The locals call it La Piazzetta
This is a little public square, in the center of a practically smallest European town, nestled on a tiny island in the Mediterranean. Capri. In contrast, the views are expansive, aroma pungent, and beauty abounding. No wonder Augustus built his Empire Time Share here.
You arrive by streetcar, bus, taxi, scooter, or (if you are totally mad) on foot. Gardens of lemon trees and roses have guided you here after a probable Bellissima boat ride from Napoli or the Amalfi Coast. There was a naval gladiator combat at the Blue Grotto with your tour boat and adversarial dingy’s filled with delighted-confused-frightened client/victims. A dash through the gauntlet of T-shirts, trinkets and tchotchke (never knew how to spell that one) at the harbor precedes your ascent. Between the two mountains, you journey. Now, at this plateau, Piazza di Umberto Primo welcomes you. A quick look around and you grasp why they call it La Piazzetta.
On one side there is the expected baroque church. On the other stands the logical city hall. In front of you is a panorama of sky and sea around the rocks. But behind you is the serpentine artery of Capri. Little alleys (vicolo) and streets (via) are time capsules of their Middle-Ages origin, still housing the human tenants who serve custodial to present day Capri.
From this artery stream the pulse of this and every piazza. Highlights are Mamma and her rambunctious raggazzi, a pair of lovers, one old man with a cart, one old woman with a package, clueless tourists with their heads buried in an app or map instead of looking, smelling, sensing the majesty of it all. It is a symphony played in all piazzas. Yet, like and unlike the others, La Piazzetta has its own unique voice, rhythm, and style.
The antique bell tower clock maintains a faulty display as it tolls. No matter. No one seems to be checking the time, slugging his or her coffee, pounding the pavement, or rushing to anywhere for any reason. Who looks at the town clock? Who cares that the display is flawed? This is Capri. This is Italy. Lavoro la Vita. Not Vita la Lavoro. Work to live. Don’t live to work.
As you sip a Vino Bianco at your postage stamp table in the shoebox Piazza, you can’t help but glance at the waves of hilltops whence came the beverage. Your amber liquid serves as a telescope, giving color to your surveyance of its natural habitat. The looking glass serving its purpose, you slowly drain the contents and savor the taste.
Capri is a microcosm of urban Piazza life. There is culture, historic origins, strategic geography, everything the Roman Empire tattooed to its holdings. No exception here. From Tiberius to Mussolini, the powerful and influential praised and coveted this small island gem. Not particularly tactical or essential in war and aggression, Capri was mostly spared invasion, rape, pillaging and all that fun male civilized stuff. So it survives and thrives, this city center in miniature. “Urbs”, “The City”, is what Rome called municipalities back in the Latin day. Bingo! Urban. And their prized tiny get-away would characteristically assimilate everything civic and urban from the Empire. All roads led to Rome. But all boats went to Capri (if you had the juice, the coin or the connections). Of course, Romans would design, construct and embrace an island city center here. Have to have a place to gather, greet, gossip, gripe, grope, and glean from the great natural nutrients that abound and surround. Vero?
Capri walks a tightrope these days. It is a tourist mecca but maintains elegance void of plastic, strip malls, outlets, chain stores and pub-crawls. In spite of the flea market appearance at the main dock, Capri remains a welcoming host, as long as you wipe your feet. Hospitality and tradition, beauty and conservation, enterprise without greed, meals without phony additives, sounds without noise, smells enhanced by dioxide, not monoxide…Capri is the petite prototype of everything a city center is or should aspire to be.
High-end fashion and services for the elite share this piazza with laborers of the field. The tour guide, city official, teacher, peddler and musician all belly up to the same bar for a café’ lungo. Attuned visitors assimilate the rhythm. They stroll, bask, sit, ponder, smile and sip away the hours, negligent of our friendly-faulty tower clock guardian. It is like any other Piazza in this respect.
Capri is everything a Piazza is or should be. Spectacular location surrounded by indescribable beauty. Clean, cultivated and caressed by proprietor/patrons. Hospitality without hordes. It is arguably the best island outdoor living room in the Mediterranean.
What time is it now? My memory of the Clock tells me to “Forget About It”. Time to save this “doc”. Close the laptop. Dream of my next visit to Capri.