"The people of Anacapri have a certain gentleness and hospitality that is touching as it is inviolate, despite millennia of invasion, conquest, barbarians, lethal volcanic eruptions and the echoes of war after war.
From the time of the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Carthaginians, down through the Etruscans, the Romans and the Arabs, the beauty of the island has seldom gone unnoticed, and the delicate shyness you find in Anacapri is an attitude that carries with it, unseen and unspoken, a certain acceptance of and pride in the past. People who work in shops, restaurants, boats, drugstores-anywhere at all -- in or near Anacapri -- seem to command respect by virtue of not asking for it. How they have avoided the fate of the town called Capri, at the other end of the island where fountain of tourist money has resulted in a kind of businesslike cyncism, I don't know, but they have." -- Peter Fleibeman
With such a statement found in an insert of a 2005 issue of Town and Country magazine at the Capri Palace Hotel, I got extremely curious and decided to stroll around the few alleys of the small town. It's September and I am lucky to be here during one of the most important festivals: the Settembrata Annacaprese organized each year by Anacapri town council, a competition held between the four ancient quarters of the town.
The competition puts the organizational, artistic, culinary, and tailoring skills of the inhabitants of Anacapri to a test in which the local people face with great passion, guaranteeing a fabulous show, whether or not their quarter wins an authentic slice of local folklore.
The atmosphere is quite festive, lively and colorful. Each shop, private house and islander has tailored their contribution with individual and mostly authentic creativity. Flea markets are gastronomic Kermesse and will guarantee my staying up until dawn. During my visit, I picked four of my favorite shops.
The word coral most probably hails from the Greek Korallion, meaning "Hard Skeleton", though there are those who believe that it derives from the Hebrew Goral , which was used to refer to the stone cast in the oracles in Asia Minor and the Mediterranean.
It's a small shop that immediately caught my attention. A woman with red glasses is working on an enormous pile of raw and very bright red coral. Wow! I whip out my Belkin tape recorder and immediately ask her for an interview.
With a smile, she invites me to sit down and asks if I don't mind her working while she talks. Outside, there's a procession of her grandchildren screaming and chanting; in the bar in front of the shop her husband is having a Limoncello with friends. She's fine. Her story is as follows: Coral-fishing was practiced around Capri in ancient times through it only became an organized practice around 1800.
During the end of the 18th century, her family grew and worked with those coral fishermen for generations. The coral deposits around the island of Capri and the Gulf of Naples, in the region of Torre del Greco at Mount Vesuvius' feet were once only home to a small fisherman's village. Today it is the capital and world's leading location of working the "red gold".
"Coral banks" at the Maddalena in Sardinia and the Bocche di Bonifacio were another major resource for Capri fishermen, some of whom ultimately decided to settle on the island. Fishermen regularly sailed to the sandbank in the hope of great profit. By being so far from their home island, however they risked the wrath of sudden storms on the open seas.
In the 16th century, the coral banks around the island began to go into decline. Fishermen went to work for boat owners who worked out of Torre del Greco and set out for Sicily and Tunisia. They endured backbreaking work, starvation and numerous dangers like being taken by pirates.
Even when times were very difficult, the family kept its passion believing that the coral had magical powers of attraction. They established a small factory of extremely skilled artisans who selected the coral from those fishermen who came back alive and through immense creative fantasy transformed it into beautiful jewelry.
Ouvid wrote in his Metamorphoses: "It's like soft grass that grows not on the ground but in the sea. The salt water putrefies the little plants until leaves fall off, and then sea spray carries them to shore. They harden in the air; anybody who touches them would say that they are made of stone, yet not long before they were grass."
The company also imports authentic Suiko pearls, of a six year cultivation granting their authenticity. I ask about the difference between pale rose and dark red coral, raw and refined, earrings, Tunisian turquoise necklaces, gold Anticato (antiqued) charms and bracelets, small elephants, a Jesus face, mother of pearl artifacts and white coral.
Not to be missed is the most attractive collection of exclusive hand-made Cameos! Ultimately this shop could look like the cave of Ali Baba but with one exception: the same passion for what is hard to get but without a doubt, a legitimate right for creative ownership through generations to come.
Corallium Di. Ma Sas. Via Giuseppe Orlandi, 163-65 Anacapri( Na) Tel +39 081 838 2108 (some items you can buy online) firstname.lastname@example.org- email@example.com
Pizzi e Merletti
Battistina Mariniello -- called 'Tina" -- has been crocheting and knitting for over 40 years for her children and grandchildren. It's only three years ago that her eldest son suggested she that open her own shop at the age of 75.
