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Capri patch

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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Day 2 in Naploli was a free day, though many instructors strongly advised a trip to a newly renovated museum in Napoli to see their Heronimous Bosch and Carravagio collection. Rick, a friendly instructor, mentioned Capri, an island paradise and vacation spot since Caesar Tiberius, a few train stops away. By 10 AM Heather and I were already there.
The train ride to Sorento, a port city where you can catch the ferry to Capri, is entertaining in itself. The train passes quickly and quietly between rows of block-style apartments and lemon orchards, with an occasional glimpse of the blue sparkling bay. Italy's trains are a wonderful transportation system that I’m sure I’ll rant about again later.
Sorento is a pretty little town much like Vico Equense and it's a short walk from the train station to the port where you have several options for transportation to Capri. There's a speedy hydrofoil that takes half as long and costs twice as much, but I'd have paid extra for the captain of our slower boat to take his time. It's a beautiful ride across the bay of Napoli and the sun was just warming things up to tolerable.
I watched the wind whipping Heather’s hair and dress as she stood at the prow in a classic contra postal curve leaning against the rail, and with the rocky islands and blue water in the background she was like some modern version of a classic Greek statue, come to life in soft flesh.
It hurt to look at her.
Looking back at Sorento.
Map of Capri
Capri gardenFortunately there was ample beauty to distract me. Capri is utterly and completely stunning. High gray cliffs topped with homes of the rich and famous overlook the town of Capri in a saddle-shaped valley surrounding the port. We got off the boat and poked around for a bit, then caught the funicular, a train that climbs a steep hill, somewhat like a roller coaster but (hopefully) without the terrifying thrill.
It took us up the hill to the next plateau of the town. From there we were headed up to one of the pinnacles of the island to see the ruins of Tiberius' Pleasuredome.
The town consists of winding paths leading up the hill that are so maze-like that we fully expected the Minotaur to round the next corner licking blood from a massive axe. The streets are so narrow and the buildings so tall in some places that it begins to take on the feel of a shopping mall in the bottom of a narrow ravine.
In an attempt to reach the peak we trekked for miles, making countless switchbacks while gazing into shaded gardens of grapes, lemons, flowers, and snoozing dogs.
View from CapriOccasionally the walls of the maze would dip low enough to catch the view of the bay which, as we climbed, grew ever more impressive. Unfortunately, we seemed to pass the same view over and over again without getting any closer to the top.

Eventually we conceded that we were hopelessly lost and asked a bartender for directions, which we promptly followed - right back to where we'd started. We purchased a map, utterly useless, lacking details or even a legend explaining the infrequent and illegible symbols scattered across the thing, but somehow it got us on the right track.

I got my exercise for the entire year on that hike but the view continued to astound, if for no other reason than that it continued to get exponentially better than the rare glimpses we'd gotten on our first attempt to reach the summit.

View from Capri

Which was perfect because any time Heather walked in front of me I could smell her.
Or I imagined I could.
Either way, the effect was making my hair stand on end. These are the sensations of a man about to go into an enemy encampment, slaughter all the men and rape all the women – sweat, blood pumping, muscles hot with exertion – all echoing perfectly with the surroundings.
I tried not to let her lead too often.

View from Tiberius' PleasuredomeThe ruins of Tiberius' Pleasuredome are not the least bit impressive but no gem could improve on the setting. It inspired me to work for a living (don't tell anyone) and play lotto every week just so I might be able to return. It is a tourist trap but the island is split into two towns, Capri and Anna Capri - literally "above Capri." Anna Capri is supposed to be the more affordable portion of the island as it used to be accessible only by foot up a tall cliff. Now there is a perilous-looking road, built like a shelf winding its way along the cliff wall.
The view from Tiberius' ruin is breathtaking, stunning, astounding. My vocabulary cannot do it justice.

"This is the part, the best part, this is the best part of the trip."
Jim Morrison, from The Soft Parade

(My photos can't do it justice either.)

