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ONCE AROUND THE FOUNTAIN

BY ALAN BEHR

CHAPTER 23

The Amalfi peninsula juts from the western coast of Italy below Naples, pointing like an accusing finger toward the island of Capri. We intended to enter by the peninsula's northern elbow, but misnavigation now being a tradition, we stayed on the rambunctious autostrada, passing and being passed until we reached the southern anchor, Salerno. Even we could not mistake the fact we had blundered into a major port. On a great wharf, blue and red containers were stacked like checker pieces, the city climbing a hill beyond.

We doubled back, turned onto the peninsula, and were abruptly in Vietri sul Mare. Quietude at last prevailed. Vietri sat in a bowl between mountains, the green-striped dome and tower of its church rising from an acropolis, the town radiating out to terraced hills and to the water's edge, the midday light strong and reflecting highlights from every roof and cornice. The village of Cetara, unveiling itself below rugged cliffs farther on, looked worn. On a small farm, an old, brown van substituted as a scarecrow. The seafront town of Maiori greeted us with Athens-style low rises of rude cement blocks, terraces stuck on their sides in a pointless effort to force charm onto them. The beach was a thin mud strip along the main road; the jetty was rock and concrete. Maybe Maiori had once been pretty, but pretty towns, like pretty women, become aware early on of their prettiness and adorn themselves to make you aware of their desirability. Like pretty women, pretty towns become pampered, spoiled and full of themselves. Maiori suffered from none of it, and from its lack of either beauty or pretension came a certain restful allure. In shop windows gourd-shaped cheese hung in nets; the cheese was called caciocavallo because you could throw the nets over the back of a horse (cavallo), the gourds rolling against the animal's flanks as it walked.

The corniche road which outlined the peninsula's perimeter cut hairpin turns across the gray stone of its promontories, intersecting unexpectedly with the few mountain streets that penetrated its interior. Bare yards to our left, the rock face dived into the turquoise sea. The air out here was fresh with salt and floral perfumes. There was no noise except the whir of our engine. Honking the horn or turning on the radio would have done an injustice, though the latter was impossible because there was no radio, Hertz having decided it would just get stolen. We had moved into the prime tourist area, and soon we were among overstuffed busses that maneuvered the turns with difficulty. Each bus came with a businesslike young woman seated to the driver's right, chattering to her flock through a microphone. It was said that if a bus should stall, traffic would back up through nightfall. I could believe that.

In the town of Amalfi, on the southern shore, stood a handsome cathedral on a wide piazza. There were excellent ocean views. You could see why people would want to come here: it was pretty. You also got the sense, from the casual disdain of the townsfolk and from the brimming shops, that Amalfi had long ago been spoiled by its success. Here was a pretty woman of a town again, a few lovers' worth more experienced than most, her wardrobe fit to snag another. Like that woman, you would have to take the time to get to know her, to move beyond the prettiness that, by making her popular, made it so easy for her to behave superficially.

Small, white-washed Positano, farther west, retained much character and a sense of intimacy. It had charm and some sophistication, and you could overlook the fact that every shop, whatever its reputed specialty, sold the same garish sun dress. Copies of the dress hung like laundry all around us--as colorful as candy and as plentiful and tasteless as weeds.

Sorrento, a seaside resort on the north coast, had good hotels and some expensive shops. Its narrow streets were lively with summer travelers from Europe, America and Japan; commerce was indeed in the air, and a festive, middle-market complacency, of the kind you'd find in Key West, drove the numerous visitors from shop to shop. As in many European towns that became popular on charm, there were layers to Sorrento--the original layer of rustic simplicity, overlaid with a veneer of imported sophistication, itself overlaid with a layer of studied charm.

