Capri is intoxicating – an island paradise on the Amalfi Coast – literally an imposing big rock rising from a turquoise sea – Naples and the looming menace of Vesuvius lie across the bay. The air is invigorating, colors are more vibrant, scents are richer, and exquisite beauty is everywhere – a pure glimpse of Heaven on Earth.
During my mere hours on Capri, my soul was soaring – I’ve never felt such joy and peace in my life. After strutting about – one cannot help but pose there – I succumbed to the temptation of local gelato; all seats in the Piazetta taken, I claimed a spot on the surrounding wall and stared across the bay to Vesuvius. My mind wandered back in time, I wondered what the view would have been in 79 AD, when day flipped into night, the sun obliterated by ash and smoke; one would have been close enough to bear silent witness but far enough away to be impotent in rescue. Pliny gave a mesmerizing social media-esque account on the unfolding horrifying events – as Vesuvius vented her rage upon the helpless citizens of Pompeii and Herculano.
Visiting Pompeii was intriguing, humbling and sad. Having read so much about the eruption/the Roman Empire, I thought I knew what to expect, but it was much bigger, (with yet more still untouched/unexcavated) and felt so real. It was so easy to imagine life as it was – the theater, shopping district, their Soho with narrows alleys lined with pubs and brothels, a 5th Avenue with wide boulevards and posh mansions adorned with courtyard gardens and intricate architecture. I glimpsed a mere essence of Pompeii; you’d need days to capture the true spirit and scope of the city.
I fell in love with Capri, the Amalfi Coast, in a heart-beat; I yearn to return, to live there for a time – off-season – and soak up inspiration, as so many have before me.
Roman Emperors sought sanctuary here away from the bustle and fervor of Ancient Rome. By the late 1800’s, Capri was a popular stop on the Grand Tour for the rich seeking enlightenment. Several decades later, the elite of Hollywood came to see and be seen – from Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin to Elizabeth Taylor. Now, it’s still frequented by the bold and beautiful, those with money to splash on designer gear, so many high-end shops line the narrow winding lanes of the little town of Capri, and day trippers, as I was, yachtless, Birkin bagless, with no suite waiting at the illustrious Grand Hotel Quisiana. (Anacapri, the higher town of the island, has retained an air of innocence and authenticity, from all that I have read.)
It’s a most fascinating people watching place – where bronzed old men with silver hair, wearing red leather Ferrari jackets and dripping in enough gold to make a rapper jealous, clutch silk ribbons of designer shopping bags; their gazelle legged model ?grand-daughter ?girlfriend – depending on how cynical one is – strut alongside in sky-scraping heels, enormous sunglasses firmly in place. Couples, more focused on their phones than each other, sip espresso at one of the many outdoor cafes. Gaping tourists, bent forward under the weight of their backpacks, pause to gawk and grab selfies. Chic locals roll their eyes they negotiate their way around large tour groups cluttering their hallowed streets.
My brief stay on Capri inspired a few chapters in my novel…which is almost complete…
It’s a love story – 2 people from different worlds – she’s Alex, one of Hollywood’s top film directors, while Chris lives in Glasgow, Scotland, where they meet at the wrap party for her latest film. They fall in love, not knowing the other carries a monumental secret. This excerpt is from the middle of the novel. Alex is on Capri waiting for Chris to arrive – his first trip abroad – it’s their first meeting since they parted in Scotland – many months later.
Chapter 52…To Sleep, Perchance To Dream…
After twenty-four hours of uninterrupted sleep, my heart was singing with joy at the beauty around me and the prospect of Chris. But, every additional hour that trickled by brought old fears bubbling to the surface. We’d nothing in common. What we had could never work in reality. I was on a fool’s quest.
By the morning of the 26th December, the beauty of Capri was obliterated by grey skies relieving themselves of their contents; rain battered the roof, making it impossible to think straight. What was I doing? I wished I’d never come, I felt like a pathetic, nervous, scared love-sick school girl – something I’d never been. I ripped apart a chocolate pastry and nibbled on the strands. Staring out the window, I became mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of circles on the surface of the pool. I needed action to stop me from thinking.
A few shots of espresso later, wearing the foul-weather clothes that I’d brought for Venice, I was fit to trample any terrain. I stampeded east, up and away from Capri and the swarming tourists, and people who may recognize me, in for the annual Film Festival.
