Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Vivian Hsu: Farewell to Capri

Piazza Vittoria and Mount Barbarossa

When I had arrived at Marina Grande in the morning, I had almost decided not to venture on Mount Solaro because of the mist and the clouds that were covering the island. It was impossible even to see the mountains and the Villa San Michele itself was playing "hide and seek". But as the hours had passed, the beautiful weather forecasted by the Tourist Office had indeed replaced the grey veils. As I was standing near the road to Piazza Vittoria, I could see clearly the ruins on Mount Barbarossa and the radio mast a little farther on the edge of the cliffs. Therefore I decided that I would go and see the view from Mount Solaro. This is the highest mountain top on the island (589 meters), facing Mount Tiberio (only 339 meters) on the other side of the city of Capri.

The ride uphill to Mount SolaroThe meadows under the chairlift

On Piazza Vittoria, where the buses and the cabs pour out their custmers, there is a chairlift station on top of a building on the right. People were already queuing up there in order to make the best of the nice weather in the evening. As a matter of fact, it was nearly closing time for the uphill ride and I was a little bit anxious given the number of adults and children that were standing on the stairs. Finally I could enter the start zone, but the employees wanted me to leave my bags for safety reasons. I had a bag with food and drinks on my back and the case of my movie camera on the shoulder. As the next seat was arriving quickly they decided to let me go, but I can tell you that I was extremely cautious while putting the metal shutter into place. And so I went uphill... It was not really comfortable, but the chairlift was not very high over the gardens and the grasslands

Lemons and oranges in the gardenA young chinese and her lemons (Vivian's photobook)

The ride to the peak of Mount Solaro is about twenty minutes long. I could only make limited moves, clicking once on my digital camera, once on my movie camera without really focusing on anything special. With my glasses useless for short sight, I would have been helpless without the automatic settings. It would be a real miracle under these circumstances if some of the shots were successful. We were slowly climbing along the slopes of Mount Solaro between the path for pedestrians and the gardens that were enjoying the early springtime with a carpet of flowers and these lemon trees and orange trees that can be found everywhere on Capri as on the peninsula of Sorrento. Lemons are really the trademark of Capri and I remembered immediately one of the most charming pictures of Vivian Hsu's photobook, where she is holding some of these big lemons that are used to make the Limoncello, the well-known lemon liquor celebrated in Sorrento and Capri.

The view on the Sorrentine peninsula

As I was getting close to the summit, the sea began to surround the island on as many sides that I could see from my seat. The arrival is always a bit rough, because the cable never stops. But I landed safely on the floor and I began to climb the few stairs leading to the terrace. The view from this spot is amazing and I thanked God that the clouds had gone. The peninsula of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast were closing the horizon. The panorama could have included Naples and the Vesuvius, but it was still a bit dizzy in the distance. Capri, the city that I had dispised the whole day long, was laying peacefully in front of me and at a short distance of the western cliffs, the Faraglioni rocks were peaking out of the blue water. These rocks are the major landmark of Capri and they say that lovers would be blessed with luck if they kiss each other while sailing through the arch of the biggest of these rocks. With the last ride downhill only half an hour ahead, I rushed through the ruins of the old french fortress in order to catch the most beautiful views before the sunset.

Capri and Mount Tiberio

The Faraglioni

And again I was standing in the queue waiting for the chairlift... and again it wasn't really comfortable, since I had the impression that on going downhill we were higher up in the air... But in this direction, it was possible to take aerial views of Anacapri and I concentrated my mind on finding Piazza Diaz and the Casa Rossa in my viewfinder. After some twenty minutes I had arrived at Piazza Vittoria and I landed harmless with my bags and cameras.

The view on Anacapri

Now was the time to take my bus down to Marina Grande if I was to reach Sorrento with one of the last hydrofoils. I had to wait a long time though, all the buses were going or were coming from Capri and the small orange bus to Anacapri had probably left a few minutes before I had landed. I started to talk with the other tourists waiting at the bus stop. A young couple was obviously coming from Bavaria and I had a few words in german with them. Another man joined the conversation, his strong accent betrayed his swiss origin. I switched over to swiss german and we talked about the great day that we had had in Capri.

The view on the harbour from the busThe steep and narrow road to Anacapri

I don't know how we managed to climb into the small bus when it stopped, but the real miracle happened at each bend in the steep road down to Marina Grande. The horn was used to the full in order to clear the way and to scare off the drivers that had been intending to get up to Anacapri. All of us were relieved when we arrived at the harbour and our first steps out of the bus were more like zigzaging along the piers.

