April 28

    Travel is supposed to be broadening: the traveler visits strange lands, hears new sounds, observes unfamiliar customs, and emerges from the experience refreshed, enlightened, more appreciative of the variety of ways people may organize their lives together. And so we have nearly always found it to be.


    Southern Italy is . . . uh . . . difficult.

    It may be particularly so for those of us who are of the Northern European Persuasion (NEP). Brought up by Dutch Calvinist parents, latterly a part of Norwegian / Swedish / Danish / German Lutheran environments, we have absorbed the social teachings of those traditions, and by now we’re too damn old to change.

    Among the NEP social teachings we’ve become aware that others don’t share over the past few days are:

*whether there should be a difference between one’s behavior while, on the one hand, drunk in a bar or attending a sporting event and, on the other, while interacting with others, sober and in public (the NEP answer: yes, there should);

*how one should walk down a crowded sidewalk (NEP: to the right, in a straight line, at a more or less constant speed);

*how one should wait for tickets to something (in a line, with due regard for those who got there before one, without shoving);

*what the odds are that strangers fifty feet away are interested in hearing one’s opinion about anything, including one’s family or friends who are five feet away (NEP: really long);

*and (at the risk of putting too fine a point on it) what are the chances that one really is the center of the universe and that everyone else recognises the fact and will unhesitatingly defer as one sails through life (NEP: not bloody likely).

    So: we are finding southern Italy to be warm; lots of it is wonderfully beautiful; the sea is a gorgeous blue, and the food is delicious . . . and it’s also . . . uh . . . difficult.

    Much of this was reconfirmed for us yesterday when we took a jampacked ferry to the Isle of Capri. We are here now because this is considered low season and we thought we would be avoiding large crowds. Wrong. Ferry after ferry comes from Sorrento or Naples and dumps loud crowds, who all press forward to the funicular which brings us, 50 at a time, to Capri Town on the top of the hill.

    Capri Town is an insanely expensive tourist town, immaculate, covered with flowers. There are only half a dozen actual two-lane streets on the island. The rest are 8 or 10 feet wide and meant for walking. Little three-wheeled trucks maneuver around the pedestrians as needed. To escape the crowds, we took a 90-minute walk toward the south end of the island and the nature park. The path was never more than eight feet wide (sometimes only two) but always paved. And after a mile or so we started to encounter small flights of stairs (significantly, they usually went down, toward the sea).

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We passed homes and could not figure out how people got to them regularly with groceries and such (possible answer: that’s why God invented servants). And how were they even built?

    It was quite a lovely walk, looking down on the sea until we came to the end and found about 300 steps taking us up to the main road at about a 10% grade. We took it very slowly; David’s heart surgeon should be proud of his work.

   The town, while lovely, is basically a shopping center for all the big designer names from Paris and Milan. One store showed an $1100 pair of shredded blue jeans, and there were lots of outdoor cafes and plazas with amazing views. We took a crowded little bus to Anacapri, a couple miles away. Big buses would never make it around the hairpin curves.

    Anacapri is an even smaller town and we visited a little church with a tiled floor depicting the flight of Adam and Eve from the Garden. It was charming and worth the trip.


We bought some more limoncello and some lemon chocolate and took an even more crowded bus (think sardines, hairpins, and bumpy pavement) back to the port and the ferry to Sorrento. There we had to climb 130 steps to the main street, collasped in an outdoor cafe, had fish for dinner, and after recovery took the train back to Pompei. It had been a lovely day in an especially lovely place, but tomorrow we have decided to stay “home,” avoid noisy crowds, do some laundry, get some groceries and plan our next move.  And Susan is trying to get up enough nerve to restring one of the window shades.