The damp air was revitalizing and reminded me of Glasgow – but not the views. Along the steep ascent, through wrought-iron gates, I caught glimpses of gorgeous white villas, colorful Bougainvillea and a turbulent sea.
Forty minutes later, breathless but relaxed, endorphins surging through my body, I arrived at the windswept grand heights of the Villa Jovis – encased in wild forest and lush gardens, the evocative ruins were once refuge to the Emperor Tiberius. Thanks to heavy mist and rain, the normally spectacular 360 degree views were obscured. I glanced over the sheer drop of a cliff where Tiberius, supposedly, hurled people off when he’d had enough of them; shivering, I paused, sensing ghosts lingering in the air. Chris would love this place.
I recalled how much fun it was adventuring with him and my natural optimism rebounded. We shared a precious bond, which was worth exploring and we would have eight days in which to do so. If we were worth saving, I had the money, power and freedom to make it happen.
By evening, I’d formulated a rough plan for our time on Capri and beyond. The weather was expected to be cool, but clear with occasional rain showers, which might feel like summer to Chris after winter in Scotland
He was arriving early next afternoon in Naples, trusting his connections went smoothly, where he would find a driver waiting for him. I would meet him on the speed boat at the Marina Grande to do a trip around Capri, visit some caves, coves and grottos, weather permitting, and give him a feel for the place. Pity it was too cold to swim. After which, we would dine on the terrace and watch the sunset – unless we were too busy feeling each other.
That left us three full days before I flew us to Venice on New Year’s Eve. There was so much to experience here; I didn’t know how we could fit everything in, but I was determined to try! Knowing his love of history and volcanoes, the first day, we would pay our respects in Pompeii and Herculaneum, then wander the crater rim of Vesuvius, before pizza in Naples. In the evening, the Teatro San Carlo, the largest opera house in Italy; it wasn’t opera season yet, but the opulent theater, gregarious crowd, and Beethoven program, would make it worth a visit.
The second day, supposed to be the driest, we would sail down the Amalfi Coast, stopping off at Amalfi and Positano, or if Chris was inclined, we could hike the Path of the Gods. But he may prefer the Greek temples at Paestum or an actual drive down the mental Amalfi Coast road – which reminded me of California’s Pacific Coast Highway on steroids.
Our last day belonged to Capri, where we’d sip chilled Limoncello, wander the narrow lanes, and check out Imperial villas, the beach, luscious Gardens of Augustus, or the Monastery. Or, there was the quaint town of Anacapri with its chair lift up Monte Solaro. Too many choices, not enough time.
I couldn’t wait to see him. Venice would be our time to purely relax; it was a city conjured in history, which enchanted and ensnared your imagination on sight.
Chapter 53…Heaven is a Place on Earth…
The air of Napoli was rich with laughter as its diverse population frolicked through the tangled streets. Leading the festivities, wearing multi-colored rags, a red cascading wig and bejeweled Venetian mask, was Alex. Her soprano voice delivered a perfect aria that would have made Puccini cry; reminiscent of the sirens of old, she lured people into her realm, then led them in a manic dance.
Blaring horns, incessant sirens, screeching brakes and shouted curses ceased as drivers discarded vehicles and joined the revelry. Couples stopped kissing, children abandoned football games, old men left their dominoes, woman threw off high heels and cast away shopping bags, teenagers dropped mobile phones, beggars deserted posts, and grannies dropped sticks to whirl alongside.
Watching from the rooftops, Chris was mesmerized by the scene below; there was no limit to what she could inspire.
With the ease of a superhero, he leapt down to kiss her; Alex declared, “Today –we feast – for tomorrow, we die – come, my love, Beethoven awaits.”
She wasn’t lying; Beethoven was sitting beside him in the Royal Box, humming along to Ode to Joy while enjoying pizza and red wine. The frenzied passion exuding from the stalls was like being at a football match, except everyone was pulling for the same side.
Each note of exquisite music invaded his body, enveloping his soul in such joy that it had no choice but to fly. Once in the air, it united with Alex’s. The ceiling dissolved. They continued upward becoming immersed in a wondrous night sky; magical and luminous, it belonged in the imagination of Van Gogh.