We stopped at a roadside bend where an old woman sat, a load of grapes beside her. She was plump, toothless and her bare feet were black. The place and condition of this fruttivendola should give an impression of how hungry we were by now. Her fat husband, every pore on his face sprouting stubble, leaned into the car and motioned to bum a cigarette. My reserves of Italian were just adequate enough to report that we didn't smoke. His grunt and slight, futile wave of his palm was nonverbal assurance he'd been afraid we'd say that. Then he tried to sell Julie moonshine wine in a bottle that was clearly someone else's castaway. The woman overcharged us for the grapes, which we cleaned as best we could at the first opportunity, and we ate them with zeal.

It was night by the time we returned to Positano; we were tired and still hungry. Unwilling to dim her standards, Julie searched for a convivial restaurant and didn't find any until the few that had been open had closed. We ended up buying yogurt, stale, packaged bread and some fruit in a convenience store. That wouldn't have been so bad had we not (a) missed breakfast and (b) skipped lunch.

"All these towns are run for tourists," said Julie as we got back on the road. "We're too late."

"By decades."

"At least. But would we have come here if we had to take a train to a horse cart?" she asked. "What if Sorrento was full of fishermen and basket weavers but the hotels had no running water?"

"Maybe there'd be someone willing to go out of his way to serve dinner." I'm at my worst when hungry.

"So what are you saying? I'm a dilettante because I take a shower every day?" Julie has international tastes, modulated by an American love of good plumbing.

"No, ma'am," I replied.

"What do we expect? It's like those people who say that if only we'd let the Cheyenne alone, they'd still weather Colorado winters in bison-hide tents--even if they were paid major reparations, which they should have been, and even with the lights of Denver up ahead. You can't blame people for wanting it comfortable and easy, for not wanting to be someone else's idea of rustic. The people here want to live nicely, and the tourists bring the money, right? The tourists want cappuccino on demand, and they get it. So the town isn't quaint anymore. Who wants to be quaint for someone else's amusement?"

One thing I was learning about Julie: she expressed herself with emphasis, even vehemence, and it was as hard to argue against her. Once she had formed a position, contradicting her would be as complex as getting yourself undamaged through Neapolitan traffic. But she tended to be right.

A roadblock appeared, with a sign warning of fallen rocks. A detour would have taken an hour or more. We had seen the wire mesh used to keep the mountains from falling on passing cars. Somewhere ahead, a mountain had won. We waited, saw cars with Italian plates zip around the roadblock, then we followed. It turned out that only a small rocks had landed on the pavement. We weaved past them, were back in Naples soon enough and hopelessly lost.

Dark, empty streets stretched before us with such infinity of both quantity and distance that we could believe Naples was a treadmill of brooding slums. The bells that sound within an urbanite's head told each of us that we had lost our way. We said little to each other, silently hoping that downtown would appear beyond the next expanse of destitution. I did not want to alarm Julie with my private doubts that, once again, our navigation skills had come up wanting, but this was growing serious indeed.

We came at last upon a police roadblock. A dozen cops, deployed like United Nations peacekeepers, offered a welcome sign of collective authority. There was much light around them, from the squad cars, from street lights and flashlights--or maybe memory exaggerates the light we saw as we emerged from the straight avenue we had taken through seemingly endless darkness.

We stopped. A policeman waved me past a truck that stoppered traffic in our lane. I lurched forward, bopping the bumper into a Fiat parked ahead and to the right. A policeman looked at us and with a smug grin and checked the bumper of my unintended target. No damage. He waved me on. I got through the tangle of vehicles and officialdom and pulled over.

"Why are you stopping?" asked Julie.

"Because you have to ask directions."

She looked again at the chaos around us. "Why me?"

There followed the obvious answer: "Because you can't drive a stick shift if they, or we, want us out of here in a hurry."

Julie grabbed a map and walked the short distance rearward. She disappeared inside the firmament of authority and was gone an unusually long time, long enough at least, for me to wonder if I should follow her. But when she did come running back, she looked as merry as a schoolgirl.

"Well?"

"He was gorgeous!"

"Who?"

"The cop! What a good-looking guy! He was saying, 'Oh, you American girl. I help.' Then all the other cops wanted to help. They were so nice."

