As we arrived to Capri, the jam-packed central piazza looked like any other Italian main square. But as we made our way further from the heart of the town, the scenery only grew more beautiful and the tourists were scarcer. As the day grew warmer, we found the cool shade of a nearby park. We meandered into the park and saw a clinic, a clue we were entering local Capri and leaving behind the exuberant tourist facade. Downhill, we stumbled onto a set of stairs leading into a cool, dark restaurant, the Villa Verde. The reception area was filled with pictures of the owners with celebrities. The owners would later show me their pictures with Beyoncé, LeBron James, and Cristiano Ronaldo. We introduced myself to the man at the desk, and asked if we could ask him a few questions. He seemed wary at first, and in broken English he explained that he had to ask the owners to speak with us.
The two owners turned out to be young brothers, Marco and Mavro. Eagerly, Marco, who had heard of National Geographic, called his brother Mavro. In rapid Italian, he introduced me to a lot of other people: regular patrons, the staff, and an aged man, Solo, who they swore made the best pizza. “You must try it,” they insisted. Through steaming hot slices of what really was amazing pizza, Marco and Mavro explained that they had lived in Capri their whole lives. Being relatively young, they had never seen Capri without the throngs of tourists. Reflecting on their childhood, they told us that they went to school during the off-peak tourist season. After completing three levels of schooling, the brothers left for Rome when they turned seventeen. Now they come back in the summer to run this restaurant. Marco handles the management, and Mavro the wine. Like most locals, the brothers go to Thailand during the winter to escape the cold weather. They led us to the back of the restaurant to their grandfather’s lemon garden which was his prized possession. Unfortunately, the garden now lies in disrepair even if they attempt to maintain it. As we went to pay for my meal, both brothers promptly refused, saying “Fai bbene é scuornt”. This was an old proverb in the Neapolitan dialect that stood especially true for their invaluable hospitality: do something nice and then forget about it. The kindness of the owners made a lasting impression and Marco and Mavro said we were always welcome there. Before leaving, we asked them what their favorite gelato shop was, and they recommended Caffé Morgano.
Following the brothers’ recommendation, we made our way through the picturesque back streets to Caffé Morgano, an old but well decorated shop with modern pop music playing in the background. The owner, Avo, told us that the café was the first gelato shop in all of Capri. He proudly guided us farther into the shop and gestured first to a picture of the shop in 1886 with a founder of the shop, Morgano, proudly standing in front. Then he showed us pictures of how the shop has progressed through the years. Today, Caffé Morgano offers 20 traditional gelato flavors as well as salads, pizza, sandwiches, and a full bar. We left the shop with a warm feeling of joy in our heart, and a cold gelato in our hand.
With the gelato improving the heat, we stepped into a cool, dark shop called Laboratorio. Like our guess, it was a laboratory, but in a different way. Owned by Michele, the clothes reflected old Capri: the one that was untouched by tourists in the fifties before Hollywood discovered it. His childhood, he said, was tourist-free. At the age of 18, he’d moved to Rome to design clothes, but his love for Capri brought him back. We asked him for his favorite phrase and his mother jumped in and exclaimed: “Che bella juanata schianata stammatine!” It means that if one is having a bad day, one must continue with the day and not give up. The phrase demonstrated the resilience of Capri itself: amongst the mass of tourists, it holds onto its own unique future and way of life.
After a fulfilling day of connecting with not just the locals but Capri itself, we wanted to relax and take in the serene views of the sea and the town together. A nearby local florist recommended a beautiful viewpoint to see the best sights on the island: Giardini di Augusto. For a small fee of one euro, we saw what really was the pinnacle of the island. The garden was filled with both modern and traditional sculptures depicting the island and its inhabitants. At the beginning of July, it really was the best time to see the vibrant flowers. Looking off of the sheer cliffs, one can see the shimmering sea and the sharp boulders 500 feet below. The ominous drop reminded me of the stories that all of the locals had told me. The stories, although all slightly different, created a central myth that had been passed orally through the generations of local Capri.
Sitting in the shade with gelato in hand, a jaw-dropping view in front of me, and the sweet aroma of the hibiscus and bougainvillea, it is easy to see why people come to Capri and why they stay. The locals have a true sense of purpose and belonging. Here, they understand that the tourists that come here might not understand their culture, but still they are patient and teach those who are willing to learn about their vibrant past and traditions. They understand that they have a fantastical and pristine island, and they are happy to share it with anyone. Even though they could get pulled into the tide of mass tourism, the locals open the gates to this magnificent island with open arms. Every shopkeeper, restaurant owner, and taxi driver holds true to their traditions but are sure to keep an open mind to each individual that comes their way. When in Capri, every visitor who looks deeper will find themselves enriched by the culture of the people.