Rumor has it that Tiberius used to throw slaves from the cliffs for entertainment and that their ghosts hurled his statue off the cliff in vengeance after his death. While I don't believe in ghosts, the guy must've been a real ass for anyone to climb that damned hill, pull down a marble statue and haul it to the edge just to pitch it off the cliff, or even to use it as building material.
On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine building an empire based on slave labor just so you could sit up there all day and sip lemonade.
Speaking of, halfway down the hill is a charming little overpriced bar with a great view of the town and port. The lemon ice is worth the hefty price, made from lemons picked an arm’s reach away. It's the only place I could ever be a food service slave again. The view from the balcony will keep you there for an hour past what you’d normally spend in the finest restaurant.
At the port you can purchase tickets to see the famed Blue Grotto, a half-flooded cave that the light shines into. It's supposed to be spectacular but rumor had it that they wouldn't allow you to swim in it once the boats started ferrying the tourists in. That, and the ticket price was 25,000 lire so we passed. Later we found that the 25,000 only took you to the cavern, it was another 15,000 to get a boat in.
I suppose I should pause a moment and talk about money.

The Monopoly Money Phenomenon, so named by one of my oldest friends, Shawn “Brud” Littleton, comes into play anytime anyone with little travel experience gets foreign currency in their hands. Because it’s often colorful and small, it’s tough to take foreign bills seriously. And, since you don’t really know the value of it, you never really have a good feeling for what you’ve got. It's often impossible for anyone short of Stephen Hawking to do the conversion to their home currency in their head so you finally give in and spend the stuff as if it weren't real. Fortunately, converting Italian lire, pronounced “leer-uh,” to U.S. dollars was easier than other monies with the exchange rate at the time of 1500 lire to the dollar.
As long as you stayed away from the wine (which is difficult to do since it's the cheapest drink in Italia, intentional price fixing for tourists, I believe) you might be able to figure out just how much more you paid than you should have, but only after you’ve walked out of the store and are staring at the nonsensical receipt.
Which, by the way, you get every time, no matter how trivial or simple the transaction is. I think they're trying to make it feel less like they're ripping you off. At the very least it distracts you long enough to walk out the door as you attempt to figure out why you paid twice what you think you should have. (Again, stay away from the wine, at least until you’re done shopping for the day. ) I stopped taking the damned receipts, which confused many of the cashiers. They looked at me as if I was not playing the game correctly. I found out later it is required by law that they give you a receipt and that you take it. Apparently I’ve broken laws all over the country without even knowing.

The few students that hadn’t gotten suckered into the instructor-recommended museum in Napoli and had come to Capri did get suckered into the Blue Grotto. I was glad we were hesitant. Later, I found out you can get a swim in the place if you go after the tour boats, but getting there can be a bit tricky and you risk missing the last ferry back to the mainland. Ah well, next trip…
We inspected the beach closest to the port but it was rocky and crowded. The map in the tourist office showed other beaches further from the touristy main drag. Heather and I both wanted a little more privacy. I was hoping the romantic setting might have some influence on my traveling companion, so we rented a scooter to investigate. I gave it a test drive and promptly ran the thing into a guard rail and only avoided hurling myself over a precipice, a fall of some 100 feet, because the rental assistant grabbed me at the last moment.
The manager put up a great show about how much it was going to cost him to repair the bent front fork, eventually bullying me out of about $200. But it wasn’t the money, or even the brush with death that pained me, it was the embarrassment of it happening in front of Heather. I felt like a fool. To this day I still get a pang when making a sharp left turn on my bicycle.
We walked back to the local beach. The water was chilly but tolerable and the clear aquamarine color was a joy, like floating around in liquid crystal glass.

We missed the ferry that would get us back to the hotel in time for dinner so we got sandwiches and a cheap bottle of wine and sat by the docks for a picnic. Covered in sweat, SPF 15, seawater and smiles, we headed back. I talked later with some of the students who'd headed for the instructor-recommended museum. No Bosch, one Carravaggio, "A disappointment."

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