"Julie, how do we get out of here?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Turn around completely and make a left at the second light. You should have seen him: dark hair, dimples, and then his friend, the tall, light-haired one, came over . . ."

We returned to civilization in phases, by map and compass, adding an extra wrong turn or too for flavor until Naples surrendered the light it had so threateningly withheld from us, and a great, shiny piazza at last filled our windscreen. We reached the tunnel that led to Via Partenope and may or may not have been driving it at great speed in a lane reserved for oncoming traffic. It was late, this was Naples, and no one else on the road took offense.

CHAPTER 24

We learned a new word of Italian. We were in a taxi, headed for the Mergellina hydrofoil dock, when I realized the driver was taking us in the direction of the Mergellina train station. "Scusi, no," I said.

"La Stazione Mergellina è sempre diritto," said the driver.

"No Stazione Mergellina. Invece Mergellina--" I was searching through my notebooks and papers. The hydrofoil schedule popped into view, and I found my solution. "Mergellina per l'aliscafo!"

"Si, si, l'aliscafo. Scusi!"

A sudden 180-degree mid-street turn confirmed I had been understood. I've forgotten most of my Italian, and Julie never learned much, but we are good for the word aliscafo ("hydrofoil") for life.

The craft was scheduled to leave in seconds. I'd already had to prod the taxi driver into turning on his meter, and we now had a brief run-in about a supplemental charge of his invention, but Julie stepped in, handing him banknotes and demanding back ever more change until she was content.

We asked a porter if we could board in time. He said, "Posso," and Julie ran ahead to get tickets. A horn sounded. The porter recanted: "Non posso." But a more optimistic colleague stepped in, scooping up our bags, sprinting with them on his cart and shouting to the crew to hold that hydrofoil.

On this dock, for the first time on the trip, the general run of humanity was as chicly dressed as Julie. A troop of Vogue subscribers chased after us, using the same mad-porter technique as we. In minutes, we were all surfing toward Capri--a nauseating, forty-minute ride.

The Grande Marina was full of men in peaked caps sporting hotel names, but we had to scout for the van of ours, the Caesar Augustus. We found it off to the side, driverless. When at last the chauffeur appeared, we were his only passengers. He drove us up steep hills, past Capri town, toward the higher, more remote town of Anacapri. I note for those who believe in omens that the only sight our driver pointed out to us, and enthusiastically at that, was the good ship Achille Lauro, anchored in a bay. In October, 1985, four Palestinian terrorists had commandeered the Achille Lauro off the coast of Egypt, shot to death an elderly, partially paralyzed New York City man named Leon Klinghoffer and had his body thrown overboard--along with his wheelchair. Two months later, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization offered an alternative theory for the Klinghoffer murder: he said that Mrs. Klinghoffer may have pushed her husband overboard to collect on his life insurance.

In December, 1994, after catching fire in the Indian Ocean, the Achille Lauro would sink, killing several passengers. Reuters would report that hundreds of elderly passengers would be rescued from unsafe lifeboats with only the clothes on their backs--which for many was their bedclothes--that passengers would complain of cowardice among the crew and that about 148 neatly dressed Italian crew members would reach land while carrying their own luggage.

The Caesar Augustus Hotel surmounted a Capri promontory that plunged without diversion into the sea. We were greeted there by a little porter with a pot belly and a look of permafright. Another porter, called as reinforcement, was thinner and withdrawn. Both wore white shirts that were colorfully stained. There was no one at the desk when we arrived because the gray-haired manager was loudly abusing someone over a telephone in the back. We were able to check in only when he had finished his tirade, which was expansive and so took time to complete. We saw no other guests. "I'm not sure how I'm going to like this," said Julie quickly.

The tubby porter with the face of a frightened poodle escorted us through shabby halls to an ordinary but decent-looking room. It had a marvelous view of the sea, once you looked past the rusting white terraces and crumbling stucco of the Caesar Augustus. "I love the water," said Julie hopefully. It was turquoise at the cliff face and nearly purple where it deepened. A speedboat churned the purple into white.

