When I was little, there was an ad for Capri Cigarettes showing an elegant woman on a balcony smoking and staring off into the distance with the tagline, “She’s gone to Capri and she’s not coming back.” That ad enchanted the part of me that has always wanted to run away from home. Now, many years later I finally ran away to Capri.
I have had the Blue Grotto on my bucket list since the age of 21 when Pietro, an Italian sign painter I worked with showed me pictures of the stunning cave. He also used to shout, “Fungula! Fungula! Fungula!” every time he messed up a sign, but that is neither here nor there. Capri is a volcanic island, and in many places limestone caves have formed in such a way that light travels into the water in one place and radiates up from another, causing the water to glow an ethereal turquoise. Nowhere is this effect more stunning than in the Grotto Azule. Boats take you to the entrance of a cave where you have to get into a little rowboat and lie down flat to enter. The littlest bit of wind and the boats won’t run.
I asked the front desk at my hotel if the Blue Grotto was open, and they had no idea. They said there was no one to even call. I found that very hard to believe, but I had to accept that this hotel was not going to spoon-feed me the way the others had. A man handing out pamphlets on the dock told me that the grotto was open, so I took the ferry to Capri. When I arrived at the little tour office on the dock I was devastated to learn that the Grotto was, in fact, closed. They had another boat tour of the island but I didn’t give a fungula about anything but the Blue Grotto.
Besides the professional tour company, there were also independent tour guides, which basically means a dude with a boat. One of these guys, recognizable as a sailor by his watch cap, started trying to talk me into going on a tour of the island. After all, there is also a green cave, and a white cave. I tried unsuccessfully to explain the concept of a bucket list to him in Italian before walking away. But I walked around the harbor for a bit thinking, and besides there being nothing else of interest on the island, I decided it was foolish not to accept anything less than a perfect experience. I reminded myself that it’s not about the goal; it’s about the journey.
Since it was off-season no one else was biting, so I had a private tour for far less than it should have cost. The boatman, who I would later learn was named Ciro, was kind of grumbly at first. But it was a beautiful day to be out and it was clear he loved showing off his island. Once he caught me saying, “muy” instead of “troppo” he started speaking Spanish to me and we made do with a trilingual patois.
This is where the sailors of Greek mythology were lured in “when their naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing” only to be dashed upon the rocks.
There are places around the island with the luminescent water, and Ciro knew every single one of them.
The Green Grotto
There are large rock formations jutting out of the sea. One of them had an arch that looked kind of iffy size-wise and for some reason I shouted, “Do it! Thread the needle!” Even though I hollered in English, I think my enthusiasm got the point across and he headed for the arch. Or he had planned to go through the arch anyways. Whatever.
As we approached the arch he cut the motor and reached for my hand. That wasn’t weird because he had been taking my hand to help me from one part of the boat to another where I would get the best view of whatever he had wanted to show me. But he didn’t sit me back down. He kept me standing next to him at the wheel. That was weird. But maybe he didn’t want me leaning out or getting my hand smashed between the boat and the rock walls we were floating through. The he started singing an Italian song. That was super weird. He had a lovely tenor voice and the acoustics inside the arch were great. He sang confidently and earnestly, holding his hand to his chest and opening his arm expansively like you see opera singers do. And he looked me in the eyes the whole time.
I had a big smile plastered on my face. You know that smile you get when shit gets weird and you are trying to maintain. When you are trying really hard not to laugh at someone who is being so genuine about something. I made it through the song, which ended as we exited the arch. Then he turned the boat around and drifted through the arch again singing another song. Holding my hand. I was dying. I have no video of this or because I was kind of frozen in place. Later I remembered that the boatmen who take you into the Blue Grotto sing to you. Maybe he usually does that and was trying to give me the full experience. Or maybe when an Italian guy gets you in a boat he just sings to you, like gondoliers do.
I sat on the back of the boat for a little while and dangled my legs in the turquoise waters. I wanted to swim, but with my rotator cuff problems I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull myself back onto the boat. This is Ciro (Cheer-oh). Note the watch cap that proves he is a sailor. Note the puffy jacket that proves he is an Italian. I asked him where I should eat and he told me to go to “The Yellow Virgin.”
A funicular is a little railway that is pulled up a steep hill with cables, like the Angel’s Flight in LA. It wasn’t running that day so I took a little bus to town. (Funiculi funicula –yeah, really. That’s what the song is about.) After the magical waters of the Bay of Napoli and the gorgeous coastline, the town of Capri was no big whoop.
I bought a little silver charm then asked the saleslady where I could find the Yellow Virgin. After she finished laughing she directed me down some stairs. When I sat down at the table I saw why she had laughed.
I saw someone else eating the octopus salad and it looked so good I had to order it. Like the tuna tartare in Florence, it was wonderful, but just too much octopus for one person.
I was fascinated by their trippy pizza toppings, like corn and potato chips, but I ordered a steak and it was delicious.
The next morning I only had to look out of my window at the choppy waters to know the grotto would not be open. By the way, if you ever need to know if the grotto is open, you can check this website. Yes, I gave the brochure to the front desk. So, no Blue Grotto for me.
But I had enjoyed a gorgeous day at sea, probably the best vacation day I have ever had.