Monday, 12 March 2007

Vivian Hsu: Landing in Capri

I got up early on this lovely Sunday morning and I made my way to the "colazione", on the second floor of the Hilton Sorrento Palace. I entered a wide and bright restaurant with a beautiful panorama on the Bay of Naples, but the weather was still cloudy and mist did not allow any far sight. I decided to take a voluptuous cooked breakfast, not knowing when I would have my next meal. As usual in this class of business hotels, everything was just excellent and when I finally had swallowed up mushrooms, bacon, sausage and broiled eggs, I indulged into adding a more continental touch and I made a fair use of some buns and a slice of cake, with some orange juice and a cup of black coffee.

I went back to my room on the fifth floor but I made a short stop at a large window that was open in the hall in front of the lifts. I think I saw some tiny shades of blue above the clouds, something to encourage me to face the greyish waves of the deserted bay. I packed my bag with cereal bars, a plastic bottle of tap water, some sweets,a pullover and my brown cotton scarf. I checked my movie camera and my digital camera, tapes, memories and batteries well displayed and then safely hidden in the numerous pockets of my camera case. I took a few prints that I had prepared, showing some asian angel against the landmarks of the island of Capri. I was ready and I walked out of the hotel like some busy craftsman.

The hydrofoil enters the harbour of SorrentoI had arrived at Sorrento on Saturday and I had spent the afternoon trying to catch the mood and the feel of this busy city with its tourist shops and its narrow streets jammed with noisy cars and Vespa scooters. Leaving my Hotel I had discovered at left hand a steep stairway and a mossy path that led directly to the main street of Sorrento. From there I had followed a sign indicating the historical centre and I had finally arrived at the entrance of a public square, from which the sight and a vertiginous stairway led to the ferry harbour called Marina Piccola. But on Sunday morning the gates of the square were closed with a padlock and I had to find another way down to the harbour. Again stairs and steep mossy paths, and I found myself at the ferry company's, buying a ticket for the hydrofoil that was to arrive at 8:30 am. I watched the departure of a hydrofoil heading to Naples and I struggled to find the right quay for Capri because a heap of gear was hiding the sign of Quay number 2. Finally the hydrofoil glided into the small harbour and I rushed on board in order to be ready to take pictures on the upper deck.


Leaving Sorrento in the early morningThe trip to Capri was expected to take half an hour, but the clouds surrounding the island made any attempt to shoot nice pictures unfruitful while the swell made it hazardous. The sea spray stained my objectives and I failed to notice it in the case of my movie camera. I should admit that I was quite a bit disappointed. The weather forecast had been constantly locked on "sunny" over the last days, but I didn't have any other choice regarding the day for my outing.


The arrival on the island of Capri could have been wonderful: breathtaking cliffs with visible rock falls and uncertain grottoes lead the way to Marina Grande, the main harbour on this hilly island. As the ship was gliding into its dock, my eyes were already looking for the white buildings of Villa San Michele, at the top of the steep cliff of Mount Barbarossa, on the north side of the island. But I had to wait a few minutes for the clouds to be teared by some seaborne breeze.


The very first sight of CapriThe mystery of the cloudy island
The fierce cliffs of CapriClouds coming down on Marina Grande



And as a sudden it was here in front of my eyes, a tiny white spot on the grey mountaintop, with its archs and its twisted columns that only faith could see in such a distance. My heart was beating quickly as I left the ship and as I walked along the pier, my eyes still searching every hole through the cloudy garment of the hill of Anacapri.

Villa San Michele on the mountain top

I first made my way to the beach next to the pier. Having firmly anchored my movie camera on a rock, I began to zoom on this misty edge of the mountain, trying to catch every flash of light emitted by the whitewashed walls. After a while, I decided to take a bus to Anacapri, but a young boy waiting in his line explained that buses would only leave every half an hour in this direction. Too bad: the small orange bus had just left a few minutes before.