"Fine. Then we stay," I said.

"I need a bath," said Julie. Barely two minutes passed before she was again behind me, arms crossed. "There is hair in the bathtub."

I looked. She was right. "Let's change rooms," I said. Back to the desk. "There is hair in the bathtub," I told the manager.

"It's not hair. The paint has cracked."

"You paint your bathtubs?"

"You want to see another room?"

"Please."

We were shown the one next door. Not a hair was out of place here, but it was smaller and not nearly as fresh. Back to the manager: "Okay, we'll take the original room--and some paper towels, please."

"You know that the original room costs more."

"120,000 lire," I said.

"160,000," he replied.

"That wasn't the rate we were quoted."

He showed me the confirmation fax he had received from the Utell booking service. "This is the rate."

"That's not the rate on our confirmation," I said.

"120,000 lire is a dream," announced the manager. "A dream!"

My favorite thing to do when arriving at a hotel is to drop my bags, pick up my cameras and leave until nightfall, but Julie and I had advanced as a couple to the point that I could read in her expression that, mentally, she had already checked out of the Caesar Augustus. At her instigation, we packed for the beach and took a bus down to Capri town. Julie had been to the island once before, and by a sense of direction I had thought not available to her, found the Villa Krupp--the unassuming hotel where she had stayed when last on the island.

I waited on the sun deck while Julie inquired at reception. She dashed out like a woman possessed. "It's run by Germans. There is one room left, and while I'm asking about it, this guy from the U.S. comes in, and he's thinking about whether he wants the room, but the woman at the desk tells me she doesn't like Americans, and God knows what she thinks I am, but you--hurry!" I went in, greeted the woman in German, and with the aid of my German passport, booked the last room while the American dithered.

Back on the bus we went, past the Achille Lauro, grinning in the sunshine, up to the Caesar Augustus. I hasten to observe we had yet to see the island, let alone go to the beach. We went to our 160,000 lire room, the one with the hair in the bathtub, collected our luggage and walked to the desk. Tubby, looking more frightened than I had thought possible even for him, told us please to wait. He collected the manager, who arrived under full vituperative steam. I explained that we had reconsidered.

"Okay, leave if you want," he said. He began to write out an elaborate receipt.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"For the one-night stay," he said in a voice both brusk and smug.

"Let me repeat myself," I said with the gentility that is my trademark when forced to spend half a travel day in securing a hotel room, "we're not staying the night."

He looked up at me with censure and pain, but he was experienced enough at this game to see that he had lost; he moved for a consolation prize. "Then you will pay me for the fax I sent you!"

"Go ask Utell."

"Ask Utell?" he said with the shock of the unjustly accused, but he was addressing my back. We lugged our suitcases to the bus.

In my terse dispatch in the Chicago Tribune, I would later report: "If the Addams Family ran a resort hotel, this would be it." We liked the Villa Krupp quite well.

CHAPTER 25

Julie was sad that our hotel shuffle had burned the time she had allotted for a swim. We dressed for dinner and headed for the Marina Piccolo because, on Julie's part, it was at least on the water and because, on my part, Noël Coward wrote a comic song about it. On the way, we noticed a woman coming up from a craggy path the entrance of which was posted as closed. It looked like a shortcut, one about which Julie had a vague memory. As every hiker knows, never take an unknown shortcut, but we started along a rutted, pitted and downright dangerous trail as steep as a black-diamond ski slope. A stone rail was broken in crucial places, inviting an easy plunge to eternity. Julie stepped over rocks and fallen branches and kicked up dirt with her high-heeled saddles, the dust settling on her silk blouse, her Calvin Klein shirt and jacket.