They soared as one, an ethereal butterfly, beyond city lights, bathed in a golden shimmer towards the solitude of an inky-black sky. Shooting stars gave a celestial firework display, leaving iridescent silver trails behind. This was heaven – nothing existed but peace and love, where everything was possible – there was nowhere else he wanted to be. He wished this moment would last forever.
Abruptly, he dropped to earth. The sun was blinding as he stood among the ruins of Villa Jovis; squinting, he looked around for Alex. A sickly sweet smell pervaded his nostrils. He flinched; that was Jean’s perfume, but she didn’t belong here. He closed his eyes. Wind rustled through trees. Then pure silence.
Opening his eyes he found the radiance of Capri was gone. A shadow had settled over land and sea; the magnificent crisp blues and greens replaced by shades of damp Scottish grey. This was not right. Panicked, he shrieked, “Alex! Come back. I need you. Alex!!! Please.”
There was no reply.
The ground shook beneath him; his legs crumpled and he fell forward. A roar greeted him as he knelt up. With deepening horror, he saw the calm pond of a sea transformed into an undulating snake with coils that scraped the sky. He prayed to St. Andrew for survival as the first wave broke on the jagged cliffs; the force of impact flipped him. A second one seized him and catapulted his body towards the Amalfi Coast. A moment later, gasping for air, he crashed on dry land, which breathed hot smoke. Fumes of sulfur choked him as he realized he was naked, bruised but alive, on the crumbling red rim of Mount Vesuvius.
Instinctively, he glanced back to sea, so vicious and angry; Capri, Naples, the whole coastline, was obliterated, as if they’d never been. All the people, villages, the beauty, history, that crazy road, wiped out in an instant, as carelessly as a tide removes sand castles. Where was Alex? Could she swim? His heart bled tears, which seeped through his skin and down his torso. “No! No. Nooooh. It’s not fair. We’d just found each other, oh, my love,” he whimpered, curling into a tight ball, hands over his face.
“You’re not a man – you’re a baby,” cackled a rough English voice.
Chris opened his eyes to see Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, dressed as a posh chauffeur, posing on the roof of a shiny black hearse; he snarled, “No future, no future, no future for you.”
“No – she loves me,” Chris retorted, “she’s alive – she’s invincible – we’re coming back to see the Blue Grotto – she promised.”
Johnny chanted, in Jean’s voice, “Los-er, los-er, los-er – always was – always will – give up – come home!”
Chris could take no more and dived into the gaping mouth of Vesuvius. The acrid rushing air stung his eyes. In the distance, he heard a whisper; it was Fiona, “Daddy, why did you go? Don’t you love me?”
Darkness consumed him.
The earth grumbling and shuddering jolted him awake. He was lying in a beautiful courtyard of a striking red villa, butterflies fluttered around his head. He sprang up; moving past elaborate mosaics, erotic marble statues and pristine frescoes of cupids playing, he arrived on the street and stared in bewilderment. It was Pompeii! But the buildings were intact and populated with laughing Romans, who were babbling in Latin.
Voice hoarse, Chris gestured up at Vesuvius; a slumbering giant no more, it was hissing and spitting like a gigantic kettle on the boil. The ground was heaving worse than walking on an airplane. Nobody seemed to notice or care.
An explosion tore the mountain in two and sent a monstrous column of ash and fire skyward. His ear drums were blown out; all sound was extinguished. He ran away towards blue skies, feet skidding on slick enormous slabs of cobblestones.
A thick blizzard of burning ash and sharp rocks forced him to his knees. Blindly, half-crawling, he kept moving. The devil was upon him. Foul gases poisoning his lungs, skin scorched by cinders, he stumbled on, hoping for a miracle, expecting death – wishing to see Alex one more time.
Finally, he arrived at the ghostly ruins of Herculano and made for the boathouse; ahead of him, the sea was green and skies were clear. Looking back, an avalanche of smoking lava was washing away everything in its path, coming right at him. He had to swim for it. Better to drown than be burnt alive.
A fancy yacht appeared in the bay with billowing sails. He was saved. It came closer. Alex was on deck operating a movie camera; waving with his whole body, he willed her to see him, but that big foreign git swung down from the rigging and grabbed her; they were dressed as Tarzan and Jane.