Farewell to the Isle of Capri

The hydrofoil arrived from Sorrento half an hour later and we enjoyed the sunset behind the isle of Capri first, then on the bay of Naples as the boat was turning towards the Sorrentine peninsula. It was quite a long farewell to Capri, to Anacapri and to the memories of the young chinese girl named Xu Ruo Xuan or Vivian Hsu.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Vivian Hsu: The Emperor and the Maiden

While I was leaving Axel Munthe's Villa, a group of tourists was standing nearby listening to the vivid stories of a polyglot travel guide. He was talking so loud that I couln't help but hear what he was saying. He made a colourful narration of the life of the first Roman Emperors, who used to build palaces on the Isle of Capri, because they would not trust their own army in Rome. He talked about Tiberius and his habit to spend only one night with each maiden that he would choose, only to have her thrown down the cliff in the morning in order to keep his independance. This kind of "livid tales of cruelty" are titbits for tourists, whose screams are like a prophecy of good earnings. It is true that rumors about a "Tiberius fall" circle around Villa Jovis, on the other side of the island, but the tale of the maiden seems to come out directly from the Thousand and One Nights (the historian Suetonius had his own urban legends).

The statue at the entrance of AnacapriChen Wen-Ping's tiny picture

On arriving at the entrance of Anacapri, I had seen for a second a statue of a Roman Emperor that I had already spotted on the Web. In the Japanese edition of Vivian Hsu's first photobook "Angel" (chinese Tianshi Xiang), there is a tiny picture on the acknowlegements' page showing the Taiwanese singer leaning against a Statue in front of a scenic landscape of sea and island. The place is actually located inside the grounds of a palace for tourists, the Hotel Caesar Augustus. I decided to walk back to this place in order to do some shooting for a forthcoming movie involving Capri. I went through a very narrow path, coming down from Mount Barbarossa. It displayed evidence of some mud streams having used this way down during the rainy winter season. Having arrived on the main street used by the buses coming from Marina Grande, I turned to the right and started to go downhill. A few steps later, I saw the gate of the Hotel. I didn't have any valid reason to venture into the property and I decided to go back to the place where I had seen the statue from the bus.

And suddenly the statue was in front of me, at the very edge of a large terrace. The place wasn't crowded, because the tourist season had not begun. I could take pictures through the holes in the fence and I shot some sequences with my movie camera. The road is quite narrow and it is dangerous to walk on either side. They have built a few shelter areas for pedestrians on the way down to Marina Grande. I made a stop at one of these shelters, and I enjoyed the view on Hotel Caesar Augustus and the statue from that point. I had a breathtaking outlook on the cliff on which the hotel had been built and a scenic view on the sea stretching as far as the peninsula of Sorrento.

The Emperor on the terrace of Hotel Caesar AugustusA breathtaking view on the sea belowThe Hotel and the cliff

While I was checking every aspect of the terrace, I suddenly understood why Vivian looked so unhappy on the picture with the statue. Because she is not exactly a tall girl, the technical crew had asked her to climb on a restaurant table that had been pushed against the statue. She was in a rather dangerous position and was awfully scared, maybe even overcome by vertigo. Did she ever hear something about "Tiberius fall"?

This reminded me of a few other pictures of the photobook where she looked unhappy. Dispite of the success of Tianshi Xiang, I believe that this first trip to Italy with Chen Wen-Ping didn't leave to our young girlie only good memories. She was rather brave and she showed her commitment and her trustworthiness by accepting to keep her promises, to fulfill her pledges and to honour her contract in spite of the unforeseen difficulties or embarrassments.

A scary location for a Tiberius fall

By now the clouds had almost disappeared and the blue sky was surrounding the old ruins of the fortress of Mount Barbarossa on the very edge of the mountain. After a morning of doubt and disappointment due to the misty weather, I really enjoyed this mild afternoon. In the first days of March, this favourable weather was quite a miracle.

The view from Hotel Caesar Augustus
The ruins on Mount Barbarossa and the edge of the cliff over Capri

My thoughts went back to the young chinese girl named Vivian Hsu. She had been there in spring, probably not so early in the year. She had probably spent at least one night at Hotel Caesar Augustus, since the terrace can only be accessed by customers. And the hotel doesn't seem to open its restaurant to the general public. But it is also possible that things had changed over the years. Only the beautiful view remained for sure. In selecting the pictures for her photobook, the photographer removed as many clues as possible regarding the location and the surrounding landmarks. He probably thought that nobody would take the time to give a close look to the tiny picture on the last page of such a marvellous collection of teenager pictures. And who knows Anacapri in Asia?

