Dante, Virgil and Augustus and the clouds of Naples

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Augustus, in Naples, looks out at Vesuvius, the volcano that covered Pompeii and Herculaneum in lava and ash thousands of years ago. Clouds puff out around Vesuvio like plumes of smoke. Virgil, a great Roman poet of the Augustan era, is entombed not far away. His Aeneid, inspired by Homer‘s Odyssey and Iliad. Tuscan poet Dante Alighieri, in 14th century Italy, wrote Virgil into his Divine Comedy as a sage pagan guide through hell and purgatory.

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Dante Alighieri commands the clouds, overlooking the passersby in the Piazza Dante off Via Toledo. The day before it had stormed on nearby Capri and the clouds were thick and dramatic against the bright blue sky of central Napoli.

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I wept not, so to stone within I grew. – Dante

slide4Dante is host to one of Naple’s most popular “outdoor living rooms” where Neapolitans meet in the evenings for conversation, snacks, flirting and delicious coffee.

“With the color that paints the morning and evening clouds that face the sun I saw then the whole heaven suffused.” – Dante

All photographs shot on velvia film slides by Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

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heart-stealing baroque napoli

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The old Greek section of Napoli, Italy is a recurring fascination of mine.

A closed boulangerie with a broom leaning against the store front. Painted pastoral scenes on plates. Rusted piping and peeling posters. Grafitti in bright colors.  

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Caffe chairs sprinkled throughout the back streets of Spaccanapoli. 

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The sun finds it way though the velvet black shadows. Posters advertise operas I won’t get to see. Padre Pio forever in the background, his face found in taxi cabs, on walls, in churches, in caffes.

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Hanging bronze dyed pasta, bufalo mozzarella from campania, rows of inviting rum-soaked baba cakes filled with rummy yellow cream, tiny wild strawberries, Sfogliatelle.

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Two “lovers” embracing in front of an iconic “second hand shop” full of Neapolitan treasures overseen by a curious little dog.

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The simple cafe tables and chairs in front of artisan shops and caffes with a sculpture of an old man in the background. 

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Every day life in an alleyway; people, a truck delivering goods, empty vegetable and fruit crates, the golden mustard apartments and hanging laundry.

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A baroque awning, layers of brick from different centuries, buildings and façades built on top of each other, a neapolitan girl on her mobile, another caffe beckoning the passersby.

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Hanging fruit and ripe red campania tomatoes and an early pasieggetta.

 

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I love the corners and crevices and surprising bursts of yellow in between the rust.

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Ancient pillars in residential neighborhoods, forming millennia old foundations.

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Another beautiful church front and a charming caffe.

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The quintessential graffiti of Naples, as ancient as the tags and scribblings on Pompeiian walls.

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The old guard and the ‘new art’.

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Bursts of color and brightness and the scent of glorious coffee floating in the air at every turn.

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More graffiti, and the vespas and cars and Neapolitans seem all the more nonchalant about it.

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I always seem to find the caffes… I always feel like I’m on some unspoken mission to drink the best coffee.

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A whole street filled with beautiful second hand and rare book shops and musical instruments and conservatories. I never wanted to leave. 

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When the little girl walked by I knew I had to capture her in that moment of contrasts and colors.

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A gorgeously appointed restaurant, intimate, and romantic in a baroque neapolitan way. I could have lingered for hours with a glass of nero d’avola and flirted but I had less than a day to shoot Naples because of all the rain prior to this day.

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This is a wider shot of the restaurant. It looks like an opening to another, older world. I told you it was beautiful.

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Stunning churches, colorful architecture, dark and ancient looking alleyways filled with street theatre and trash on the street… the extremes of modern Napoli.

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There is so much to see, just to read on the walls.

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I like when the grafitti becomes art.

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Even the scribbles are a crying out and bleed every color onto wood and stone and brick.

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Back to this fellow. I remember his likeness on other walls on other visits to Naples.

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The priest or monk, grafitti iconography and protest.

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I found this hollowed out frame and the lettering (name of the one time King) very delicate and beautiful looking.

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Mirrors and antiques and the scrawlings every where.

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A delightful music shop.

