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.
all photographs were shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film and are copyright rebecca price butler – alovelettertorome.com – firstname.lastname@example.org
I took a lot of shots in this magical spot and will be posting more soon!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Walking along more pedestrian streets of antico Capri.
Lush lemon trees, a sight and scent that always makes me happy instantly.
Another beautiful niche.
A still life of modern life.
The hand painted tiles and stairs are stunning on Capri.
A gorgeous private garden glimpsed past an open gate.
A Capri cat, a local who probably descend from the cats of ancient Rome who lived on the island with the emperors.
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.
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.
The sea is calm for a moment, the south wind changes, the sun slinks further down and there is an upheaval in the waves.
The boat rounds the entrance to another hidden grotto.
The famed Faraglioni rocks, with a boat passing under it’s arch. We are about to enter it ourselves.
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.
The shadows and light meet and turn the shimmering sea dark and the rock impenetrable.
It still amazes me how green things can grow out of prehistoric rock.
The shining sea, the endless sky, the stone as familiar as an old friend’s face you still remember instantly after a long absence.
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.
The views some people have. The lives they lead. The quiet stories never known to outsiders.
Another Madonna of the Rocks, another Madonna of the Fishermen, of the sea. The Blue Grotto.
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.
The sunset kept receding and then bursting forth again as we sailed around the bends. The sun played a game with us.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.
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
On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.
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
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.
On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.
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
Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.
At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.
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.
Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.
The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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