Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 139, entry Jan. 2003, edited July 2021



Looking from the town of Capri towards Monte Solaro and Anacapri.

My friend, Bill, keeps encouraging me to read Graham Greene because that author is so depressing, cynical, and writes so well. Thus, almost at random, I found this from Greene's This Gun for Hire. 

He had been made by hatred; it had constructed him into this thin smoky murderous figure in the rain, haunted and ugly. His mother had borne him when his father was in gaol, and six years later when his father was hanged for another crime, she had cut her own throat with a kitchen knife; afterwards there had been the home. He had never felt the least tenderness for anyone; he had been made in this image and he had his own odd pride in the result; he didn't want to be unmade.

Is there a special reason why the person who wrote that passage — almost a caricature of Evil — chose to live in Anacapri, or why he called attention to the fact that he regarded the town not only as a place to have a house, but a home, or why he was especially proud of the honorary citizenship bestowed upon him by that community? 

The passage cited has at least a little to do with Greene's perception of the presence of evil in the world. It's everywhere. The world, after all, is a seedy and decaying pit with absolutely no guarantee that good will win out, for there is no assurance that good persons in the world can be counted on to do good. It may go even further than that: there may be no good persons to speak of! Or, at least, if there are, they are helpless in the face of the irresistible nature of evil. It is stronger than we are. What, however, does that have to do with Capri, and, specifically, Anacapri?

Anacapri as you drive in from Capri (to the left). The chairlift  ("seggiovia") is the straight line in the
center leading off the map at the top.  Forget everything else. Do that first.  You won't be sorry.

Perhaps it is best to think of the Isle of Capri precisely the way it looks as you approach it from the sea, as two different places. And for those of you who don't know, those of you who have blindly accepted the arrogant cartographic hoodwink that 'Capri' is Capri, well, that's not so. The island is, in fact, two different places: one low and one high — Capri and Anacapri. According to a good source of mine, a young woman from Anacapri, this physical configuration of the island corresponds perfectly to the differences between the residents of the two towns, Capri and Anacapri, in that the Anacapresi are morally and spiritually superior to the inhabitants of the town of Capri. After all, she claims, monks don't go down into mine-shafts to meditate, they go to the tops of mountains. And since she is morally superior, she wouldn't lie about that, either.

High above  Anacapri is a an old monastery, the "Castle of Barbarossa". It was built in the 900s and spent centuries in the hands of a religious order. It was finally destroyed by the pirate Barbarossa in 1530. It lay more or less quiet until foreign artists in the late 1800s set up their studios in the rooms. Today, it is called an "ornithological station." It's perfect for watching birds.

Look at the infamous piazzetta, the town square of Capri. Here you find prodigal ne'er–do–wells wallowing in cafes and bars, smoking and lounging on the steps of a church (!), aimlessly wandering around, drinking too much and buzzing too much in that nervous stirred-up fashion of swarming insects trying desperately not to notice that the façade they are clinging to is cracking. These are, you must admit, at least potentially "smoky murderous figures" (see above). (For you democrats out there, we are not presuming guilt, here, merely presuming evil — an entirely different matter.) These are your jet-setters, the 'lovely people' out for a 'good time' ('good', of course, not in the proper theological sense of 'morally correct' but in the perverted modern sense of 'that which produces ephemeral physical pleasure and a nice suntan'). Here is where you can well imagine a character in one of Graham Greene's novels sitting and brooding about having been 'made by hatred' or being 'haunted and ugly' and not 'feeling the least tenderness for anyone.'

On the other hand, high up the hill, past the protective bulwark of the hermitage of S. Maria Cetrella perched on the cliff, and, thus, well above Man's Fallen State, iniquity gasps like a carp out of water. There lies Anacapri, where there is only one real square, to speak of, and that is in front of the Church of Santa Sofia. There is no brooding or sulking here, either. (It is illegal ever since the town fathers erected that 'No Brooding or Sulking' sign that dominates the square). It is here that we truly realize for the first time why 'Anacapri' and 'good' rhyme (at least they do in Lepcha, a minor dialect of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, but I digress).

The square of Santa Sofia is only a few minutes from the chair–lift (see map, above) to the top of Monte Solaro (safely hidden in the clouds in the photo, above). If and when the Evil–alarm went off, Graham Greene was just a moment away from salvation, from transcending, moving ever upward like Dante after Beatrice, or Goethe after the royalties on Faust; for Evil, especially southern Mediterranean Evil, has been shown not to be particularly viable above 250 meters, unless there is a lot more annual rainfall than one normally finds on the slopes above Anacapri. All in all, perhaps it is only in Anacapri that Graham Greene may have been somewhat less convinced of the all–pervasiveness of Evil. And that's not so bad.

[As of July 30, 2021 there is a new page on "Rosina" Ferrara, the muse of Capi."]

[Also see the Garden of Eden majolica mosaic in the church of San Michele.]

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