step closer into rome … i’ll meet you there. there is so much i’ve wanted to show you.
step closer into rome … i’ll meet you there. there is so much i’ve wanted to show you.
Capri is an island known for glamour, and while there is plenty of that in the air and along the charming pedestrian lanes of Capri Town and upper Anacapri in the haute couture shops, Grande Dame hotels, and restaurants… the true Capri is found off the beaten path wandering silent side streets and hiking in wildflower, woodsy meadows until you reach stunning 360 degree views of the cliffs below and the sea. This view above is of the famed Faraglioni Rocks; coastal and oceanic rock formation eroded for many many years by waves. Faraglioni is possibly from the Greek pharos or Latin pharus (“lighthouse”) and is correlated to the Spanish farallón. Some locals have told me it means the wild strawberry, for its similar shape to the tiny, bittersweet berry.There is a sublime pleasure in wandering around the island on your own and discovering ancient overgrown paths hinting of ancient Roman history of the Neapolitan isle. You can hike the “back way, the 19th century way” from the Villa Lysis to Tiberius’ most visited ruins, the Villa Tiberius. It is a little treacherous at times but completely satisfying to climb where many have tried before you. The clean scent of the sea is carried on the wind as is the perfume of lemon trees and bergamot and roses and freesia warming in the sun all day. There are so many different breath taking views on Capri that I recommend staying for a few days if you can. A day trip can be a lovely experience if you retreat from the crowds and do something spontaneous and pleasurable at a slow travel pace, but nothing beats waking up hours before the day-trippers descend and exploring the magical side of this Campania treasure. Each turn is unexpected but you never feel truly lost. Unexpected joys are found in a simple moment of beauty – it transfixes and transforms your heart and even how you decipher beauty, see the world, view love, and even how you look at yourself. Have a glass of wine or tea and look at all the beauty of nature around you, and feel the timelessness of Italia, and the bittersweetness of the shortness but intensity of our own lives. Take a bite of something, share a smile with a stranger, warm your face and body under the gentle sun, and breathe it all in slowly. The days last forever here.
There is a wealth of natural beauty on Capri which mingles perfectly with the scattered ruins of Roman Emperor villas and important Greco Roman fragments in museum villas with enviable views in outdoor cafes and winding gardens. Have a lingering lunch of local food on Anacapri (La Rondinella has great vegetable antipasto, salads, seafood, pizzas, pasta, and wine, and is reasonably priced). Stopping at the Villa San Michele museum is wonderful and something I highly recommend. It is one of the places I am happiest in. The Villa was owned by Swedish writer and doctor Axel Munthe and you can see my tour of his gorgeous gardens and Roman marble portico. See the galleries here and here. Don’t leave the garden without looking out to the sea for one of the most beautiful views of the ocean and neighboring islands in muted greens and blues. Not too far away is the Casa Rossa, with a 1st Century Hera statue and four ancient nymph statues from Tiberius‘ swimming cave, the Blue Grotto, where Caligula and Augustus were also purported to have swam.
Next post I’ll be writing about the Greek Revival Villa Lysis and the hike up to the Roman ruins of the Villa Jovis!
Viale Axel Munthe, 34, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy
– Via Giuseppe Orlandi, 78, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy
Images shot on Portra 400 analog film and Velvia film slides.
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.
Caffe chairs sprinkled throughout the back streets of Spaccanapoli.
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.
Hanging bronze dyed pasta, bufalo mozzarella from campania, rows of inviting rum-soaked baba cakes filled with rummy yellow cream, tiny wild strawberries, Sfogliatelle.
Two “lovers” embracing in front of an iconic “second hand shop” full of Neapolitan treasures overseen by a curious little dog.
The simple cafe tables and chairs in front of artisan shops and caffes with a sculpture of an old man in the background.
Every day life in an alleyway; people, a truck delivering goods, empty vegetable and fruit crates, the golden mustard apartments and hanging laundry.
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.
Hanging fruit and ripe red campania tomatoes and an early pasieggetta.
I love the corners and crevices and surprising bursts of yellow in between the rust.
Ancient pillars in residential neighborhoods, forming millennia old foundations.
Another beautiful church front and a charming caffe.
The quintessential graffiti of Naples, as ancient as the tags and scribblings on Pompeiian walls.
The old guard and the ‘new art’.
Bursts of color and brightness and the scent of glorious coffee floating in the air at every turn.
More graffiti, and the vespas and cars and Neapolitans seem all the more nonchalant about it.
I always seem to find the caffes… I always feel like I’m on some unspoken mission to drink the best coffee.
A whole street filled with beautiful second hand and rare book shops and musical instruments and conservatories. I never wanted to leave.
When the little girl walked by I knew I had to capture her in that moment of contrasts and colors.
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.
This is a wider shot of the restaurant. It looks like an opening to another, older world. I told you it was beautiful.