In the distance we saw sunbathers, the ones to the far left being indistinctly, but indisputably nude. Maybe the beach wasn't a place entirely without its curiosities, I said, and we pushed onward. We had to climb over great boulders before we were on the beach, which was isolated and stony. It was separated from the water by a low cliff of boulders against which a rough tide slammed at intervals. A thin, bearded man who may have been a hermit--or at least eccentric--had made a house for himself in a small cave, complete with bedroom, a covered patio, a cooking area and a refuse dump. A spray-painted boulder announced:

RISERVATO
AL
NUDISTI

"You wanted a swim, right?" I asked Julie.

"Not that badly."

"It's still warm out. The sun hasn't set."

Julie was flushed with that embarrassment you feel when you are offered an enterprise which, though outside your range of comfort, lies just close enough that you can see yourself going that way on a dare. "There aren't any nude women here."

There had been one, but she now wore her bottom and was making to depart. A few naked men remained, two by two, presumably homosexual couples. I went to the water's edge and started removing my clothes. "You aren't really going to do that?" said Julie. I did, sliding in with the aid of a frayed orange nylon rope, thoughtfully affixed to one of the slippery boulders that would otherwise have made return to land a dicey affair. The water was cold but clear and indescribably welcome. Julie looked around, made the mental calculations that runs through a respectable woman's mind in these situations, neatly folded all her fashionable clothing and joined me in the water. The waves pushed us toward the rocks and the tide did its best to suck us out to sea. Green, living moss and gray, dead moss made the rock surfaces too slick to hold on to but left them treacherously hard and jagged should we be forced against them. The late breeze was salty and cool.

We had no towels. Dressed only in our underwear, we climbed past the troglodyte, who wouldn't answer my calls in English or Italian, though he burst into "O Sole Mio" when we were nearly past. "Anthem of the Italian hermit," explained Julie.

We were in street clothes again when, at the top, a Scotsman directed us to the Marina Piccolo; there we would find a bus back to town. We returned to the off-limits beach again during our stay, and Julie went once on her own, causing a stir among a gaggle of American college men.

CHAPTER 26

The clock in the main piazza never stopped tolling during the night. It got so I could tell time by it: deep gongs were for the hours, lighter ones were for quarter hours. Three deep and two light meant 3:30 a.m. Four deep and one light meant 4:15 a.m. I had seen enough of Capri to be confident that few among us had pressing engagements at 4:15 in the morning and that no one forced to listen was without the means to secure a wristwatch. I am from a land that flaunts its disregard for tradition, but the town clock is a custom ripe for consignment to history, at least after bedtime.

I tried to reach Peter and Susanne by phone at dinnertime one evening but could not get through. Gianni was home in Genoa, however. He reported that Enrico still slept with one of the bears I gave him; his name had since been altered to the simple but dignified Teddy Bear. Lorenza had the boys at the villa on the Adriatic coast, where we really must join them next time we were in Italy, he said. It had been some time since I last was in Italy, and I felt very far away from my friends. This was indeed Italy, but so different from rough and broken-down Genoa. This was an Italy of the imagination; it could not exist, and of course, it did not.

The color that season for women's shoes was gold, and for all the yellow shine given off by the footwear treading the main piazza, you'd have thought the gold said to be stashed under the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich had been brought up for a breath of sea air. The Gucci outlet sold what Gucci will sell, at prices only five percent or so off what the branch in New York charged. For years I'd been buying neckties in Italy. If only because it seemed foolish not to, I bought one on sale, then realized it was a Drake, made in England, which was foolish indeed.

With that memory still fresh in mind, we were sitting one afternoon in an outdoor café, gazing upon the rolling sea of chic that splashed to the shores of our table and cascaded over its banks whenever a Ferragamo handbag or Cartier-encircled arm should inadvertently crowd us. "Doesn't this place remind you of Positano?" asked Julie.

"More like Portofino," I said.

"No. It's Ascona, but with sunshine," said Julie.

"The stupid Hamptons."

"I like the Hamptons."

"I meant some other Hamptons."

"Okay." Julie glanced around her, trying to pretend she wasn't doing that. "Looks like the Hamptons."

