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. 

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standing at the ruins on a quiet roman night

Rome is pieced together by fragments old and new; a broken clay pile of people who have lived and died, and are forgotten, rivaling the Monte Testaccio in size and obscurity.

Rome is the heaviness of time. It is the marks left on humanity. It is a walkable history book, forever unfolding its pages.

Rome is monuments of the big whigs leaving you breathless with their grand scale and an overwhelming rush of beauty.

‘Everyone is dead here’, the city whispers, in a voice softened against the bone-white marble of ruins.

The palatine lies silent under the stars. This is your one moment to catch your breath and savor Rome.

Try to stop time by breathing it in slowly. Hold it in, and take a sensory snapshot. Stand there, holding your breath, recording, feeling as immovable as a statue; a Henry James’ American willing a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

‘Just let me remember this. Let this enter me. The endlessness of it. The cobwebs. The broken stone. The bones. The dust. The pulse remaining somehow. Let me carry Rome where ever I go. Let it become a part of me. No, let me become a part of Rome. Another story never writ, another name unknown.’

     

   


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!

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!

shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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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

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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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

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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.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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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

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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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.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

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

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

More memories of Capri

caprimirrorMore memories of Capri as I look over photographs I took of the picaresque island in 2006. We spent eight days on the island in October and November and probably only explored half of the isle! I would like to balance this upcoming visit with the same relaxed lifestyle we adapted then whilst also exploring the island more. I love the Villa San Michele (home of Swedish psychiatrist and author of The Story of San MicheleAxel Munthe) – it’s a beautiful old villa that houses an enchanting bird sanctuary and boasts some of the best views of Capri on the island. I have a soft spot for birds, and I especially adore bird sanctuaries, ever since my mum sent me off to Mass Audobon as a child and I fell in love with bird watching and listening.

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I remember loving Capri the first couple of day trips we took there from Naples and Sorrento in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For me, I get into such a city mode with my love affair of Rome it is sometimes not until later that I feel I can tear myself away from the eternal city for a different Italian experience. I love the nature and the beauty of Southern Italy but the architecture, art, history and pulse of Rome calls to me an urban Siren’s call. Capri and Sorrento may be the mythical home of the Sirens (and it is no surprise given it’s soaring cliffs and sparkling waters) but I always found the pleasures of Rome to be far more tempting.

After two visits last year to Rome and a few days in Naples and after a long winter (and my husband’s very bad car accident right before christmas) we both decided we wanted to relax adrift the mediterranean. We wanted a quiet spot filled with the Italian riches of nature, a little architecture, some ruins (Villa Jovis), some views (Capri and Ana Capri!), a central location (day trip to Ravello and Paestum, ferries to the Amalfi Coast) and a whole island where you can walk, swim, trek or take a white convertible taxi or a ski lift to wander around.

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We aren’t making too many plans and I’ve promised not to bring my camera everywhere. I am planning on taking my film camera with rolls of portra 35mm film and marking special days and times to go around the island myself and go on several shoots whilst he is swimming or lying by the pool. There’s something about not planning much and seeing where the day takes you that is infinitely more like a holiday than a list filled grand tour. Let’s see where in the moment living can take us I suppose!

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And we must take another little boat around the island, that’s for sure. This time we’ll remember the sun block.

naples’ children

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It’s simply impossible for me to tire of the dark, craggy, cramped, decaying alleyways of Napoli. Because I find them so beautiful. What is that expression? Life in the streets. But that’s not subtle enough. That has no emotion. No color. No fragrance. I’m just an American who falls in love with corners of places. Pages in books. The picture I see in everything. What do I know about it? Not much. But I love it all the same.

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Napoli gang of 11-13 year old boys smoking on the beach for the first time after they robbed a sweets cart.

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The unofficial leader of the gang, a tall blond boy, teaches the other boys how to smoke after they bummed cigarettes off kissing teenagers and robbed a food cart and cafe of crisps and chocolates.

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photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler

the gods’ eyed view of rome

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A few years ago I stood on the roof of the “wedding cake”, aka “Altare della Patria” (Altar of the Motherland) or “Il Vittoriano“, to spy, for the first time, a bird’s eye view of Rome, a city I had only seen from the vantage point of a mere mortal.

There is something about the view from the top of the layers of ruins, buildings, trees, cars, vespas and people one can’t capture quite like standing where the gods would have been watching in Caesar’s time.

It is really a beautiful experience. And down the elevator, rife with enviable views of the ruins from a closer perspective, is a cafe, selling delicious sandwiches and antipasti, wine and espressos. If you ever find yourself in Rome, it’s an experience you cannot miss.