The shop sells her hand-embroidered table linens, towel sets, wool blankets detailed with crocheted small light blue flowers and delicately stitched baby clothes.
The show is adorned with pretty pictures of her recently acquired young and neo-clientele. The feeling is that you are walking into your grandmother's house for a quick visit and must pick up something special for your powder room, a last minute present for your friends who invited you for dinner in New York or a Brit Milah in Paris. (Miss Mariniello made me promise I would send this post to her son in New York who works with the UN.)
Remarkably impeccable, those kind of crafts you could only find in small communities where time has acquired a fourth dimension.
Pizzi e Merletti
From $13 for socks to $227 for a three piece outfit.
Via Giuseppe Orlandi 189, 80071 Anacapri, Italy; Tel / Fax+ 39 081-837-3953 / +39 081 837.36.53
Aqva Fabrica Profumi Sirenis
Walking across Viale Axel Munthe, not far from the Villa San Michele in Anacapri, I notice from afar a glass window with Latin words of plants engraved in white italics, almost as if it was a hand-written medical prescription.
As a backdrop there is an ancient wood medicine cabinet with old-style brown pharmacy bottles on the shelves. My kind of place!
This place is called Antiqva Fabrica Profumi Sirenis. The owners, a young couple, founded this shop based on one of the grandfather's healing home-made natural ingredient recipes he used to manufacture in his kitchen years ago.
A series of bright colored soaps that look more like a bunch of real fruit with leaves hanging, bath gels and foams, milky body lotions is just what I need to release all the vitality of my walk through this Mediterranean Magnis.
Large hand-made candles can almost be mistaken for gigantic flowers, sea shells in charming straw baskets, romantically hand-painted pink carnation roses in tin planters are neatly displayed on light wood tables and organized in old medicine cabinets. The atmosphere is pleasant, especially because we are surrounded by thick green vegetation over the deep blue sea. The kind hosts invite their customers to realize that they are in a piece of paradise among aromas of one of the most beautiful Mediterranean landscapes, the island of Capri.
What really does attract me is the enormous collection of old testers of Acque Perfumate (perfumed waters) sitting on top of the wood counter. A bunch of fresh Eau de Colognes with hints of the sea breeze -- among them the Aqua di Capri fragrance with the Antiqva Fabrica Profumi symbol of the mermaid with the Faraglioni in the background.
Their fragrance line also includes an ambient room perfume and a candle which releases the fresh fragrance into the air when lit. The Augustus and Flora bouquet, on the other hand, resonates around a core of flax flowers and amber, recalling the colors of Capri gardens.
I am personally a lover of citrus scents. I ask about the availability of a lemon line of products and I am advised to try a cologne in which the leading notes of citrus are combined with cinnamon essence. Delicious!
Do not forget to offer your girlfriend, along with the delicious colognes, the cute little black and white vinyl sandals that Coco Chanel would certainly have used. I am sure she wouldn't mind the lovely statement on the charming crystal encrusted heart -- "I love Capri".
Viale Axel Munthe, 1 80071 Anacapri. Tel/Fax: 081.8372297 /firstname.lastname@example.org
The owner is from Marrakech and has long dark hair. She was "imported" by her husband who is a driver for VIP clients at the Capri Palace Hotel & Spa. She is very beautiful and very, very sexy. Her small fashion boutique is for men and women, an interesting blend of exotic flair with a touch of Italian glamour.
Beautifully embroidered Moroccan Babouches are easily combined with pure cotton Italian lace mini dresses in all colors to be worn on top of a bathing suit on the beach or on a hot day like today. I bought one in red and one in black that I immediately put on.
For men, the matching pure linen long shirts to wear with extra charming Panama hats over bathing shorts or white linen pants. Luxurious!
Her 2008 season must-haves are silk scarfs in the style of famous brands like Gucci, Burberry and Pucci, knotted with Brazilian stones and a nice golden buckle to use around the neck, as belts or as handbag accents -- a really fun combination. I got one of each for my best friend, mother, sister, niece and cousin.
Scarves: Price 55 each.
Via Giuseppe Orlandi, 77 80071 Anacapri Na tel +39 081 837 1828 Mogador08@hotmail.it