I know Napoli isn’t for everyone. I know street grafitti on historical buildings can be a bit of a shock. But once you visit Naples a few times and fall into the rhythm of the city and of its people, the fright wears off and you begin to see the color is all the more bright in contrast to the shadows. If you are like me and find beauty in decaying things and centuries of history piled up on top of each other, you may just find yourself falling in love with the heart stealer of baroque Napoli.

 

All photographs shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film.

I’ve returned back to the United States from Italy

Notes on a little about my photographic process. I’ve been asked about this and it’s mostly the use of fine art films and my analog camera, but it’s also my digital camera and my iPhone too, that I shoot images with.

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vintage sky blue vespa in napoli, italy, portra 800, october 2013

 

Yesterday I picked up my 35mm film photographs of Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento and Napoli – shot in portra 160, 400 and 800, kodak pro h, and a few spare vintage-style rolls of color film, the names of which escape me at the moment. I shot some velvia slide film, which was developed into individual slides and I poured through each slide on a light table with a magnifying glass and chose the best ones (and the lab will scan them onto cd so I can post them here and in some articles and guides on Italy for other publications – AND which cost me $5 per slide)!!!

A roll of art film can be $15-$75 just for 35 mm film… 120 film (medium format/ large format) can be even more. Some times one can luck out with a five pack for $55, depending on the film. The film slide film is usally $25+ per roll and there is some incredibly beautiful discontinued slide film is now $75-$125 per roll with an expiration date! My fridge doors are not packed with cheese or juice or butter but with endless rolls of film, the cheap stuff, the mid range and the criminally expensive. It’s vitally important to buy your film from credible sources. That’s why I tend to buy the film in person, from a few credible photography shops in the Boston area, who properly store their unexpired film in a film fridge.

So for this trip, the 11th to Italy (ahh, makes me think of Doctor Who!) – I spent a couple hundred dollars on the film, a couple hundred to develop the rolls and a few hundred more once they scan the velvia film slides onto CD.

I shot about a hundred pictures on digital but focused mainly on analog because I prefer the dreamlike, tonal quality and the color and beauty of these special films. It’s sad how incredibly costly it is to shoot with fine art film; it’s truly a dying art form. But there is still the drugstore deals on fujifilm and kodak (buy one 5 pack, get one free, etc) I collect in bulk because that film is great for every day shots and practice. But for Italy and for shoots where I’m looking to tell a story, I still rely on those rare gems: portra, velvia, etc.

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neapolitans in spaccanapoli, portra 800, october 2013

 

As I return to writing and shooting and editing I’m thinking of arranging this into a book or extended project of my version of Off The Beaten Path Italy so I’m thinking of the tremendous cost as an investment. We’ll see.

I have a busy weekend but I’m going to get some pieces together soon and post some of the photographs here. I do post some of the stand alone shots on tumblr here.

if you find yourself in naples…

When you go to Naples, go to the top of a beautiful hill and enter the serene parco Capidimonte and stroll through large hedgerow pathways. You’ll find a glorious fountain covered in thick hanging moss and mariner figures. There is a lovely view of the hills of Naples nearby. The fountain is decaying, partly buried under the thick growth of moss and greenery. I couldn’t possibly love it more. After you wander around and linger on the grounds, go into the museum. See wonderful pantings and sculpture. Go to the second floor for the three Artemisia Gentileschis currently available for public viewing. Dream of returning before you’ve even left. Fall in love with beauty all over again.

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Charles III of Bourbon era fountain detail, Capidimonte Park, Napoli, Italy, autumn 2012 (digital)

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.

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.

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Another half hidden gem in a Neapolitan alleyway.

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

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

Commentary on the papal conclave me thinks.

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This is certainly one of my favorites.

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Gorilla boy is back.

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

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

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Hiding behind corners gets surprise shots and weird angles.

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Off the beaten path Napoli.

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The inside of a building half torn down.

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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.

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Naple’s newer creatures.

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

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

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

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I just follow the crowds to avoid them.

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

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

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Gentile.

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

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The spooky Purgatory Lane.

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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

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

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).

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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.

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

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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.

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