a secret garden to the sea

There is an overgrown but perfect secret garden path behind an old villa in Sorrento we stumbled upon one day, and we followed down the rambling, winding trees and shrubbery and lemon and olive trees and blossoming flowers and into the shadows of green.

The further in we wandered, the thicker the growth grew. And yet everything was lush and cared for. Nothing dead, nothing abandoned.

We could smell the sea and the sun rays in the air, carried through cracks in the dense thicket. And so we followed the salt and the promise of blue until we reached the top of a cliff cut thousands of years ago, overlooking the crashing sea and rocks. The birds cried and dove for fish and soared the bright skies. We were alone in our own little paradise. It’ll be ours forever in memory.

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the wild beauty of Capri

DHyhZ37VwAA22qG.jpg-largeCapri 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.img_1944There 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. capriblueThere 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. 34

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!

 

La Rondinella restaurant

Via Giuseppe Orlandi 295, 80071 Anacapri, Island of Capri, Italy +39 081 837 1223

Villa San Michele museum

Viale Axel Munthe, 34, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy

La Casa Rossa museum

– Via Giuseppe Orlandi, 78, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy

Images shot on Portra 400 analog film and Velvia film slides.

rebecca-starr butler    alovelettertorome.com / romepix.com

 

Rome laid out before you from far far above the rooftops

Take an elevator ride on the “wedding cake” and see the Roman gods’ view of the Eternal City. 

The ruins are laid out before you betwixt cupolas and Renaissance rooftops of villas and apartments like dollhouses.

Hints of the past stir some ancient feeling in you you never knew you possessed until you saw Rome from a mount.

The sign of greatness and the sign of a fall and all around you the beautiful noise of life that will not stop long enough to extinguish itself into the remains of dust it lives among.Rome lives among the shadows and the bones and the blood and the ghosts and the stone and the picked away marble because it is the heart and the remnants of the past are the nervous system which still courses with life from that heart center of a slowly dying immortal, entombed in the blessing and the curse of a memory which feels like a dream.

Church bells ring and ring through the city when the golden hour colors everything and there’s time for one last sun-glow walk and one last smile exchanged like kisses on the mouth, not the cheeks.

I will remember you even if the imprint of my self is swallowed up in the city of too many stories and too many lights and too many songs to find a memento mori for me in some nook or cranny when I’m gone.

And so I have Rome written on my soul should I be able to take it with me.

Bury me not in the earth of the place I love but burn my ashes to the sky so I may float like some augur of another time, a shadow to pass over a new face with her own love flashing on her face as she falls in love with the Roman sky at sunset, as she dreams to be remembered somewhere somehow in the eternal city, to leave her mark somewhere and to be known and felt by some future stranger intoxicated by the same love for the same city and the same ringing of bells and the orange becoming purple and the golden lamps flickering on and the smiles becoming kisses, not on the cheeks, but on the mouth. 

Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

throw out your guidebooks

Throw your guidebooks to the side (after you’ve seen the major sights) and get a little lost for an afternoon in Rome.

Side step vespas and taxis and pilgrims and other tourists behind maps, and get lost for a while. 

Do as the Romans do.

Bow in and out of the slants of sunlight and vespas, use sounds of water fountains and laughter as your navigation. 

An off the beaten path is not merely a passage but a rite and a full circle. 

When walking in Rome you are witness to the many passions of people in a cacophony of color and sound and motion. 

Roma begins to makes sense to you as you feel follow its rhythm; it is foreign and antique and familiar all at once. 

Rome is history in the bones of the city stirring the blood.

Roma changes you.

What could I suggest to you but to drink in the sublime here? 

See the city for the thousands of layers rather than one wild jumble.

Beauty is on display, oh yes, —but so is reflection of the human and the divine in every corner. 

The celebration of the individual is found even in the smallest of details in Rome. 

Art is a living thing. 

The story of mankind is in a treasured relic, and in a sip of espresso, and in a stolen kiss. 

Life is found in another language where the words are less important than the feelings they conjur in us all in the moment.

Rome is the tug of a heartbeat in a pulse before the veil falls over you.

Rome is a reminder of death that is very much a reminder to live! To live now!!

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musings on rome written to a new friend

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

But I tread lightly in Italy.

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

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

I take more lingering pictures with my eyes.

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

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

This is why I love Naples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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.