Stunning churches, colorful architecture, dark and ancient looking alleyways filled with street theatre and trash on the street… the extremes of modern Napoli.
There is so much to see, just to read on the walls.
I like when the grafitti becomes art.
Even the scribbles are a crying out and bleed every color onto wood and stone and brick.
Back to this fellow. I remember his likeness on other walls on other visits to Naples.
The priest or monk, grafitti iconography and protest.
I found this hollowed out frame and the lettering (name of the one time King) very delicate and beautiful looking.
Mirrors and antiques and the scrawlings every where.
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.
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.
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
A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.
The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.
The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.
The bird’s eye view.
The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.
The tiny chapel in the garden.
Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.
There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.
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.
The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.
The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.
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.
Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!
A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.
The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.
Potted urns along the walk.
Herbal garden, leaves and trees.
Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.
Another angle of the sphinx’s view.
A tiny boat leaving the shore.
The clouds and mist find each other.
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.
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.
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.
This small church, also known as Santa Barbara alla Regola, after the district in which it is situated, was founded, in the 11th century, in the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey. (It was in an annex in the gardens of the Theatre of Pompey that Julius Caesar was assassinated).
Saint Barbara of the Books, Rome, Italy. 186 Largo dei Librai
The church is just off Via dei Giubbonari between Campo de’Fiori and Piazza Cairoli.
This is a small but absolutely stunning church. It’s definitely an off the beaten path small church. One minute you are walking through a charming neighborhood, the next moment your turn the corner and are stopped in your tracks by this glorious architecture. It looks surreal – a tiny church stuck between houses and a yogurt gelato shop. It’s worth a stop, a snapshot and a walk up past the perfect olive trees into the doorway for a look around the interior. The video below is a literal film walk through the church. Armchair travel at it’s finest.
//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …
The Villa Farnesina is an early 16th century Renaissance suburban villa in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome, central Italy. It has incredible frescoes by Raphäel, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, and Il Sodoma. The villa was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Sienese banker and the treasurer of Pope Julius II. It was later purchased by Cardinale Farnese (future pope and brother to the Borgia mistress, Giulia Farnese).
I had always missed visiting the lovely Villa Farnesina on earlier trips to Rome so I was delighted to finally see it in person in October 2012. The villa has a pretty little garden in the courtyard and larger gardens (fenced off) on one side. There is an understated elegance to the grounds and exterior architecture for a Renaissance palazzo. There are pink roses and pomegranate trees in clay pots.
And little lemon trees and stone lined pathways. Trastevere is a great neighborhood to visit when in Rome and this villa is even more off the beaten path if you are looking for an alternative to the usual Roman Holiday Tour.
After the initial two or three visits to Rome I’ve tried to visit more of the quiet corners of the city and get to know my favorite spots better. It’s a “slow food” approach to travel and it’s worked pretty well for us. The large grande dame museums of Rome are wonderful to visit, especially if you have limited time in the city. But if you have an extra day or the off the beaten path vacation is more your speed, I suggest visiting one, two or three small villa or palazzo art museums. Farnesina, Doria Pamphlij, Spada, Borghese (the Queen) and a few others.
The Loggia of Psyche by Raphaël and his workshop
It’s difficult to convey how astounding it is just standing on the marble floors, looking up at all the beautiful frescoes. Walking the same halls so many infamous and interesting figures had crossed centuries before.
The museum was quiet and there were a few small groups moving in and out of the rooms. I had time to view the work in complete silence and solitude which rarely happens in a larger, more popular museum.
Venus, Ceres and Juno
I had run out of color film so I shot these magnificent frescoes in black and white. I think they at least capture the richness of the dark colors and the creaminess of the “skin”. The color in person was vibrant for such old masterpieces.
Cupid and The Three Graces, 1517-1518
A part of the great appeal Renaissance art has for me is it’s allusions to classical literature and mythology. In order to understand the works beyond my emotional response to them or my aesthetic pleasure in them, the allegorical works force me to learn the meaning behind them and catch a glimpse of the artist’s intention behind the work. What does the piece mean philosophically? Politically? What does it say about love? Man? And God? About life? And death? What historical event are they re-imagining? Beyond the beauty I am hungry for the history.
Venus on the Chariot Pulled by Doves, 1517-1518
The Council of the Gods, 1517-1518
When I was there I was amused to find graffiti carved into one of the walls in German! Well, normally I’d be less amused but it’s from a later Barbarian Invasion of Rome in the 16th century! At the time I couldn’t find anyone to translate it for me.
During recent restorations, an ancient “graffiti”, in German gothic, came to light between the columns. It marks the passage of the Lansquenets and states: “1528 – why shouldn’t I laugh: the Lansquenets have put the Pope to flight.”
From the windows on the first floor there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:
Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum.
[Trad.: Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me. ] – Academia Nazionale die Lincei
The Villa Farnesina in Rome, Italy is open from
Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
Closed on Sundays and holidays
Guided tours on Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12.30
//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …