The Good Life in Anacapri
Get away from the tourists assaulting the little square, by retreating above the baths of Tiberius. That’s what the regulars do, from Montezemolo to Lucia Annunziata, who have bought homes there.
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September, finally! Capri inhabitants burst forth, stressed by the floods of hit and run tourists. Enough of aperitifs in the little square at sky-high prices, elderly loafers and shuffling along the billionaire display windows of Via Camerelle. If the low season gets rid of most of the noise and vulgarity, returning the island to passing pleasures, the catchy summer songs have induced the more famous regulars, such as Luca di Montezemolo, Diego Della Valle and Lucia Annunziata, to migrate to Anacapri, a town like an eagle’s nest on the craggy peaks overlooking the baths of Tiberius. A cottage on the way to the lighthouse on Point Carena per l’Annunziata, a villa between the small, Arabian-style homes of Caprile for the President of Ferrari and, for the entrepreneur from the Marches, the most noble dwelling, Materita Tower, rich in history and stories, former Carthusian coenoby, former refuge of the Swedish writer, Axel Munthe, former stage of parties, but very private parties, it is whispered, given by the previous owner. Today, parties are elegant and discrete and given by Antonio D'Amato, Chairman of the Confindustria, owner of the agricultural company Damecuta (a sumptuous villa), who invites guests such as Franco Tatò, Cesare Romiti and Anna La Rosa. The lives of Anacapri inhabitants, whether native or adoptive, passes along quietly in private homes and on the terraces, from which one can see without being seen. From time immemorial, the snobbiest of the snobs on Capri, who, oblivious of their island identity, circumscribe the true, glittering Capri between the small square and the Quisisana, the Anacapri ciammurra (a derogatory word that, for the natives, has only one meaning: fetid) has always been preferred by subdued people, who love silence, and writers looking for inspiration. From Colette, who lived in a home with ribbed vaults, to Alfonso Gatto and Antonio Ghirelli, who wrote verses about the tiles in the Duchesca, hideaway of the comedy writer Raffaele Viviani, while Graham Greene scribbled down his best sellers in the villa Il Rosaio, "the only place where I manage to write easily and quickly", he confessed. Today, well before the trio of the last to arrive, the historian of architecture, Cesare De Seta, and many journalists, from Giuliano Zincone to Roberto Ciuni, had and have homes. Having cast off the role of poor relative, dormitory of shopkeepers and waiters, who went down to Capri to work, Anacapri gets enormous satisfaction out of looking down from the heights, and not just in a literal sense, onto those below, who spend their days strolling up and down Via Camerelle and Fuorlovado. It takes very little for the ciammurri to enjoy the best of the square. A motorbike or taxi, one of the “convertibilised” Fiat Mareas with little awnings like on boats, based on an idea by Montezemolo, and off to the sea, along the hairpin curves that present priceless views of the gulf.
To have, at one’s fingertips, Chantecler jewellery, aperitifs under the big umbrellas, Martine Clay sandals and the multicoloured knit jackets from Russo. And then, after having had a fling, the silences of a rural anabasis, strolls through the deserted town during the semi-dark evening. Pausing for a rest in the square of the Santa Sofia church, on the ceramic benches decorated by Sergio Rubino, who has a shop at the end of the village (but also in New York). Dinners with friends in the garden, among the geraniums and olive trees, in the undying, classical style, the same as that of Capri in its now lost, golden days. "While the ladies were splendid in their pyjama suits from Irene Galitzine and blouses from Emilio Pucci, we were dressed simply," recalls Beppe Modenese, a regular on the island for years. "White linen shirts, blue linen trousers, a knit jacket thrown over one’s shoulders, moccasins or cord shoes. A style sunk in tradition that is being reintroduced by name-brand companies today."