"Annoying, to come this way--"

"Amazing how it all starts to look alike," said Julie. She deliberated on that the way she does sometimes: crossing her arms, her head bent, immune to all external stimuli. "I kind of miss Naples, don't you?"

I surprised myself by agreeing with her. Another revelation: Julie and I were thinking alike.

CHAPTER 27

Karl Marx got it wrong. The workers of the world represent no homogeneous class. To the extent that there are differences worth traveling to see, and ways of life so divergent from your own that to experience them for a short time is worth the journey, the working class and peasants provide that element so condescendingly called local color. During recent travels on my own, I had seen the thin and brooding men of the barren fields of Castile, soft caps seemingly molded to their heads, the stubble on their faces as coarse as the nearly inarable bracken of their homesteads. I had seen the corpulent, muscular women of the Polish countryside, fleshy pink heads swaddled in their babushkas, working scythes ahead of ox carts that, overloaded with hay, lumbered like elephants through the fields. Each scene had been distinct to, and characteristic of, its place. Here, in Capri, Julie and I had watched a fisherman repairing his net with artisan's hands--the delicate motions and the sudden, vigorous pulls with a knife, a scissor, a needle. I'd seen fishermen across Europe, but this small touch of refinement in a simple task was indisputably Italian.

It is the rich who are the true international class. The world over, whatever their nationality, race or creed, they talk the same, dress the same, have the same values and loyalties, education, hobbies, sex lives. They are masters of Capri, but only in season, and you can sit in the piazza and listen to conversations in Italian, English, German, Flemish or Japanese, knowing with confidence that pretty much the same things are being said all around you.

We did find the middle class at play, after a fashion. Every couple of hours, a flock of day-trippers would come to the main piazza under close escort by a saleswoman disguised as a tour guide. She would take her group to a sad cluster of flowering plants which she called the Gardens of Augustus. It was hardly worthy of a detour, let alone a sea voyage, and it had no more to do with Augustus Caesar than the Gucci store--or less, if you factor in the distinctly Roman profile of the gold sandals we had seen. The real objects of these tours were the two side-by-side perfume factories just beyond the gardens. I had strong doubts as to whether those factories really were factories--and why any Italian factory worthy of the name would have to post a sign that says FREE ENTRY in English.

Back among the gentry, all was not heaven either. In a shop for accessories, a noisy American woman in large costume jewelry and an expensive black-and-white outfit held forth a man's necktie as thick as a napkin. She said that the clerk who had sold it to her had assured her it was the widest tie in the shop, and right here, plain as day, on the counter, isn't that one wider? Wide is the style this year, isn't it? She had insisted on wide, and wide was what she was entitled to have. The woman behind the counter was mature, but with just enough youth remaining to give a hint of girlish beauty. She looked at her customer with imploring eyes and replied, "Please, what means wide?"

An African in splendid robes toured the Gardens of Augustus with his wife and three daughters or, perhaps more likely by the way the group was interacting, his senior wife, junior wife and the children of the former. A young daughter was whining and squealing her spoiled heart out.

Back at our German villa, while taming wind-blown hair, Julie yanked out the hair-drier plug, breaking the adapter plug, half of which remained in the wall. Bare prongs were thus left exposed. Realizing the error, Julie now grabbed both, closing the circuit and sending two-hundred-twenty volts into her body. I was out taking pictures and came back to find Julie sitting on the floor, caressing her numbed hand, grateful she had dried her wet palm before making a middle-school science project out of her stay at the Villa Krupp.

It was a cool night and we went for a walk. Our object was the Natural Arch, roughly twenty-five minutes from our hotel by foot. The center of town quickly fell behind us, and the real Capri started. There were small shops of no great distinction but some character, a furniture restorer and an honest greengrocer who, alone among his compatriots south of Rome, had charged us the same prices as those he quoted to his regulars. There were elderly people out shopping, trading gossip, looking robust and fit. The streets behind them were really paths, just wide enough for the three-wheeled open vehicles that were all the motorized transportation the Capri hinterland cold accommodate. The paths were both serene and confining. Their stone walls seemed to push back the lush foliage of the villas which lined them, each house labeled by a number on ceramic tile embedded into a path wall. Lighted shrines were locked into glass niches in the walls. The road forked at a small supermarket, the ruins of the Villa Jovis of Tiberius to the left, the Natural Arch to the right.

