A keening song for Capri, fey and singular, from Italian novelist La Capria.
In this decidedly successful effort to convey a sense of Capri in the 1950s, La Capria approaches the island from a variety of angles. One is the island as a place: a beautiful, inaccessible refuge for the ancients, its “beetling and merciless crags” hiding its pleasures from approaching mariners like the meat in a nut; land of the Sirens, of Tiberius’s iniquities, of the Blue Grotto, that immersion into the sum and substance of blueness. All this despite his conviction that “landscape just stands there in simplicity, mute; it doesn’t talk with us, it is what it is, and that is enough.” He also appreciates that the Caprese myth takes plenty of its reference points from literary visitors—Axel Munthe to Norman Douglas (whom he takes to task for berating the fish of the Mediterranean) to Alberto Savinio, who found “a mysterious wind travels, a feathery guest . . . and moves everything in a cool craze.” Most powerful, though, and most disturbing, is La Capria’s intimations of mortality. This can simply be the musings of a visitor to a paradise, but more so it is the fact that Capri is being overrun, violated, desecrated by its visitors (and indeed to the whole region). He cannot ignore the refuse and the commercialization; he will not allow himself the idyll by ignoring the nearby poverty and misery—“What is attractive is infected by the ugliness surrounding it.” Where once he experienced the mysteries of Capri—the island’s breath, its force fields, its lambent stones—he worries that soon it will join that list of “names that belonged to very beautiful places, spectral non-places, devastated ex-places, unnatural pseudo-places.”
A luminous island memoir and an underground classic too long for not seeing the light of day, though better late than never.