On a midsummer's morning on Capri, ladies in pastel pants and shirts indulge in a favorite Capri pastime: a coffee in the Piazza Umberto. They may go, after that, to spend a day in the sun at Gracie Fields's Canzone del Mare (Song of the Sea), but they will be back in the piazza in the afternoon for a Campari-soda or a Cinzano bianco at the Café Tiberio. They will ignore the blandishments of the waiters at an identical café across the way, for the Tiberio is Capri's cafe of the moment, just as Emilio Pucci's pants and shirts are Capri's uniform.
It is possible to make such flat statements as this about Capri because it is an established resort that follows an undeviating routine set by the fashion of the season. This summer the Olympic invasion of Italy will bring more than one million visitors to Capri and its comic-opera piazza, and most of them will follow the fashion, too. After the hour-and-a-half ferry trip from Naples (fare 80¢) they will be hoisted the 700 feet from the Marina Grande by aluminum funicular (fare 11¢) and spilled into the Piazza Umberto. Before he has a chance to gaze from bougainvillaea-draped terraces at one of the world's most spectacular seascapes, the visitor must run the gantlet of the island's 400 shops, with their colorful wares spread sirenlike on the cobblestones. But no matter how fine the shopping and how beautiful the Blue Grotto, which he is bound to see, anyone who goes no farther will miss the real charms of the island.
Two things have drawn crowds to Capri in increasing numbers: its legend for wickedness and its beauty, which is equal to any spot in the Mediterranean world. The dubious aspects of the island's reputation began when Tiberius removed his imperial residence from Rome in 27 A.D. According to the historian Suetonius, the emperor regularly held most irregular gatherings in the island's beautiful grottoes and used the cliffs around his Villa Jovis the way Blackbeard used a gangplank. Ever since Suetonius, writers have populated Capri with nymphs and satyrs, real or Walter Mitty variety, in an attempt to make Capri as erotic as it is exotic. But while the visitor today may find many members of the island's foreign colony a bit more bizarre than the folks back home, he will not find any more primroses strewn in his path than he would at Cannes or Venice, Miami or New Orleans. And if he follows the paths that lead away from the mob in the Piazza Umberto and the Blue Grotto, he will discover what makes Capri the crown jewel in the sapphire bay of Naples.
At Canzone del Mare, reached by a road which hairpins down from the heart of town through cloisters of Scotch broom and mimosa, life is de luxe. Beside the terrazzo pool Roman princes, Spanish dukes and bare-skinned beauties from everywhere loll in the sun, and swim or water-ski off the smooth rocks surrounding the pavilion until it is time for lunch. The food is the equal of anything Rome has to offer and leaves one fit only for a drowsy retreat to the tile-floored coolness and quiet of hotel room or villa until cocktail time.
July 24, 1960
The Canzone-Piazza routine is the established one, well worn and rendered comfortable by time. But consider now the byways of Capri. There is a donkey called Michelangelo who hangs out in front of the Quisisana. His keeper will take you up to the ruins of the Villa Jovis, the largest of 12 villas the Emperor Tiberius built in the first century, 1,000 feet above the sea, to watch a sunset across the Bay of Naples that you will never forget. It will take only about two hours, up and down, and cost less than $10.
One of the fishermen at the Marina Grande can be persuaded to take you with him at night when he goes out in his little barca with an oil lamp on the prow to attract the octopuses which he spears. If you go, you will see Capri and Anacapri twinkling high above you, just under the stars of the Mediterranean heavens. You can hire a sandolino for $5 a day and paddle anywhere you want to go around the island, exploring grottoes with names like Grotta Verde and Grotta Bianca, which do not have the celebrity of the Grotta Azzurra, but which also do not have the subway crush of boats filled with tourists—there is only you in a cavern filled with green light or white light and the liquid lap of water, crystal-clear.
And best of all, you can spend a day at da Luigi's. To get there, hire a sandolino (or a speedboat, but they cost $15 per hour) at the Piccola Marina and take a course between the Faraglioni, the three craggy off-island rocks which are Capri's landmarks. Around Tragara Point, da Luigi sits, a restaurant which looks like a Eugene Berman stage set, a pavilion of poles with a thatched roof on a point of land overlooking an indigo cove. In the distance Sorrento and Positano are shining white against the Amalfi hills. Here, after you have had a swim and a sun bath on the rocks, the lovely Assunta and her husband, Mario, will give you a lunch of just-made pasta with butter and cheese; of fish or lobster, fresh from the sea in front of you, broiled over a wood fire in an earthen oven and served with Assunta's sauce of butter and parsley and garlic; a salad of rugola, followed by bowls of nectarines and thick-skinned, red-blooded oranges-all to the accompaniment of the cool, water-white Patrizi wine of Capri. In these surroundings, such a lunch will make you forget the best meal you have ever had before.