the café experience in naples

FH020003

Espresso served hot, rich, never bitter and with a creamy head, like a caffeinated, non-alcoholic guinness. No-one will ever convince me that coffee is better anywhere other than Napoli, Italia. They have their own sweet and savory versions of coffee drinks, their quality roasts are never acidic or dull, they would never dream of serving up a cappuccino Roma-style – lukewarm with 20 minute old foam – but are hot, foamy and always fresh. They have this divine beverage: nocciola, espresso with ground roasted hazelnuts and a little sugar made into a hazelnut cream.

FH020010

I have to restrain myself in Naples cafés otherwise I would stalk the café barkeeps and photograph and video their coffee making and ask them a hundred questions on their process in really bad Italian.

FH020011

A wonderful thing about Naples cafés are their wonderfully low key, around the corner neighborhood places to imbibe espresso and the most luxurious, art nouveau paradise, extra fancy grand caffes to choose from. REMEMBER IF YOU WANT THE CAFE SOCIETY EXPERIENCE AND YOU WANT TO SIT AROUND AND LUXURIATE YOU WILL PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE. IT IS WORTH IT DAMN IT – AFTER A LONG HOT DAY OF WALKING EVERYWHERE OR IF YOU ARE FEELING LIKE A SPENDTHRIFT OR HAVING A ROMANTIC ASSIGNATION OR HOPING TO HAVE ONE OR MEETING FRIENDS. OTHERWISE, AND READ THIS CLOSELY, STAND… STAND… STAND… S T A N D… AT THE BAR AND PAY HALF – H A L F – THE PRICE (WHICH MEANS YOU CAN DRINK TWICE AS MUCH). ALSO: NAPLES IS WAY WAY WAY WAY CHEAPER THAN MOST OTHER PLACES IN ITALY BUT THE FOOD IS INSANELY AMAZING.

FH060018

DON’T BE SO AFRAID OF NAPLES PEOPLE! I AM JUST SOME AMERICAN BROAD WHO USUALLY DOESN’T PASS FOR ITALIAN AND I AM NOT SCARED.

FH060027

Granted the city has it’s grotty grubby moments like any ancient city or city with an employment and crime issue but if you have your wits about you, stick in touristy areas at night, stay out of ghettos, see the old Greek neighborhood Spaccanapoli, hang at Piazza Plebiscito day or night, hit Caffe Gambrinus, get chocolates at Gay Odin on (noisy, dusty, busy but family filled Via Toledo) and see some goddamned art and sculptures at Archeologico and Capidimonte. By the way, all this is only the tip of the iceberg.

FH060029

There are so many funny, hilarious, crazy, cool moments in Naples, just go already. And drink the coffee for god sakes. Do I have to keep convincing you?

FH060031

Seriously, all of these drinks are so good all other coffee should bow down to the coffee in Naples.

Advertisements

sunset on the tyrrhenian sea

FH000073

On a little boat floating around the island of Capri we gazed up at the rocks and watched as the sun slipped slowly down behind the cliffs.

FH000058

Old barricades, canon heavy forts by the English and later the French, ancient walk ways of Romans and shepards, medieval paths with goats grazing on them, modern swimming clubs and fashion designer villas now sprinkle the soaring cliffs of Capri.

FH000069

The sea is calm for a moment, the south wind changes, the sun slinks further down and there is an upheaval in the waves.

FH000045

The boat rounds the entrance to another hidden grotto.

FH000043

The famed Faraglioni rocks, with a boat passing under it’s arch. We are about to enter it ourselves.

FH000041

Another boat races us to get there first. And yet we are all at a leisurely pace here. We are on “Capri time” as the locals say.

FH000038

The shadows and light meet and turn the shimmering sea dark and the rock impenetrable.

FH000001

It still amazes me how green things can grow out of prehistoric rock.

FH000010

The shining sea, the endless sky, the stone as familiar as an old friend’s face you still remember instantly after a long absence.

FH000051

In the rocks are countless animals and plant life, fishermen and birds of every color and song. In the water sea life and shells as exotic as halfway around the world.

FH000082

The views some people have. The lives they lead. The quiet stories never known to outsiders.

FH000060

Another Madonna of the Rocks, another Madonna of the Fishermen, of the sea. The Blue Grotto.

FH000022

To think this island was settled thousands of years ago and that people thought they could climb these hills and mountains to make new lives.

FH000055

The sunset kept receding and then bursting forth again as we sailed around the bends. The sun played a game with us.

FH000053

On Capri, the clouds touch the rocks and one can lose them selves in the mist. The challenge is not falling off a cliff like an unlucky Roman.

