On the Outside Looking In
The term “island life” conjures up some pretty powerful images in most peoples’ minds. Visions of bronze skin – radiant skin, really – not so much as a result of the constant absorption of UV rays from the everpresent sun, but an inner radiance that comes from a contentment and happiness of being one of the chosen few privileged enough to reside apart from the world, in one’s own private paradise.
Islanders face hardships and deprivations, no doubt, but their forced separation from their fellow man, their isolation from the world at large is generally a source of happiness. The circle of sea that surrounds their home may deny them some creature comforts but it also frees their minds and souls from many of the distractions that plague and frustrate their mainland brethren. They are isolated (is it any coincidence that the word island in Italian is isola) from the larger world not in the sense that a prisoner in solitary confinement is isolated from the privileges of community, but more like a beneficiary of a quarantine, protected from the scourge of some hostile malady.
That sense of wellbeing, of island joy, is evident in abundance here on Capri just as it has been during our visits to the not too distant islands of Ischia and Ponza. We had visited Capri before, on separate day trips from the mainland and had never before observed this island sensibility, seeing Capri instead as a bustling, cosmopolitan, commercial place, an island version of the mainland rat race, just with better scenery. Our vision of this island has changed on this trip and changed for the better. Why?
Perhaps it is stating the obvious but seeing an island from the water changes everything and perhaps that is why islanders feel differently about themselves and about their home than others do. Mainlanders typically see the world from their eyes looking outward. And from this perspective what do they see? An infinite, crowded world, unknowable, uncontrollable, hostile. When you are at the center looking out the sense of possibility is limitless but so is everything else. You are small, insignificant and vulernable.
When you see your world from the outside looking in, as you can only do when your world is circumscribed as an island is, it ceases to be so large, so complex, so threatening. Your world is manageable – there are only so many people to deal with, your choices of where to live, where to eat, what to do are not limitless but limited. And if, as it is here on Capri, you can enjoy not just the basic creature comforts of life but life’s abundance that is available on the mainland, this limitation is not a deprivation, it is a yet another gift. And perhaps that is why island life can be so enjoyable.
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We began our visit to Capri in earnest yesterday with a circumnavigation of the island in barca con marinaio. Despite the clear blue skies at breakfast, there was a little reluctance to commit to the trip due to forecasts for rain (indeed the weather station was reporting that it was raining and thundering as we took our first breakfast under hazy blue skies), but our captain assured us that the weather would be fine and that the Blue Grotto, Capri’s most famous tourist site, reachable by boat and one of the objectives of our journey, was open. And so at a little before 11:00am we set sail from the marina grande in our gozzo, the traditional wide wooden boats that have been plying the waters around the island for ages. Our capitano – Davide – was genial, professional and spoke good English and our barca sparkling, stable and comfortable, with big cushions covering the ample bow area. This was definitely a barca for lounging.
For an hour we hugged the shoreline, nosing into the dozens of caves or grotti that dot the coast, Davide showing off his piloting skills as we entered spaces that at times seemed smaller than our gozzo. We anchored at one spot and jumped in, spending a half hour or so enjoying the cool, clean water, our jetlag and, more importantly, the stress of the civilized world rinsing away from our ever more relaxing bodies. Returning to the boat, we continued on past private villas perched on jagged cliffs, tiny settlements painted in pastel shades, shimmering in the reflection of the sea and past beach club after beach club.
As we rounded the lee side of the island we were met with rougher seas, what the Italians call mare mosso. But more impending were the gray skies gathering to our west. And in a moment, the rain came, as if out of nowhere even though had clearly been around us. In a matter of moments our boat and its passengers were drenched, our possessions were stored away below deck and we began a new adventure – navigating through the small tempest. We made a run for our final destination, the Bagni de Tiberio beach club, bypassing what had promised to be the highlight of our voyage, a visit to the Blue Grotto. But a few hours later, as we opened yet another bottle of Fiano and washed down some beautifully grilled pezzogna, we realized that when you’re on an island it doesn’t matter if you get from A to D by way of B and C. When you’re on the sea there is always tomorrow and just being is a reward in itself.
Bill and Suzy