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.

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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.