When we arrived in Capri’s jam-packed central piazza, it looked like any other Italian main square. But as we made our way outside the center of town, the scenery grew more beautiful and the tourists scarcer. We stumbled onto a set of stairs that led into a cool, dark restaurant called 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. I 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 explained that he had to ask the owners to speak with us.
The two owners were young brothers, Marco and Mavro. Marco, who had heard of National Geographic, eagerly called his brother Mavro. In rapid Italian, he introduced me to regular patrons, the staff, and Solo, an aged man who swore that Villa Verde made the best pizza in town. Over steaming hot slices, Marco and Mavro explained that they had lived in Capri their whole lives. Being relatively young, they had never seen Capri without its throngs of tourists. Reflecting on their childhood, they told us that they left for Rome when they turned seventeen. These days, they come back in the summer to run the restaurant. Marco handles the management, 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,”—an old proverb in the Neapolitan dialect that translated to “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 their 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 guided us to a picture of the shop in 1886 that showed the founder, 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 joy in our hearts and cold gelato in our hands.
Next we stepped into a cool, dark shop called Laboratorio. Owned by Michele, the clothes reflected old Capri—the one that was undiscovered by Hollywood and untouched by tourists. 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 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. A nearby local florist recommended a beautiful viewpoint to see one of 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 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 tourists might not understand their culture, but still happily 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. Every shopkeeper, restaurant owner, and taxi driver holds true to their traditions, but is 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.