FH000054

Saying good-bye to Capri is never an option. It always calls you back, if, like me, you fall in love with it.

all photographs shot on fuji velvia 100 film slides by rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com 

spaccanapoli – off the beaten path naples

FH080007It’s “that” street they always tell you about if you find yourself in Naples.

FH080008For people watching, craft shopping, cafe hopping and snapshot taking, you can’t pick a more fascinating and colorful place than the Old Greek section of Naples.

FH080009

Another half hidden gem in a Neapolitan alleyway.

FH080011

I wonder what this one means, what it is for and how old it is? Also I love graffiti that states the obvious.

FH080018

Interesting graffiti.FH080019

This guy was hiding in the most unlikely corners around the neighborhood.FH080020

Commentary on the papal conclave me thinks.

FH080013

This is certainly one of my favorites.

FH080015

Gorilla boy is back.

FH080014

Naples, where the vespas and motor bikes look even cooler when parked against peeling grafittied walls.

FH080021

Just your normal everyday missing chunks of a rather old building. This sign means nothing, paint it.

FH080016

Hiding behind corners gets surprise shots and weird angles.

FH080022

Off the beaten path Napoli.

FH080023

The inside of a building half torn down.

FH080024

Open shuttered windows and laundry hung about everywhere. Modern life layered onto to history.FH080025

A church at the end of another road. More graffiti and more arches to walk under.

FH080026

Naple’s newer creatures.

FH080027

The side entrance, dramatic to me, no big deal to the locals.

FH080028

I’m trying to decide if this is rude or not.

FH080030

Can a city qualify as cool on one incredible nonchalant chatting spot? It should.

FH080032

I just follow the crowds to avoid them.

FH080033

I followed the sound  of New Orleans jazz music and found this delightful bunch.

FH080034

The layers, the layers, the layers… I go on and on about it but Napoli is a city of layers!

FH080035

Gentile.

FH080006

It’s the forbidden peeks into private gardens and courtyards I love best.

FH080003

The spooky Purgatory Lane.

FH080002

Vico del fico al purgatorio. An abandoned dusty baby’s pram that wasn’t there in October at the entrance of the dark and musty Purgatory Lane. Nope, not at all like a horror movie.

All photographs are 35mm film, Pro H and Kodak, copyright Rebecca Price Butler, of alovelettertorome.com

shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

FH030003

I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

FH030004

A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

FH030005

The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

FH030006

Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

FH030007

The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

FH030008

On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

FH030009

Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

FH030011

The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

FH030014

On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

FH030012

Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

FH030016

Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

FH030017

At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

FH030018

On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

FH030020

Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

FH030022

The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

FH030023

A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

FH030024

A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

FH030026

This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

FH030027

Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

FH030029

The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

FH030030

Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

FH030033

Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

FH030034

Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com

Flowers and the rooftop café at the Villa San Michele

FH020036

The small piazza or center of Anacapri. Take a left at the Piazza and follow the path and signs to the Villa San Michele. There are little shops along the way selling great lemoncello and meloncello and other gifts.

FH020033

A side wall of the Villa San Michele, a charming ivy covered garden wall and rounded top door. When you walk by you can peek through the top of the doors and see into the beautiful gardens.

FH020032

The columns, lampposts and trees outside the villa.

FH020030

You’ll know it when you see it. And you’ll hear the birds.

FH020031

The Villa San Michele was built on the ruins of a church by the same name and before that, on the ruins of one of Emperor Tiberius’ villas.

FH020003

When I see a field of beautiful blue flowers I think about that scene in Bright Star where John Keats and Fanny Brawne are sitting in a meadow of blue, so soft and lovely it made me want to return to England just to walk and lie around in one just like it. I dream about endless rows of bluebells and cornflowers and the kind of lush greenery you see in period British films.

FH020002

One of the first things that struck me about Capri was all the beautiful flowers (scenting the air) and all the birds.

FH020025

Dark verdant green and creamy white buds.

FH020026

I wanted to reach out and touch them.

FH020027

The leaves were dark and lovely.

FH020028

Blue and white flowers in a sea of green in the gardens lining the loggias, adding to the mystery of the place.

FH020029

Stairs leading up to the rooftop café. A red carpet experience in terms of views. One can order coffee, mineral water, fresh orange juice, cappuccinos, prosecco and gelato.

FH020011

We had the café to ourselves. The day was nearing dusk, the clouds were dramatic after intermittent rain.

FH020012

Umbrella pines always make me think of Rome.

FH020007

There is a light aroma of espresso and white lilacs in the air, plenty of shade and cool breezes and spots of sun. One can smell a hint of the sea, too.

FH020010

Views from the roof top of the garden and the sea. The bluest blues, the darkest greens, the whitest whites.