At least one villa had its own vineyard, the grapes, green and purple, as tempting as anything offered Adam. There were colorful gardens and men putting up white and colored lights for the Feast of St. Mary. A group of Germans was holding a lawn party. A boy with a foot swaddled in a piercingly white bandage was getting a ride home on the flat bed of a luggage cart, looking none too happy. The slight incline of the path we took and the increasing opulence of the houses lining it gave the impression of a journey into a temporal heaven, where thrift and avarice were equally rewarded and only a few had been granted admittance.

Just before the Natural Arch was an open-air restaurant named Trattoria Le Grottelle. What passed for its architecture was a cave, though all seating on this night was under a thatched awning, facing a long cliff top framed by a jutting boulder--a view leading straight to the sea. The waiters were still setting up the tables. They told us that the Natural Arch was a must, so we pushed onward. It was a great, jagged slab with an arch cut through its center, giving it the look of a ruddy-red, breaded onion ring. There was a serene quality to this quirk of nature, the way it brashly imposed itself onto the landscape, like a woman in a gaudy hat who thinks she is fashionable and, by the force of her will, makes herself so. We could hear the chirping of insects and the waves from the sea beyond, where an elegant, white ship stood at anchor, already lighted. The moon came out, about half full. The breeze was cool and carried the scent of wild vegetation. It was as if nature were offering an answer to Chopin's nocturnes.

Back at the open-air trattoria, short, ever-smiling Aniello Farace, the maitre d'hotel, said he was sorry, but the place was fully booked. Each table had a wooden block holding a slip of paper with the name of the reserving party. Most names were German. "We are always busy when the moon is out," said Mr. Farace, but he checked his watch, looked at Julie, looked around, looked at Julie again--and a table was hauled out from somewhere, set with linen and flatware, and we had the best meal since we had come to the island. The view from our improvised post was soon blocked by tall bodies from the Fatherland. When the bill came, we saw that Mr. Farace had reduced the cover charge which, back in Rome, had created an international incident.

We had done the beach, the shops, the cafés. We had seen the Villa Jovis, but a boisterous sea had made the Blue Grotto unnavigable. There was something about this trattoria, with its view of the rising moon, with its genteel service and fine food cooked in a cave, that convinced us Capri had offered its best and had no available mysteries. We had expected Capri to be the highlight, that prime destination which most short trips have and which, once reached, bring on that sense of triumph by which travel can become accomplishment. We both knew we had been wrong. We desperately missed rude and run-down Naples. In a backwards way, you could illustrate the broad difference between Capri and Naples by the fact that, while the most famous guest at the Vesuvio had been Caruso, that honor at the Villa Krupp went to Lenin. We called the Grand Albergo Vesuvio, booked another room and prepared to leave the island.

The next morning, a porter cast three, heavy, matching suitcases onto his three-wheeled cart, as if landing large but weakened fish. He roped them down and we climbed on back with them, giving me a final view of Capri, facing rearward on the cart, jolting at each turn from atop the suitcases. Up a path we went and around the perfume factories; through a tree-lined walkway; past the day-trippers with their swaying bags of authentic Capri perfumes; past the coolly sumptuous Grand Hotel Quisisana, where I had successfully negotiated the use of the toilet; past Cartier and Ferragamo; past Gucci to the main square; past the milling and the seated regulars, their sunglasses permanently affixed on deeply tanned faces. They sat all but immobile, posing like artists' models, save for the slight motions needed for continually looking around, as if expecting something to come their way any minute, something which, we now understood, would never arrive. At the funicular which served the Grande Marina, Mr. Muscles graciously accepted the ransom required for his work, and we descended to our waiting aliscafo.






Alan Behr