Umberto Square is known as the “Piazzetta” for short by Capri locals.
It’s a small square that is full of cafés. They weren’t as ubiquitous before, but on my last visit, you could hardly turn around without bumping into tables or chairs. Even if the municipal hall looking out onto the square weren’t on the second floor, it would be impossible to gain entry for all the tables and chairs, but – between you and me – maybe that might just be for the better.
A number of narrow streets radiate out to the right and the left from the Piazzetta, although it would be generous to actually term any of these as “streets.” On one, after a narrow entry, you’re immediately confronted by stairs; after negotiating them, you turn to the right and find yourself on a “streetling.” I say a “streetling” because it’s so narrow that if two couples coming from opposite directions while walking arm in arm (because it is Capri, after all) ran into each other, one of the pairs would need to bend over to the let the other pass. As you can guess, in terms of motor vehicles, only a motorcycle at most can frequent such areas. Despite this narrowness, there are still shops on both sides of the streetling. After a while, these shops give way to houses with gardens. The whole way from the Piazzetta, you first ascend the stairs before continuing on your way up a steep hill.
You walk on and on… You walk on and on without respite; if you’re used to walking, you’ll go at least half-an-hour. If you don’t frequent your local gym or you’re not particularly enamored with walking, this duration will increase in accordance with your age and weight.
But you know where you’re going: Le Grotelle, a small, family-run restaurant. That’s all well and good, but who in their mind would have the bright idea of opening a restaurant in a place so far away that’s not accessible by car? Who would traipse this far along just for some grub?
After dragging yourself huffing and puffing up the hill, you finally come to an open-air restaurant on the edge of town. But what on earth is that? It’s an impossibly cute “guinguette” inside a forest that is close to the Arco Naturale. Bougainvillea surrounds the tables at the restaurant, located on one of Capri’s highest hills. Looking down from the craggy rocks is not for the faint of heart. Before you lies the deep-blue Mediterranean extending all the way to the Sorrento coast – a view that is impossible to resist. Shortly after beholding this beauty, the light will fade; if you’re lucky (and we were), there in front of you might be a crimson full moon of the type known as a “Luna Rosso” in song. Words fail such beauty. All you want is for the wine to come immediately, and even looking through the wine list is a distraction from the sight before you.
“A bottle of white from the Campania region, please.”
A Faranghina comes. Produced on the island, it’s been cooled to just the right temperature. As you take your first sips, you feel a wave of relief wash over you; nothing remains of the fatigue from the journey or, indeed, of anything else. Toward 9.30, the restaurant is completely full. Soon, you’re embarrassed that you ever deigned to think of “who in their mind would have the bright idea of opening a restaurant in a place so far away that’s not accessible by car.” Those coming to assume their places at the table first salute the chef standing at attention next to the wood-fire oven, addressing him by name, or, in some cases, embracing him. After that, they return to their own private worlds, full of laughter, mirth and boisterous conversation. Soon, you’re also enveloped in this atmosphere, joining the conversation with those at the tables to your right and left.
We enjoyed some really great food here. And after having an “orata” (gilt-head bream) cooked in the wood-fire oven, we understood why everyone else was embracing and saluting the chef.
The only thing missing on this night of the full moon was someone to sing Neapolitan songs accompanied by a mandolin. When the owner came to our table, I noted this oversight, humming the part from Peppino di Capri’s famous song about the full moon that goes “o luna luna… Luna Caprese.” Not one to sit on the sidelines, the owner also joined in, picking up and carrying on the tune. And as if on cue, wouldn’t the other tables all join in, too? Raising a collective glass to the full moon in Capri, the whole garden sang “Luna Caprese” (Full Moon in Capri) in unison.
Everything was truly wonderful…
The way there had taken so much out of us… We ascended the stairs and then outlasted the hill, but everything was worth it for this magnificence.
Can you say, what thing of beauty is easy to attain?
As he was sending us off, the owner whispered in my ear:
“Signore, what would you like to sing tomorrow night?”
I whispered in his ear in return:
“Look at me,” I said. “Forget about singing solo, they even kicked me and my crow-like voice out of the school choir. If I start singing, how much are you willing to pay to keep my mouth shut? Tell me that!”