A monastery in the clouds

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One fall afternoon in Naples the clouds snuck out from behind the Pantheon-like San Francesco di Paola Church as I stood in the main square in the sunshine.

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Approaching the large, Bourbon Piazza del Plebiscito from the Santa Lucia waterfront district is one of the most dramatic views I’ve ever seen in a city. There is an old monastery on an ancient hill and from this vantage point it looks like the Certosa di San Martino is floating on clouds.

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A closer look as you come upon the piazza.

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Caffe Gambrinus (Oscar Wilde’s old haunt and one of my favorite cafe-bar-tearooms) and the gleaming dome of the Galleria Umberto I, a strikingly beautiful marble-covered shopping atrium.

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All photographs shot in Naples, Italy October 2013 and were shot on velvia 35mm film slides by Rebecca Price Butler alovelettertorome.com retrofocus@mac.com

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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!

favorite views of rome and the fatal charm of italy

 “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

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The top of the Castel Sant’Angelo from the Ponte Sant’Angelo.

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning. – Giotto di Bondone

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The golden hour of sunset on the ruins in the heart of the city.

A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority. – Samuel Johnson

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Looking over the city at dusk from the Villa Medici where the Pincian hill and the Spagna area meet.

“I sometimes fancy,” said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, “that Rome–mere Rome–will crowd everything else out of my heart.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The casina view on the tip of the Pincio (Pincian hill) overlooking the Piazza dell Popolo. It is my favorite spot in Rome to watch the sun set. Get to it by the Popolo, Piazza di Spagna or the Villa Borghese park.

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More views from the majestic Pincian Hill. There’s a particular happiness I experience whenever I am on the Pincio. I have so many beautiful memories there. It represents everything I love about Rome; the history, the beauty of the landscape and architecture, the art, the people watching. I love the ivy covered apartments and Renaissance architecture.

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Another one from the Villa Medici with the silouhette of Saint Peters in the distance.

In the world Rome is probably the place where most in beauty has been accumulated and subsists in span of twenty centuries. It has created nothing, only a spirit of greatness and order of beautiful things; but the most magnificent monuments on the earth have extended and were fixed in it with such energy to leave the most numerous and indelible tracks in it, more than in anywhere else on the globe. – Maurice Maeterlinck

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From my hotel balcony overlooking the Aurelian wall, the Villa Borghese metro stop, apartments and the Villa Borghese park. A sign of Rome is the countless antennas on rooftops.

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On top of Saint Peter’s Cupola, Vatican City is laid out.

From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe. – Mark Twain

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Peeking through a gated fence and cypresses to a private garden.

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There are a thousand little views of the Vatican from different corners of Rome.

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A glass of prosecco and a view from my hotel balcony on the Via Veneto at the Grande Albergho Flora.

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From a Vatican Museum garden, another breathtaking cupola and manicured, statue studded garden.

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Rome through a glass of Sicilian wine at sunset.

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The Coliseum from a distance on a tele photo lens.

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Rome from the top of the observation deck on the Vittoria Emanuale Monument.

Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome. – Goethe 

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The Via del Corso from the Vittorio Emanuale (aka the Wedding Cake).

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The rooftops of the historic center of Rome.

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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The Roman Forum and the Alban hills.

“She had always been fond of history, and here [in Rome] was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.” ― Henry James

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Cupolas and sky high statues.

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Churches over the Forum; layers of history, people and ruins.

“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation if humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.” ― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forest House

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A beautiful frontpiece to an old church and an arch.

Rome is beautiful, so beautiful, I swear, all the other things seem nothing in front of it. – Charles de Brosses

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Cypresses and stone.

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The cypresses, umbrella pines and verdant green against red stone and brick and roof tiles are gorgeous.

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A lone goddess in a corner.

See the wild Waste of all-devouring years!
How Rome her own sad Sepulchre appears,
With nodding arches, broken temples spread!
The very Tombs now vanish’d like their dead!
Alexander Pope

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Borken temples and pillars.

Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.
George Eliot
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Ancient Rome, Baroque, fascist architecture and the 21st century in one sweeping glance.

You cheer my heart, who build as if Rome would be eternal. – Augustus Cæsar

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The Alban Hills appear blue against the sky no matter the weather or season. They once hid Julius Caesar from his enemies in his earlier youth.

For me, Rome is the old center, with her narrow streets, in warm colours, orange,red and even gold. Here is Rome like a house. The alleys are passages, and in three minutes you are in the most beatiful squares of the City, Piazza della Rotonda with the monument, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. These are my reading rooms, my refreshment rooms, my salons where I meet my guests. – Rosita Steenbeek

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The Wedding Cake view of Rome is the view of the gods.

The light that reveals Rome’s monuments is not that to which we are accustomed; it produces numerous optical effect plus a certain atmosphere, all impossible to put into words. The light strikes Rome in ways that I’ve never seen. – Stendhal 

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The back view of the Wedding Cake of the Forum, the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, where the Emperors and the Patricians lived in Ancient Rome.

The traveler who has contemplated the ruins of ancient Rome may conceive some imperfect idea of the sentiments which they must have inspired when they reared their heads in the splendor of unsullied beauty. – Edward Gibbon

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The Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536–1546 at one of my favorite museums and spots in Rome on Capitoline Hill.

O Rome! my country! city of the soul! Lord Byron

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Julius Caesar and the ruins.

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Porta San Sebastiano is the modern name for the ancient Porta Appia, a gate in the Aurelian Wall of Rome, connected to the Via Appia, the old entrance to the city for ancient pilgrims, wanderers and the 17th, 18th and 19th century Grand Tour.

A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome. – Alaine de Lille 

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Another peek from the Pincio.

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The alternate view of Rome from the Janiculum Hill, the Giancolo.

