to say because I love naps.
Saw a cool old red house built around a Roman tower by John Clay MacKowan, a former civil war lieutenant who traveled extensively after the war. MacKowan, whose brother was killed in battle at Vicksburg built the eclectic villa that looked to me like a gaudy little fort. Deteriorating now, the literature says it’s still filled with Roman artifacts MacKowan found on the island in the late 1800s. Was a captivating story. Why Capri? So far away from the guy’s home in New Orleans. Back then it was a lot further away than today’s flight across the pond and Capri wasn’t the posh tourist trap like it is today. Would love to meet the guy and find out how it all went down. Apparently married a girl from Anacapri and after a few decades on the island went home and died. His house is now falling apart, seemingly privately held. Someone now lives in the house, saw clotheslines and crap on the back porch. Would make a great movie.
Wound our way through the narrow streets trying to escape the tourists. As the afternoon waned the tourists started to dissipate as the cruise ship deadlines for being back on launches drew near, giving us some respite. Remind me to never go on a cruise.
Found ourselves at the top of the town at Villa San Michele, the home built by Axel Munthe, a Swiss doctor who fell in love with Capri and built a sprawling villa around Anacapri’s peak. Munthe filled it with Roman artifacts — some real and some famously fake — and lived large. Entertained, told stories, and bullshitted in the best sense of the word. No question the guy had style and was a romantic. Would have liked to know him. Munthe was a big entertainer. The house and gardens could surely tell some great tales. Peering around the walled off very tip top of the peak was a tenth century fort whose origin is murky. The fort was once sacked by the Turkish pirate Barbarosa and now bears his name.
Unbelievable view from the top of the villa. Porch winds its way from the house along a ridge to the top where there is an old Roman ruin converted into a chapel The path continues to Barbarosa’s fort that’s now a bird preserve. At the top it’s cool and shady. You can look a thousand feet below at houses and a soccer field and past that to the boats in the harbor. All the way across the very blue water is the mainland with Vesuvius.
Tiberius, one of the great Roman general emperors who ruled when Jesus died exiled himself to Capri during the latter part of his life. Built several palaces on the Island and was finally suffocated by his infamous nephew Caligula in one of them. Standing at the top of Munthe’s villa overlooking the island and sea I understand why he picked this place to escape.
Walked back down the hill and through a door leading into Munthe’s dining room and saw a mosaic in the floor which was a replica of the Roman original found at Pompeii. Architect Levente Erdeos, who spent years helping restore the Villa San Michele and its artifacts, described the piece this way:
The dining-room surprises the visitor with its replica of a Roman mosaic placed in front of the door. It shows a skeleton holding a carafe o wine in one hand and a jug of water in the other hand. The message could either be a call to moderation, or on the contrary, a recommendation to enjoy life to the full while there is still time.
Looking at the views, the art, the passion he put into building the Villa and his collection it was pretty clear to me what the mosaic meant to Munthe: enjoy life to the full while there is still time.
For me Anacapri smacks you in the face with a sense of time — it’s been there for a long time. So many people, so many stories, so many times. They’ve all come and gone. Found the island and fell in love with it’s views, it’s beauty, it’s ocean. Enjoyed it all “to the full.”
Drove back down the mountain in a rusty convertible taxi cab driven fast by an old Capri native in his late seventies. In broken english the driver asked us about our day and if we had ridden the lift that takes tourists up and down the mountain. “No” we told him, “we didn’t get a chance to do that.”
“You should!” he said with a huge toothy grin as his whispy white hair bounced in the wind that whipped through the car. He then started belting out his version of Quando Quando Quando in a happy voice while careening merrily around other cars and busses as he hurled us down the very narrow road. We held on with white knuckles.
Back at the Hotel we sat on the cliff top bar and watched the beautiful sunset while sipping prosecco and gnoshing on the free hors d’oeurves. Probably sat there for an hour and a half before a light drizzle set in and it started to get chilly. That night I read a book I had picked up at Villa San Michele gift shop about Munthe’s collection. Historical pieces he picked up from God knows where, some from legit sources and some obviously sketchy. Either way, sitting there in our beautiful room on our last night in Sorrento looking over the moonlit water I smiled thinking about Munthe. And all of the other folks who had lived and died on or around Capri for millenia after living life to the full.