The safe version of Vivian's appearanceWhy Anacapri

The question is: why Anacapri? Vivian Hsu's first photobook includes pictures from Sicily (I have identified undoubtedly places in Messina, Palermo and Cefalu) and from the Isle of Capri. There is a slight possibility that a few pictures have been shot in the hilly wheat-growing area of Tuscany or Campania and in the Solfatare, a very peculiar volcano near Naples (Pozzuoli). What attracted Vivian or her photographer to Anacapri? That remains a mystery to me!

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Testing Webshots slideshow link

I've been a longtime user of Webshots, but to-day, I will try to post an embedded slideshow that they provide. Let's see what it is worth...

Friday, 30 March 2007

Vivian Hsu: Where shadows and sunlight meet

The path leading to Scala FeniciaThe colonnade of Villa San Michele

I had a few cereal bars in my bag and a bottle of tap water. I would not spend my time waiting in a restaurant. There were some benches at the top of the Scala Fenicia and I thought that I would not find another terrace like this one, with a beautiful view on Marina Grande and the sea. The last clouds were struggling on the rocky slopes of the island's mountains. Sometimes I could see the city of Capri near the cliff of Capodimonte, but a cloud would come down with a dark shade and hide the houses and the roofs again.

The last clouds fighting over Marina GrandeOn the top of Scala FeniciaThe last steps of Scala Fenicia

When I had finished my simple meal, I stepped down the stairs of Scala Fenicia in order to take the picture of the Chapel of San Michele and the auburn sphinx that seemed to be looking at me. I found the right angle towards the rocks that would show similar to the picture in the photobook.

The sphinx and the Chapel seen from Scala FeniciaThe Chapel of San Michele in vivian Hsu's photobook

And while I was climbing up again, I dreamed again of this lovely chinese girl in her wedding gown. But I knew that I would not meet her here to-day. Dreams, only dreams, because she was living in my thoughts more genuinely that she had ever lived here.

The cliff of CapodimonteDaydreaming about a white wedding gown

I was again standing in front of the main door of Villa San Michele. I bought a ticket and was left alone by the warden who would stay in his office. I found myself immediately on well-known ground because there are so many pictures of the small museum on the Web that you cannot but recognize the vessels and statutes that are shown on each and every holliday report of tourists in Campania: the barking dog from Pompei with the words Cave Canem (Beware of the dog) is included in most latin text-books in the world and the green statute of Hercules at the entrance of the garden belongs to the most well-known images of the demigod. But it is indeed a pleasure to see all these items packed in a very small house where the windows glow in each room as if they were the eyes of the sun.

The main door of Villa San MicheleThe inner yardHercules' gallery

The garden is not very large either, but it uses cleverly the principle of multi-roofed planting. Flowers grow in the shadow of bushes, that receive the protection of fruit trees, themselves overshadowed by high palm trees. Invisible brooks run under the meadows and their murmur unites with the singing exercises of the birds.

The colonnade
Behind the houseThe Chapel of San Michele

The Chapel and its sphinx is at the opposite corner of the garden, far from the house, above the end point of the colonnade. It seems to be some hiding place for the celebrated bachelor while the maids were preparing the meals. The sphinx is at the edge of a gallery outside the chapel and he has a breathtaking view on the sea shore and on Marina Grande. When the clouds are showing some good will, the peninsula of Sorrento appears with majesty like a queen in the dance hall.

Inside the ChapelThe Chapel's galleryThe auburn sphinx

In one sense, I was sad because I had not found the right white colonnade that shows up behind our beloved Vivian in her first photobook. But I was priviledged to see one of the most beatiful properties on the island of Capri, one with no large blue swimming pool but one with a soul, with the remembrance of happy days and a useful life. And this thought brought me back to my Angel, Vivian Hsu, whose life is not only oriented towards success and money, but is also devoted to her family and to her friends and fans. She is no medical doctor, of course, but she brings happiness and good will wherever she goes. With her angelic smile, she will be associated in my memory with Villa San Michele by stronger ties than if she had posed in each and every room of this estate.