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The Pantheon, which draws me to it at night to admire it’s immortality against a navy sky.

The Roman evening either keeps still or it sings. No one can behold it without growing dizzy, and time has filled it with eternity. – Jorge Luis Borges

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Did I mention how amazing dusk is on the Pincio?

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A private rooftop garden, the Auerlian Wall on the original “1950s & 1960s La Dolce Vita” street of the Via Veneto, not too far from the Lord Byron statue.

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The Twin Churches of the Piazza del Popolo and the Vatican.

“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.” —Mark Twain

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A palm tree (or descendent of) left over from ancient Egypt, planted a millenia or two ago perhaps.

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This spot is disarmingly charming. Below to the left is the luxe 19th century Hotel de Russie with an enormous garden terrace and marble stairs with cafe tables, coffee and cocktails from an outdoor bar.

“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy.” — Fanny Burney

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Wandering around the city at night, the cobblestones lit up by cafe lights.

“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.” —Erica Jong

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The Villa Borghese gardens leading out to the Pincio.

For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery… back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.” —D.H. Lawrence

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The sun falls over the Piazza del Popolo through construction fencing. At the center of the square is an Egyptian obelisk — it was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus.

I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Augustus; quoted in Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

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The Fontana del Mosé Salvato view of the Pincio.
Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city. – Anatole Broyard

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The wide view of Via del Corso always reminds me of the film Roman Holiday and Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s vespa ride.

“Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Near the Piazza di Spagna, at the top of the Spanish Steps. Young lovers are all over the park snatching amorous  moments out in public.

Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy. – Bertrand Russell

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The sun rises and sets in Rome and each golden hour the view becomes more and more beautiful. It’s what brought the Romantics and the artists for centuries. The landscape, the ruins, the fountains, the art, the cupolas  and the stone and marble bathed in the Italian sun. It’s why I keep returning to the Eternal City. It’s what I live for.

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” – Anna Akhmatova

snapshots of posthumous john keats in rome

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This is the view John Keats had of the world for the last months of his life. Once he was too sick to climb the Spanish Steps to the Pincian Hill view of the sunset over the piazza delle popolo and take in the sweeping view of the renaissance rooftops of cupolas, churches, houses and hotels of Rome – he had one final view, the Bernini fountain outside his room, at the end of his deathbed. He could hear the passersby and the fruit sellers. He could hear the horses hooves and the coaches. He could hear the rushing water of the fountain and smell the scent of the sweetest water in Rome. Sometimes he could drink it, a few shallow sips in a brief moment of respite.

I stood and looked out his window and took this shot with my phone. I stood there for ages alone and stared out the window and looked for John Keat’s ghost or a shadow of his memory, an imprint of him somewhere. I think I found him in the golden glow of dusk which touched everything in Rome for the last hour before sunset and made everything so pretty it hurt to lose it each night.

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Keats’ Rome house is located at the Spanish Steps by the Bernini fountain.

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A white rose I brought for John Keats’ Plaque near his grave on the wall to the left of the garden in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome in the Non-Catholic Cemetery near the Pyramid of Cestius.

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The annual/ bi-annual pilgrimage to the Protestant Cemetery never fails to give me chills when I read the epithet Keats intended for himself; Here lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water.

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“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell. To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu!”

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Each time I follow that sign it still feels like a mystery unfolding. No matter how many times I retrace my steps to the back garden, to the memory of him, it feels new again.

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Really delicious prosecco at Caffe Greco, Rome, Italy, Oct 2012 (iPhone).

From the bar napkin I penned this:

Tonight I looked for Keats’ ghost.

Spotted Byron in the Borghese and heard Shelley was somewhere around the Villa Medici. Caught a glimmer of him.

Goethe kept a respectful distance when I passed him on the pincio. 

Keats silently joined me somewhere on Via delle Magnolie. He slipped out from the shadows and fell into step with me. I felt him quietly by my side for the rest of the night.

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.

 

 

 

save the antico caffé delle pace in rome!

tumblr_m3j0701vo21qznevxo1_1280The Antico Caffè Delle Pace / Bar Delle Pace in Rome, Italy. I took this shot in March 2012.

I am posting a photograph of one of my most favorite 19th century cafe-bars in the world because it is in danger of being lost along with many other beautiful old cafes and shops in the historical center of Rome! Romans are protesting these closures. 

I have palpable memories of sitting outside people watching with a prosecco or an espresso, soaking up the beautiful patio, cafe tables, the renaissance church and museum to one side, the hanging greenery. 

One evening we were caught in the rain and had the sumptuous, historical, cozy, beautiful cafe interior to ourselves as I sipped pinot nero and nero d’avola and he had endless pots of smoky tea. I remember the 19th century cash register and the bust of Augustus and the antique mirrors and the waitresses and waiters who looked like fashion models. 

It’s the kind of place that’s built for the “beautiful people” and can be a magnet for the rich and famous (and more interesting the Roman Who’s Who of writers, artists, intellectuals) but I never felt like an outsider there. 

It is a low key, lovely cafe. I enjoy the walk to it on sunny afternoons or on cloudless, starry nights anytime I am in Rome. It is one of the highlights of my trips. 

And if we lose another historical, old world cafe or shop – Rome will love it’s very heart of the centro storico. 
the impossibly cool caffe & bar della pace, rome, italy, 2012.

http://www.wantedinrome.com/news/2002440/rome-s-bar-della-pace-faces-closure.html

http://roma.repubblica.it/cronaca/2013/06/28/news/per_il_bar_della_pace_arriva_lo_sfratto_a_sorpresa-61990474/

I’m not sure what I can do to help but I would like to do something. Any Italians or people living in Rome have a site or petition or anything? I would love to spread the word. alovelettertorome@gmail.com

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.

the café experience in naples

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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