Chris turned to face his fate and found himself in his drab dank bed-sit on Sauciehall Street, in Glasgow. An old pizza box and empty bottle of wine sat on the worn coffee table beside a sputtering candle. He plopped down on the twin bed as his body was entombed in a blast of hot ash and boiling lava. This was the end. But as his body petrified, he discovered his mind could still think, still remember. Chris struggled to move, but it was futile. His heart cried out for salvation, for Alex. But it was too late. The dream was dead. He wished he’d never been alive.
“Chris, you’re safe – I’m right here.” I stroked his hair, cased in sweat, and kissed his face, contorted into a mask of terror. “Wake up.” But he didn’t; wherever he was, I couldn’t reach him.
What was going on? The past few days had been perfect. Chris was easy to be around; he was a gentle man, guileless, loving and appreciative of simple pleasures. Our bond was unexplainable, our passion sublime. No one had ever gazed on me with such affection. I knew he was having the time of his life, yet every night, he was haunted by evil. Tonight was the worst; he’d screamed my name, thrashed about, as if fighting for his life, then kicked me off the bed –onto the cold hard tiled floor. “Please, wake up – you’re safe, we’re on Capri, we’re together – everything’ll be fine, I promise. ”
But would it? I knew I never wanted to be without him, but hadn’t told him; every time I mentioned the future, he dodged the subject – how ironic – now I knew how annoying I’d been to so many men over the years.
A gust of wind rattled the windows in their frames; Chris awoke with a start, shouting, “Earthquake!” and clutched me as a child would a teddy-bear.
“No, just the wind,” I replied, more troubled than ever; he was trembling.
“But this is Capri? It’s okay?”
“Certainly not Millport,” I replied with a flippancy I was not feeling.
“I wish we could be here forever,” he said, voice strained and anguished.
“That was some dream you were having – you kicked me off the bed.”
“Sorry – you know I’d never hurt you – no matter what, you’ll always be in my heart.” He burrowed his body into mine, hiding his face in my neck.
I felt a shadow pass over us, which made me shudder. “Why do you say…”
“Shhh, let me hold you,” he replied in a muffled voice.
It terrified me the way he kept acting like there was no hope for us. Fear was justifiable, our feelings were deepening, thrusting the stakes higher, thus creating greater potential for pain. That I understood, but there was something more and if he didn’t trust me enough to share that dungeon of doubts that killed him every night, then we had nothing. But I said lightly, “You’ll adore Venice – I promise to get us there in one piece – and no more running about mental, we’ll amble about, soak up in the atmosphere, just be us. We’ll be there in a few hours.”
I would cease prying for now; he was too upset for a real talk anyway. In Venice, that city of intrigue and enchantment, Chris would deliver his secrets, one way or the other; I needed answers before I threw my world upside down.
As I succumbed to sleep, Chris released me and bolted out of bed, saying, “I need a shower.”
“Me too,” I murmured, loving his naked form standing before me.
“No – rest.” With that, he tucked me in so tightly that I couldn’t move any more than a swaddled baby could. He kissed my forehead, and smiled, that relaxed, familiar smile, “I’ll be back with breakfast – you deserve the world, but that’s all I can manage for now. I do love you.” He paused in the doorway, and asked, “Do you sing?”
“Sinatra in the shower,” I replied; he looked bemused, I added, “put it this way, I don’t scare cats, but I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon.”
THE END for now – they are off to Venice to continue their adventure….
So, that’s a bit from my book – as inspired by Capri and the Amalfi Coast – next up – the Amalfi Coast itself – expect a little travel essay on the fabled towns of Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento…unless the demand for their adventures in Venice is overwhelming – let me know what you want to read…
I do feel nervous sharing this piece of the novel – my baby – with the world – remember – what you read is a first draft – have yet to finish the whole thing, then I will proceed with final edit. Character names have been changed and I’m still being superstitious over the title! If you want updates on the novel, either subscribe to website or join me on Facebook – thank you – if you have read this far!
RESOURCES for further exploration of Capri and beyond:
For more on Pompeii/Vesuvius:
Go out – explore – have fun – dream of Capri or wherever inspires you!
Have a fabulous week!
Love, always, Yvonne xxx