The feeling of a presence

If you would like to see the most recent pictures of Anacapri and San Michele, please feel free to click here.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Vivian Hsu: The house on the edge of the hill

A sign on painted tilesAxel Munthe in his garden

If you spend a day in Anacapri, you cannot escape or you'll have visited Axel Munthe's Villa San Michele. Whereas this estate does not really belong to the history of the island, it became really a part of it given the character of the man who had it built on the edge of the hill. For several years Doctor Munthe was the only medical doctor on the island and when the Queen Victoria of Sweden fell in love for this lonely rock in the midst of the Bay of Naples, he became the physician watching over her royal health. When he became famous for his autobiography - or the autobiography of his Villa - he spent his money in the foundation of a shelter for birds on Mount Barbarossa. His eagle's nest became the cradle of harmony where the light of the brightest sun encounters the moving shadow of the palm trees in the garden and the song of birds and secret wells.

Some kind of a museumThe sphinx watching over Marina Grande

Villa San Michele is surely not one of these private houses of the rich men, although it is like a palace decorated with beautiful old furniture. It is not really a museum of the community, although the roman and egyptian remains exposed and inserted in its walls are truly graphic records of past history. It is no more a lonely italian Chapel although the sphinx watches the sea as if to protect some shrine or some holy place.

The bus station at Piazza VittoriaShops and restaurants in the narrow laneAmazing big lemon fruit

It was shortly after twelve o'clock when I left Piazza Diaz. I walked quickly in the direction of Piazza Vittoria and there I found near the bus stop a painted tile showing the way to Villa San Michele. Outside the door of a shop, big lemon fruits were displayed in a basket, together with grapes. The narrow lane was climbing slowly on the lower slopes of Mount Barbarossa and walls of well-shut estates were guiding my feet in the warmth of high noon. I passed the door of some Axel Munthe Foundation and along some property of the Counsulate of Sweden. I crossed several chinese students, probably a tourist group visiting the island. None of them seemed to know that he was following the steps of Xu Ruo Xuan, an Angel called vivian Hsu.

Tourists on Via CapodimonteThe house with the lion

I had arrived at the main entrance of Villa San Michele. I immediately recognized the doorframe and the old greek capitals on both sides of the door.

The main door of Villa San Michele (collage)Villa San Michele in Vivian Hsu's photobook

There was already a group of people sitting in front of the entrance: they were discussing about the price of the visit. I didn't care and I started to make plans for my own inspection of the premises.

The mysterious white colonnadeI was looking precisely for several locations where pictures had been shot with Vivian Hsu. I was to go round the estate, searching for a wall topped by a colonnade that I had found on an italian web-site. Obviously there was some colonnade just ahead, but the wall was not white-washed as on the web-picture or in the photobook. And no white arcade could be seen at this place. And the path was leading to Scala Fenicia and down to the whirling road, but there was no way to walk around the property. The sphinx was laughing at me, on the window ledge, up in the air, behind the chapel with the wrong arcade... I tried to walk round the building by the other side, but it was not much easier. I landed on a stairway climbing up Mount Barbarossa towards the Bird shelter. And a fierce fence reminded me that I aught to behave like a guest, not like an explorer.

The colonnade of Villa San MicheleThe mocking sphinx

And I found myself at the main entrance again. I had been unsuccessful. And actually when I had a close look at the picture of Vivian Hsu in front of Villa San Michele, I realised that the door was closed behind her. Did she ever get into Villa San Michele? She could give the answer, if it is not too far away in her memory. But as far as I know, there is no clue that she ever entered Villa San Michele. She had been invited into Casa Rossa, and some "Angel" shooting had occured in a lonesome yard where nobody never ventured. But here at Villa San Michele, her fame may have preceded her and she was perhaps not welcome. I asked the warden, an Italian man some forty years old, if he knew where I could find the white wall with the colonnade. He seemed upset - with no reason - and told me that it might be just anywhere on the island in a private estate. I was discouraged and hungry. I decided that I would have lunch before visiting the Villa San Michele... because I had a secret hope that once inside the house, I would recognize the location despite the warden's testimony.

About Me

I could be one of the last mutineers of the Bounty, with my eyes enlighted by the wealth of nature and the grace of God the Creator, amidst a large family where hope plays the part of affluence. ***** Un des derniers révoltés du Bounty, les yeux illuminés par la richesse de la nature et la grâce de Dieu, au milieu d'une famille nombreuse où l'espoir joue le rôle de l'opulence.