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VISIT CAPRI LIKE A WRITER
 
(2023 - Winter Issue)

Writer: J.R. PATTERSON



For thousands of years, Italy’s enchanting island of Capri has been a destination that has lured exiles and escapees, those seeking renewal and recovery, and has served as a playground for the rich and famous. You can thank the Roman emperors—famously Tiberius and Augustus—Capri’s first tourists who travelled seeking otium, or educated leisure—writing, swimming, eating and pursuing academics. It was a contemporary of those early Roman hedonists, Seneca the Younger, who said that, “Leisure without literature is death and burial for a living man.”

I was eager for my own dash of otium, and so set out for Capri to pursue the island’s literary heritage.

Here’s a Writer’s Guide to Capri:

HIDDEN PLEASURES

On a crystal autumn day, Capri dominates the sky from the pier at Sorrento. This was far different from Charles Dickens’s first view of the isle. In his travelogue Pictures From Italy, it appears through a fog, “now close at hand, now far off, now unseen.” As the ferry approached, I knew the perfect weather couldn’t be wasted. I decide to walk from the western village of Anacapri, over the peaked crown of Monte Solaro, to the town of Capri, nestled in an earthly saddle.

Up from the marina, the coastline reveals itself as a jagged tear of rock, the colours of the countryside blending like the paint on an artist’s worn palette: the browns and greens, the flowers of blue and purple, and the lemon groves swirl together, melding with the pastel houses which are set into the earth like flowerpots. 

I could feel the shrine-like atmosphere described by Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev who wrote while visiting in 1871 that Capri was, “a virtual temple of the goddess Nature, the incarnation of beauty.” From the crest of Monte Solaro, I could see almost everything—there was the Grand Hotel Quisisana, where Nobel-prize winner Ivan Bunin set his novella The Gentleman from San Francisco, and beyond the ruins of the Roman palace, Villa Jovis, which inspired the notorious French rogue, the Marquis de Sade, in his ribald novel Juliette.

With its blend of mountain and marine, it’s no surprise the “Pearl of the Mediterranean” has attracted creatives from colder climes, but it was just as often a place to let loose and indulge.

THE WRITING LIFE

With its alfresco and aperitif atmosphere, Capri is the perfect place to indulge in a bohemian lifestyle of slow contemplation, much like the hero of Somerset Maugham’s story, “The Lotus Eater,” who tosses in his stressful London life to follow his dreams of otium. I take the funicular up to the Piazza Umberto I, where the masses are dining street side beneath lemon trees and drinking Aperol Spritz over a wide view of the Bay of Naples. I stroll ’round to the Gran Caffè where the novelist Shirley Hazzard first met the novelist Graham Greene in the late ’60s. In her memoir Greene on Capri, Hazzard recalls seeing Greene at the Gran; as he’s faltering over the final line of Robert Browning’s poem “The Lost Mistress,” Greene recites:

Yet I will but say what mere friends say,

Or only a thought stronger;

I will hold your hand but as long as all may,

Here, Greene stumbles, his mind draws a blank. Hazzard walks over slowly and offers, “The line is: ‘Or so very little longer!’”

How I, too, wish to hold this island, which spread beneath me like a cluster of tumbled rocks, in my palm. But my time’s limited. In the spirit of Greene, I sat to rest and ordered a chilled martini. The scent of limoncello is in the air. I open my notebook and look out over the open sea. I have time but wish for just a little longer.

EAT LIKE A WRITER

Greene regularly dined at both Da Gemma, near the marina, and Le Grottelle, in the far east of the island. Da Paolino, Palazzo a Mare district, is a traditional restaurant with a lemon grove, and frequent celebrity diners.

MUST DO

A visit to Villa San Michele, the former Anacapri home of Swedish physician, Axel Munthe. Friend of royalty and rascals (he famously hosted Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas after the couple was thrown out of the Hotel Quisisana). Munthe’s book The Story of San Michele (1929), was a bestseller and brought Capri’s charms to a global audience.

Travel Planner

For more travel information about Capri, visit capri.com

 
 
 
 
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