If the 2004 Spring-Summer fashion shows have put young people with that air of scions of noble families on the catwalk, the chinos with the pleat from Prada and Ralph Lauren, polo-shirts from Fred Perry, 50s designer cardigans from Malo, tennis-type pullovers from Burberry, Barbera and Pringle, resuscitated in a big comeback after years of hibernation, New York Times proclaimed the coolest shoes of the moment: thongs, the 50-year-long forte of the Anacaprian, Antonio Viva, who makes them to measure in an vast range of colours in a few hours. Whilst arbiters of elegant taste on the island are unanimous: the heirs of the zabbatiglie are Tod’s moccasins. "Never affected-looking, these shoes interpret tradition, they become part of our memories," explains Anna Maria Boniello, the local Elsa Maxwell, Capri correspondent for ‘Il Mattino di Napoli’, "like the moccasins without soles that were all the rage in the 50s." To be alternated with white or blue Supergas or Adidas from Yohji Yamamoto, "light, super comfortable", says Tonino Arcucci, a ciammurro, who settled on Capri. In his boutique, Blu, he concentrates on seeking out fashions for uncommon women: often these are unique pieces, simple and refined, the first of which are creations and jewellery from Maria Calderara. But the outsider that has triumphed everywhere, the cornerstone of men’s collections, from Aspesi to Valentino, from Hermès to Gianfranco Ferré to Ermenegildo Zegna, is the white shirt, star of a clamorous boom on the island of Tiberius. The credit for this goes to Tony Ajello, 28, inventor of 100% Capri, a registered brand name and boutique in Via Camerelle, dedicated to snow-white linen (guaranteed by Bellora) fashioned into shirts and loose jackets for him and her, and trousers and skirts of all possible styles. "It thus happens that a foreigner, who has just arrived on Capri and is charmed by the old photos of the white-clad Axel Munthe, suddenly decks himself out in white," stated Boniello ironically, “while native or naturalised islanders continue to wear red trousers or any other colour. Even better if they’re a bit faded." Like the ones that, in the post-war elation on the island, the legendary tailor Aldo Spinella began producing in 24 hours, closely followed by the myriad of craftsmen, who populated Anacapri, especially after the local noblewoman, Baroness Gallotta, had imported looms for producing cloth.
Now, the only one left is the Anacaprian Nicolino, who has been dressing famous people from all over the world for 45 years and who cuts and sews linen jackets and trousers for Tonino Cacace, owner of the Capri Palace. An Oxford grad and admirer of Kharzai, the President of Afghanistan, Cacace has been inspired by his look: linen trousers and shirts with guru-type collars and, for the evening, long, black Versace jackets; all this is completed by the ever-present zabbatiglie, custom-made for him by Costanzo in Caprile (tel. 081.837.22.04), perfect with Armani blazers and evening suits. "Anacapri forces you to invent your own style, a mix of extreme simplicity, even de luxe, if desired. The nice thing about the island is its totality; 2000 years of history and plenty of diversity that makes it unique." And Anacapri is unique: a village, more than a holiday resort, reached by following a long, tree-lined boulevard, until one discovers the labyrinth of alleyways, the Baroque church of San Michele with the Garden of Eden in majolica tiles from the 17th century, the square in front of Santa Sofia, shops without a history, even though something is also moving here. The Capricorn Gallery, under the direction of Antonina Zaru, has just opened its doors. In the past, Mrs. Zaru was the director of Museums of Modern Art in New York and Tokyo, and is now the owner of a home gallery down in Capri. A Caprian institution, La Libreria Conchiglia, cultural meeting place of Ausilia Veneruso and Riccardo Esposito, publishers of books about the island and organisers of events, has also arrived here. The catalogue of the new museum – the Raskovich collection, 31 paintings from the 18th century, depicting Capri and Anacapri - is theirs. The museum was inaugurated in the Casa Rossa, an Aragonese tower, today an assortment of double-lancet windows, merlons, and fragments of Roman epigraphs.
Away from the centre, near the Capri Palace, Villa San Michele, a place of refined culture and buen retiro of Axel Munthe, now hosts Peter Cottino, honorary Swedish Vice-consul, and his Neapolitan wife.
To continue, the day in Anacapri has two obligatory stops: breakfast at about 11 and an aperitif at the Ferraro café-pastry shop, where Massimo D'Alema consoled himself with barley coffee, after resigning as Prime Minister, and Bassolino sipped granite in Bermuda shorts.
To sunbathe, one takes a bus or taxi down to the sea at Gradola da Giovanni Tessitore: three sun umbrellas, fried anchovies and caponata to remember. Or, in the vicinity of the Grotta Azzurra, the real bargain of the island (pointed out with pride in the Anacapri area): the Neptune baths, small terraced spaces, each with a few deck chairs, high up on the cliffs overlooking the sea.
One finds relief against the great heat at the shaded restaurant, where pezzogna all'acqua pazza, the excellent local fish, is served with bottles of cool Falanghina.
Less tame is the Lido of the lighthouse, at Point Carena in the extreme south among sheer, jagged cliffs and secret grottos. Here, one can swim in a cobalt and turquoise sea, then rest on the large terrace, while sampling fish and vegetables. At the end of the day, there is a required stopover at the spa in the Capri Palace, where Professor Francesco Canonaco, a scientist and researcher, patented a peeling to get a better tan, and treatments from which, it is rumoured, one comes out rejuvenated. To stay in shape, there is dinner at the restaurant, where Chef Oliver is put to the test with a tasty, 800-calorie, biological menu, including dessert. Not to be missed is an aperitif on the terrace of the Hotel Caesar Augustus, with its breathtaking panorama of the sea. For dinner, the most highly valued restaurant is the Cucciolo, in the direction of the ruins of Villa Damecuta, where one orders a triangle of pasta with fresh shrimp and zucchini. Or the arbour of the restaurant Da Gelsomina that offers marinated anchovies and island-style rabbit. In front of you only the sea, sky and rocks.