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!

About Me

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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.