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Capri

Capri's Enduring Charm
Published in Man's World Magazine | October 2009

I’M GOING TO MEET BRANGELINA AROUND THE CORNER.

Or at least Sting and Trudi. Er TomKat? I know it won’t be Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Rock Hudson. But their presence of decades ago is still in the ether. After all, Capri was and still is the haunt of the rich and famous. Wine at hand, we sit at the Quisisana’s open air bar. It is 1 pm, the sun is directly overhead, its brilliant rays like raindrops of gold. In fact, gold is everywhere. On the necks of suntanned blonde men, gay, straight and in-between. Encrusted with diamonds or emeralds as big as rocks, gold hangs on nibblesome earlobes of blonde, blue-eyed women. So what if it’s just gone past noon. Capri is one of the few places left on this planet, where you can still safely show off your money, honey. And the best place to do it in Capri is in the main Piazzetta.
Located right next to the main piazza Umberto (where all visitors first arrive by funicolare vertical tramway from the Marina Grande at sea level), the piazzetta is distinguished by its four, and only four bars that spread out their chairs for the conspicuous flaunters and voyeurs. Being a healthy mix of both, my Italian hosts insist we perform this ritual every evening. For eight long glorious days on the island, we park our Brioni butts at any of the four — Bar Tiberia, Gran Caffe, Bar Caso, Piccolo Bar — for the mandatory bottle of bubbly prosecco before sauntering to any of the scores of delish restaurants. An American writer once described Capri as a Disneyland with deep history. Yes, there are high-end fashion outlets galore, all waiting for the next billionaire yachtsman to come ashore and spend a few hundred thousand euros on bling. But the natural wonder still dominates and the depth of history is not lost. Many of the establishments on the island have been in the hands of the same families for decades and the charm lies in finding the local in the midst of the global. My hosts, the Bencivenga family, are locals of Naples, dream merchants who have established a haute couture empire. Their sumptuous villa is perched right on top of this island where new constructions have been strictly forbidden for the last 20 years. The icing on the cake is the rooftop terrace vast enough for a cocktail reception of a hundred people! Every morning, I pinch myself when I awake. This is surely an impossible dream.

The waters encircling Capri are azure upon azure, lightening to a translucent aquamarine near the shore. To the right, my vision embraces the Fa rag lioni, the famous rocks arising from the sea. These miniature volcanic mountains, poking out of the sea, are the defining image printed on millions of postcards. Break-fast is lazily consumed whilst gasping at the breathtaking views of the Marina Grande, the sweeping panorama across the Bay of Naples and the unsurpassable Sorrento coastline!
The Blue Grotto is matchless too and this will be my third visit to this tourist attraction carved out by the sea’s relentless force. So from the large boat we hop on to a small row boat in mid-ocean and wait for the tide to wash us inside. What you get inside is a large cavern famous for the effects caused by light.

Everything around and above is pitch dark. The water, which I dip my hand into, is electric blue, as if someone had installed a gigantic fluorescent tube below. The loquacious boatman proudly informs me that the Romans used the Grotto as a swimming pool.
Did the Romans wear swimming costumes? Or was life just one naked, fun-filled orgy? Such thoughts are quickly dispelled be-cause I have just been drenched. And swallowed a good amount of seawater. We’re in trouble. The sea outside has just turned choppy. Which means the three boats inside can’t emerge out. The boatmen burst into ‘0 Sole Mio’ with gusty voices. How can they be so nonchalant? Another thought. If I swallow some more of that water will my body glow in the dark?

Everyone seems to glow with satisfaction. The tourists who have finally made it here. The locals because the economy, despite the worldwide recession, is humming with activity. Since the beginning of time the island has drawn artists and authors. Composer Claude Debussy spent time in Anacapri as did famed Swedish physician Axel Munthe, who built Villa San Michele — very much intact, with breathtaking views and lush gardens. Graham Greene bought a home here too in 1948 and kept it for 40 years! Their passion for Capri drew the cognoscenti here in the ’60s and ’70s , along with Hollywood royalty, who in turn were magnets for the world at large, eager to explore Capri’s charms.

I did my fair bit of exploring too. It was a 40-minute walk to Villa Jovis, or Villa of Jupiter. Emperor Tiberius built 12 villas on the island and, fearing assassination, ultimately retired to a stunning example of first-century Roman architecture and an engineering feat. How ever did the Roman empire continue to function while the boss was engaging in documented orgies for 10 years on an island with the most spectacular view in the Mediterranean?

Think about it. This island has for 2000 years been a getaway for the rich, the powerful and the curious. Add same-sex love to that list. Villa Lysis stands in imposing isolation in grounds filled with climbing plants and cypress trees not far from the ruins of Villa Jovis. It was built in 1905 by Jacques of Adelsward Fersen, a French Count, who wanted to create a residence in a secluded area, where he could live with his lover, a particularly well-hung Italian toyboy, whose nude photograph is proudly displayed in the middle of the hall. Its romantic aura remains unaltered to this very day, an enchanted place of retreat. Just like Capri. Enchanted , enigmatic, euphoric.

 

Ravioli Alla Caprese

Caciotella is poetically named and described as pure, tender cheese that maintains the freshest virginity of milk! It’s not for nothing that ravioli stuffed with grated caciotta is the banner dish of the island. Fragrances of William pear and exotic flavours of pineapple, coconut and vanilla notes.

HOTELS

  • La Scalinatella. Sophisticated and sexy. www.scalinatella. corn.
  • Punta Tragara. The views are breathtaking and the staff couldn’t be nicer. A little more relaxed than La Scalinatella. www.hoteltragara.com.
  • Grand Hotel Quisisana. The most famous hotel in town —popular with the jet set and, since it’s right in the centre, good if you have any mobility issues. www.quisisana.com.

RESTAURANTS

  • Da Gemma. Classic sim-plicity. A huge variety of Southern Italian cuisine. www. dagemma.it.
  • Gran Caffe, Piazza Umberto. A bar in the Piazzetta, great for people-watching.
  • Le Grottelle. A serious walk up, up and up, but well worth it.
  • L’Olivo. The only restaurant in Capri boasting one Michelin star. Located in the Capri Palace Hotel. www. capripalace.com