musings on rome written to a new friend

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I feel, in Rome, as if I am fully entered into the ancient-ness of the place.
I feel the history in my blood.
I feel almost Italian (with a mix of invading barbarian).

But I tread lightly in Italy.

I try to penetrate the history, the stories, but I tread lightly.
I don’t leave any trace.

I only steal moments.
I steal away people’s feelings in a one second snapshot.

I take more lingering pictures with my eyes.

I really don’t want to be the center of attention, I would rather fade into the background, and let people live around me.

I am greedy for their life spilling out.
Still as much a thief as I was as a child, after all.

This is why I love Naples.

I dread it a little, too.
I want to slap it around occasionally.
I want to remind it of its grit (as if it needs my reminder).
I want to shake it awake to its beauty and history and art.
I want it to not lose its charm, ever.

I don’t even care about the trash that much.
I love the darkest alleys.
I love that life is lived on the streets.
I love that the windows are always open.

I love listening to the strains of a language I cannot decipher because it always sounds like music to me that way.

That’s how I linger in churches so long…
I can’t understand the sermons so I can spend time looking at the art and thinking about pagans all day as if in a dream.

In Italy I am living in the dream and I don’t wake up again until I’m back home in the cold north.

I return to Italy like a lover who cannot stand the separation a moment longer. I want to feel the curves of familiar streets. I want to taste the crushed fruit of summer wine and feel that sun so different from mine. I want to see the stars again against the faint glow of the ruins.

beautiful photos of an old capri cemetery

Capri is a world famous resort, the playground for jet setters. It’s an ancient Roman island in Southern Italy still peppered with the villas of Emperors. I’ve heard it called the Beverly Hills of Italy because of its luxury boutiques and grand dame hotels.

To me, Capri is about the quiet moments, the local back streets, the flora and fauna and places like the beautiful, very off the beaten path 19th century non-catholic cemetery. The cemetery is in a residential, slightly run down section between Capri town and the Marina Grande but it overlooks the sea and is incredibly charming. Artists, writers, Anglo Saxons, Nordics and French in love with Capri are all buried here. There are Jewish graves and non-religious tombs and plenty of Madonna statues. And in modern Capri, plenty of Catholic Italians choose this idyllic spot with a sweeping view of the Tyrrhenian Sea for their final resting places.

I walked to the cemetery on the rather harrowing, not very pedestrian “old road down to Marina Grande” and found the graveyard after a ten minute “stroll” sidestepping uncomfortably close vespas, cars and buses like a veteran Italian. When in Rome, eh? You may want to take a taxi from the bus station in Capri Town.

Ask for the Cimitero acattolico di Capri. On Capri – not the pretty, much smaller catholic cemetery on Ana Capri – though that is also lovely. This is the spot with character and history and angels.

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all photographs were shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film and are copyright rebecca price butleralovelettertorome.com – retrofocus@mac.com

I took a lot of shots in this magical spot and will be posting more soon!

more wandering off the beaten path on capri

The most quiet places on the island are the pedestrian back roads along the sea and in the heart of the woods. Climbing up the island’s vast hills and weaving in and out beautiful homes and churches and shops and into nature brings you a contemplative ramble among the ruins of emperors.

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Walking along more pedestrian streets of antico Capri.

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Lush lemon trees, a sight and scent that always makes me happy instantly.

 

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Another beautiful niche.

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A still life of modern life.

 

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The hand painted tiles and stairs are stunning on Capri.

 

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A gorgeous private garden glimpsed past an open gate.

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A Capri cat, a local who probably descend from the cats of ancient Rome who lived on the island with the emperors.

 

 

 

off the beaten path via li campi & via posterula

I’ve gotten to know the ancient island of Capri and ana Capri fairly well over the last ten or so years and love still getting a bit lost when I go off the beaten path.

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A quiet, labyrinthine neighborhood, Via li Campi, away from the crowds of Capri Town.

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I wandered without a map past schoolchildren as they walked home from school. I wanted to find a local place not marked by tourists.

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This was probably one of my favorite afternoons. I like to get a little bit lost in old neighborhoods.

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Every corner held a new surprise… usually just another curvy turn but still, it was a surprise.

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This was a tiny apartment courtyard . I would love to know the history of these walls and stairs.

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I could walk this path all day. There’s a quiet in the shadows I long for.

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So many colors and hues over decades.

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Via Posterula

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Further into the maze of private pedestrian streets.

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One can hear the call of birds and the echo of footsteps on the rock.

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Here the gardens are on the rooftops or behind high walls in private courtyards.

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There are Capri hand painted tiles were all over the small neighborhoods.cap8

Ana Capri is a great place to buy the artisan handmade tiles. I brought a few back home myself.

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I’m working on a piece I did on my favorite tile shop, an interview with the owners and a photographic tour of the shop. I should be publishing it in the next few days.

sunset on the tyrrhenian sea

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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.

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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.

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

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The boat rounds the entrance to another hidden grotto.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

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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

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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.

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

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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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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The columns, lampposts and trees outside the villa.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Dark verdant green and creamy white buds.

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I wanted to reach out and touch them.

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The leaves were dark and lovely.

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

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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.

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

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Umbrella pines always make me think of Rome.

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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.

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

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The unique architecture of the villa.

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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.

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One of the many birds of Capri at the café.

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

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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

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

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

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

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The bird’s eye view.

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The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.

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The tiny chapel in the garden.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!

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

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The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.

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Potted urns along the walk.

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Herbal garden, leaves and trees.

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Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.

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Another angle of the sphinx’s view.

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A tiny boat leaving the shore.

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The clouds and mist find each other.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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