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capri cafes
on the hunt for the authentic experience

by Susan Van Allen
(return to Campania)

It�s CAH-pree, not Ca-PREE,� my Italian tutor corrected me. So for weeks before my trip, at dinner parties with friends in Los Angeles, I threw �I�m going to CAH-pree� into conversations. �CAH-pree� got raised eyebrows as if I�d said, �Pass the potAH-toes,� but I didn�t care. I prided myself on being a savvy traveler, educated and prepared for the authentic Italian experience.

But when I finally landed in Capri�s famous piazetta, my status as a discerning traveler was immediately put to the test. Tour books call this chic spot �The living room of Capri,� and recommend visitors sit at one of the cafes to relax and watch the world go by. But which caffe? I scoured my books for a recommendation, but found nothing. All four had the same rattan tables and chairs, same attentive waiters identically dressed in cream colored jackets, same prices. Only the names were different. The skeptic in me took over: one of these must be where the locals go to chuckle at the visitors who have chosen poorly, those who say �Ca-PREE.�.

My traveling pal, Meredith, too thirsty to care, said �Look, they�ve got different color tablecloths. Let�s pick our favorite color.� She sat herself at Il Piccolo Bar (the green one), and ordered a limoncello.

But I, not about to be taken, headed down a maze of alleys. Eureka, locals! Two men in caps driving a rickety cart full of lemons� surely they would give me the scoop. With twinkling eyes they answered: �All the same. Different owner.� I got the exact same answer from the almond eyed girl in the tabacchi and the gelato seller. Did the Tourist Board give them this script?

Finally I cornered a gold-toothed woman pushing a laundry cart. She gave me a deep warm stare, chuckled at my wrinkled brow and kindly slipped me her version of �the goods�: Il Piccolo Bar (the green one) is the oldest, where the waiters from all the restaurants drink; Il Gran Caffe is for the rich; Il Tiberio for the young, and Caffe Caso, my nephew owns. But the truth, she said, �All the same.� She squeezed my hand and turned me back to the piazetta with, �Non preocupparti (Don�t worry) Enjoy Capri.�

Back at Il Piccolo, Meredith was smiling and waving. Did we belong there with the waiters� or with the rich, the young, the nephew? It didn�t seem to matter as I dropped my shoulder bag full of books, sat down and took a cool sip of limoncello. I stared up at the big blue cloudless sky, inhaled the blossom scented air, let the music of laughter and languages from all corners of the world wash over me and realized� There are some places where it actually is all good. A few more sips of limoncello, and what the locals call: �Il dolce far niente,� the sweetness of doing nothing� took over.

No rights or wrongs, no worries � the authentic Italian experience I had traveled six thousand miles for had begun� in a place where there is no place for skepticism.


About the Author
* Campania Region
* Campania Guide
* Mt. Vesuvius and I
* Campania Cooking School
* Shap out if it!
* Capri Cafes
* Miracle in Naples
* Pompeii
* Neopolitan Cuisine
* What do you know about Campania?
* More Italian regions...
Susan Van Allen, a Los Angeles based writer, has written for the sit com �Everybody Loves Raymond� and about her travels in Italy for National Public Radio�s �Savvy Traveler,�, and other publications. Her grandmother immigrated from Molise, and her grandfather from Potenza. She travels to Italy often to visit relatives and enjoy all the country has to offer.


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