FH020009

The unique architecture of the villa.

FH020005

Flowers of every hue can be found throughout the grounds. The bright pink and red are like kisses with paint on your mouth left on a linen handkerchief.

FH020018

One of the many birds of Capri at the café.

FH020035

One of the dogs through a keyhole in a fence on the way back from the Villa San Michele.

FH020006

Redbeard’s fort high up on the hill.

This is the second article in a series of film photographs and writings on the Villa San Michele on Capri in Italy. More to follow!

All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler, at alovelettertorome.com

at the enchanting villa san michele’s gardens on anacapri

FH060032

A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.

FH060010

The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.

FH060028

The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.

FH060027

The bird’s eye view.

FH060017

The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.

FH060005

The tiny chapel in the garden.

FH060029

Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.

FH060007

There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.

FH060020

Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.

FH060031

The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.

FH060008

The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.

FH060002

Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.

FH060004

Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!

FH060030

A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.

FH060011

The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.

FH060034

Potted urns along the walk.

FH060035

Herbal garden, leaves and trees.

FH060033

Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.

FH060022

Another angle of the sphinx’s view.

FH060026

A tiny boat leaving the shore.

FH060025

The clouds and mist find each other.

FH060024

Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.FH060023

I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.

FH060016

A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.

This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!

More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

jet lag from naples & nocciola coffee

I’ve been away in Italy taking lots of lovelyish pictures and collecting interestingish stories for the blog and some travel guides/magazines. Of course after a jet lagged flight from chaotic Napoli to Dublin and nearly missing the connecting flight to Boston I have managed to stumble into the bath, into bed, and into work since I landed on Eastern Standard Time. I dropped off 25 rolls of 35 mm film, mostly varying speeds of posh portra and some fuji and semi-vintage kodaks and the criminally expensive velvia. I have digital files to pour over and edit as per usual after a trip. It takes months, sometimes years to go over everything. The new URL for this blog is alovelettertorome.com)

13napoli1The 21st century couple. Napoli, May 2013, while I was devouring something at a cafe. Digital eavesdropping. The Santa Lucia district. An Italian spring afternoon (always superior to a drafty New England one).

13napoli5

The Piazza Plebiscito. Mostly designed by the French it is quite breathtaking when approaching it from the Santa Lucia district when the sun is setting at the peak of the golden hour on the castle or monastery built on a hill overlooking the Bourban buildings and the city square. The clouds and the stone and the Neapolitans … and the coffee are a marvelous combination. I feel excited when I’m standing there watching and listening. There are always children playing football on the cobblestones and lovers kissing against a light post. Oscar Wilde’s haunt, the art nouveau camp paradise Caffe Gambrinus makes a great sweetened nutty coffee drink – the Nocciola. If you haven’t had a nocciola it’s exceedingly hot espresso with roasted  hazelnuts crushed into a “cream” and a hint of sugar. Served in a girl’s glass and they are absolute heaven. Don’t ever expect to drink them outside of Naples. I’ve had arguments with Romans and Florentines and Milanese and you name it on the veracity of this beverage and on the elusive espresso con panna (espresso with whipped cream). These delicacies do exist and they are unique to decadent Napoli.

13napoli3You’d think someone who has been drinking coffee since they were six years old (and I’m a youngish 37) would not be excited about good espresso and proper cappuccinos after all this time but when I’m in Naples I am, I am, oh boy, I am.

13napoli2

I’m warning you ahead of time, I took an obsessive amount of photographs of fisherman’s boats. And fishermen.

13napoli4

There really is nowhere like Naples.

Verdure

I’m sort of in love with the world today and it’s stormy for the second day on my third and a half day on Capri. It’s raining buckets with a shocking blue sky far off in the distance over Ischia or is it Sorrento? Half of the soaring limestone cliffs are hidden in a thick dark mist, half reflect the sharp light of a distant sun, outlining every crevice and the soft wine and green colored trees and shrubs. Waiting for a dry spell to venture out.

I let myself wander and ramble yesterday all day, down residential and abandoned paths, treacherous back roads, scenic tumbles, until I was as lost as possible and magically found my way back again in a series of small adventures. Meeting wonderful people from all over the world with fascinating thoughts and good conversation. Followed by hours of silence and reflection, just walking and absorbing.

Exotic, lovely birds singing and whirring by from morning till night, the eternal scent of newly blossoming white lilacs perfuming the sea air, a sudden intake of breath mixed with the thrill of fear as a black snake slithers near underfoot to lie in the sun and I retreat my sandaled foot, not daring to cross over it like a sign of foreboding.

Finally reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – it’s beautiful prose making me a little drunk and dreamy, better than any champagne.

20130507-114033.jpg