February 21, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Capri Memories

My thoughts have lately turned to my past travels—specifically, to the island of Capri. The magic of that place calls to one long after leaving its rocky shores. This siren song is not imagined; local Neapolitan legend speaks of a mermaid named Partenope who lured many with her singing. I can almost hear her now as my thoughts yearn for Capri's clear waters and sweet limoncello.

Capri has long been a place of escape. As far back as 2,000 years ago, the Roman emperor Tiberius took up residence on the island paradise, largely ignoring his empire in favor of a carefree and licentious lifestyle. The ruins of his villa—from the cliffs of which he was rumored to have thrown his enemies—can still be visited to this day.

During our visit, we stayed at the Hotel Tosca. Though it was only a one-star hotel, it had recently been remodeled. Our comfortable, freshly renovated room felt brand-new. I can recall lying on the bed, warm sunlight pouring in, listening to our proprietor Ettore quarrel with his mother-in-law in the yard, thinking there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

Good ol' Ettore also gave me a line on a shortcut down the steep cliffs to a secluded beach. A locked gate blocked the twisting Via Krupp, but following Ettore's advice, I hopped over it and walked down the hill to Capri's crystal clear waters. Using a pair of swimming goggles, I did some snorkeling (without the snorkel). Capri's dramatic geology created an underwater fantasyland of crevices, caves and crannies. Though the marine life was sparse, the experience felt like visiting another world.

And though Capri is an island paradise, it is also Italian. And the little town of Capri is about as Italian as they come. Locals and tourists alike gather in the "piazzetta" to sip espresso and limoncello. Quaint shops and delicious restaurants lie hidden in the labyrinth of Capri's narrow streets. You are as likely to hear an old woman singing or arguing as you are a bird singing.

The side trip to Capri took place by sheer happenstance, a knee-jerk reaction to the in-your-face chaos of Naples. But the unplanned excursion turned out to be the highlight of the entire six-week trip. I have many colorful memories of those European travels, but my wandering mind almost always finds its way back to Capri.


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