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The Coward of Capri

Let me begin by pointing out that spending a day on the Mediterranean, lounging on a little jet boat, a little swim time, a little sun time, before exploring the glittering isle of Capri where butterflies and movie stars flock, is pretty much everyone’s idea of a good time.

But I’m not everyone.

This day was planned by the merman I’m married to, and you have to understand that, after his gift of the opera, I was certainly bound to go along with his own anniversary fantasy.

I was terrified.

Standing in the mouth of a volcano, facing off with seafood dinners that had actual eyeballs staring back at you….not a problem. But this trip was not exactly as advertised.

“Includes pick up from your hotel and transfer to the Port of Massa Lubrense,” says the brochure.

Translation: “Our little bus will drive two nautical inches from the Cliffs of Insanity, missing oncoming busses by one. If you scream, we drive faster.”

“Depart to Capri following the Sorrento coastline, stopping at the waterfall of Marciano,” the brochure continues.

Translation: “We will, after sizing up your group, decide to go full throttle across the bay instead, racing for the Blue Grotto. If you flinch, you will fall overboard and we will not circle back for you.”

“At Capri, visit the Blue Grotto, White Grotto, Green Grotto, Wonderful Grotto, Natural Arc…with stops for swimming and snorkeling,” it says.

Translation: “We will arrive at the Blue Grotto and wait for an hour while everyone else who arrived ahead of us proceeds, one at a time, to attempt access to the cave.”

This was no joke. The Blue Grotto has a tiny opening, no larger than a single narrow boat. Said boat can hold four tourists and a pilot. The tourists sit bobsled style on the floor in each others’ laps and when the tide, currents, and boat wakes align to dip low enough and open the cave entrance, they all lie down flat. The pilot gives a mighty push on his oars, ships them, and then lies down flat on TOP of the tourists. As the boat shoots into the crevasse, the pilot grabs a rope that has been strung along the entry and pulls like mad to get into the grotto before the waves lift the boat back up and smashes it into the cave roof.

I sat there watching these little coffins shoot in, perhaps one every ten minutes or so. This is because those inside the grotto must sooner or later fight their way back out and how either side knows who gets the next turn, I have no idea.

There were several large boats full of tourists ahead of us, plus a long line of tourists snaking up the cliff, where the grotto can be found by land.

“It may be a while,” said our professional English speaking skipper, casually, “You have to be ‘in’ with the operators here to get your people into the queue.”

Translation: “My tour company does not have an ‘in’. We can wait all day or move on. Your call.”

We continued around Capri, seeing only three of the advertised five grottos, briefly and from the poopdeck. They were beautiful of course, like La Jolla but missing the seal pups. Finally, within sight of the Natural Arc, we got to stop and jump in the sea.

Translation: “Hubby jumped in the sea. I took the photos.”

I do not get along with any version of water, so you will have to take Hubby’s word for it that the Mediterranean is saltier, more buoyant, and not overly warmer than our Pacific in SoCal. It’s incredibly clear, vivid blue, and contains jellyfish. Which factoid Hubby realized a bit too late and came back on board with sting marks that were red and swollen and peeled twice before healing.

I rest my case.

“Stop on the island for 4-5 hours to explore Capri and Anacapri,” the brochure touts.

Translation: “You get three if you’re lucky. Meet back here on time or…you know the drill.”

Skipper tossed us each a foil-wrapped sandwich for the road.

The harbor of Capri is the most crowded place in Italy. Read that again. We needed to hop on a bus and head directly to the top of the island. We wasted precious time bumping shoulders with heaps of humans trying to do the same. How no one was run over by a little blue bus there, I will never know. Lynette, by the time we found a bus, everyone started looking like George Clooney…


The bus drove straight up. We were not provided with parachutes. It dropped us off at the top of Anacapri and I was faced with my next fear. To get to the tip top, you must sit in a single chair hung by a cable along a lift, for the thirteen longest minutes of your life.

I put a peppermint in my mouth and got on.

I kept my eyes closed, my hands fisted around the thin bar. I shut down my brain. I slowed down my breathing. I held perfectly still and did not care that everyone passing me on the way down would see my cowardice.

Let’s do this.

The air is very thin and quickly there is nothing but dead silence and the soft squeaking of the pulley overhead. Each cable post is a gentle little boost upward and I tried to shrink in on myself. I heard a dog bark, millions of miles below me.

What if I really am a million miles up? What if don’t see the exit coming and it carries me back around again? What if I can’t get the bar to move and I’m stuck? What if the wind picks up?

I cracked my eyes just enough to determine that I was above a tree and about to soar over a ravine.

I slammed my eyes closed just as I heard nervous giggling ahead of me. The lady in the chair in front of me called out to her boyfriend in the chair in front of her: “Hey! Remember that movie we saw when that one guy got stuck on a ski lift and had to climb off?”

Eons later, I heard her call out, “Are we there yet?” The peppermint held back my nausea until the last minute, when I heard the operators at the top of the lift discussing something in animated Italian. I had enough time to peek, take a deep breath, and then launch from my hot seat.

The view from the top of Anacapri is spectacular. Brilliant. We sat on a patio, eating gelato. But deep in my heart, I knew I had to make that return trip.

From near the umbrella pines, I heard a lady quietly sobbing.

“Me, too, kid,” I mumbled, “Me, too.”

But she was crying because she had just been proposed to. And her fiancé was by turns comforting her and laughing with her. I glanced Hubbys way and blessed him for being sensible and proposing to me on a freeway onramp. Actively merging had not kept me from letting him pop the ring on my finger. So romantic.

And at sea level.

The Island of Capri was blooming with small yellow and white flowers. Butterflies danced in every corner and out over the cliffs. Joyful, exuberant in their efforts to extract the most delight from every moment. I took that picture into my mind and got back onto the lift.

When I dared to open my eyes, I was in a place quite close to the ground. A field of flowers were at my feet. It was covered in butterflies. Floating colors swirled around me and off into the sky.

“Look,” they said, “or don’t. We will hold the space for you. You are safe.”

I closed my eyes again, and stayed right there in that little bit of field, watching butterflies dance until I landed at the bottom.

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