I began to walk on the winding road that was leading from Marina Grande to the main crossing of Capri. Looking back to Marina Grande with bored eyes I suddenly realized that I was in front of the Marina with paired street lamps that I had falsely located until now on the larger island of Sicily. It was the first finding of one of the best treasure hunts of my life.
Marina Grande as I saw itMarina Grande as depicted in the photobook




A lovely page from Tianshi XinYou may ask what kind of a game I was playing. A treasure hunt, that's it! The storyboard was written fourteen years ago, probably in early March 1993, when a chinese photographer named Chen Wen Ping took some hundred pictures of an almost unknown taiwanese teenager on the Island of Capri and in Sicily. XU RUO XUAN was the name of this young girl, who used to sing in a group of three girls at the student parties in her country. When the group was disbanded, she accepted proposals to become an actress... but you can easily imagine what kind of movies would make use of unknown and untrained girlies. Discouraged but not in despair, she decided that she would be very selective and that she would let nobody take the responsibility of her appearances.


An edited picture of Miyazawa Rie's Santa Fe photobookChen Wen Ping was attracted by this bold attitude and by the childish beauty of the Austrasian Taiwanese native girl. He managed to show her Miyazawa Rie's Santa Fe photobook. I believe personally that the girl was at first sight shoked by the pictures, but that she gradually admitted that the birthday suit could be as artistic as a wedding gown, provided the surroundings and the atmosphere were not polluted by any reference to intercourse. Asian people are great dreamers and they love planing to get married on scenic islands, like Okinawa, Tahiti... or even Italy, for example in Capri where Brigitte Bardot played for Jean-Luc Godart in The Contempt (Le Mépris)!




Vivian at the door of Villa San MicheleThat is how Vivian Hsu's first photobook Tianshi Xin (Angel Heart, often only referred to as Angel) came into being. Vivian and Wen Chen Ping's crew travelled to Italy in the early spring of 1993, they visited Capri and especially Anacapri, the second largest city on the northern hillside. They took a fair lot of pictures at several locations, both public and private. When they published the book in 1994, the pictures were ranked in disorder, mixed with pictures from Sicily and there wasn't any comment or title on any page. Every distinct reference to the location (street sign, full-sized image of known landmarks) had been removed. Most reviewers of Vivian Hsu's carreer have suggested that the photobook had been shot in Sicily. But on one picture, a name could be read: SAN MICHELE. There are a bunch of San Michele churches or hotels in the world... I might say in the "italian-speaking world".


What happened later is only one of the side-effects of Internet! Xu Rou Xuan opted for a "westernized" stage-name: Vivian Hsu. She became famous in Japan, where her photobook was newly edited and where it sold some 500000 copies! People began to post her pictures on the World Wide Web. In 1997, Wil began to teach tips and tricks about searching the Web to various groups of people and while preparing his lectures, he ran across moving pictures of the young Taiwanese girl. One of his preferred ones was bearing an inscription: "San Michele". He began to search for other pictures, for communities interested in this very fashionable Asian girl... and he became a member of the Collecting Vivian BBS. Hence he found access to books, movies and song albums, mostly through the YesAsia commercial site.


Vivian at Villa San Michele in 1993Then he decided to track down the location of the "San Michele" entrance door. At the beginning, the search was pain-taking, because no indexing of pictures was readily available. But with the WWW improving, it became obvious that "San Michele" was in fact Axel Munthe's Villa in Anacapri on the small island of Capri in midst of the Bay of Naples. Other findings followed (identification of the Casa Rossa, of Piazza Diaz and of Hotel Caesar Augustus). And finally, the teacher was given the opportunity of a study travel to Sorrento, 50 kms south of Naples. And the idea of the Treasure Hunt emerged so easily: I would try to match the pictures from Tianshi Xin with real-life pictures of Anacapri to-day... and that's why I decided to take the hydrofoil early on March 4th 2007, heading to Anacapri.

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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.