This previous summer wasn’t my first time traveling to Italy, but perhaps it was the most affirming. After nearly a month of touring from Venice, to Florence, to Roma, our trip was finally ending with five days on Capri, which many call The Island of Dreams. It has also been known as an Island of Exiles, famously including the poet Pablo Neruda.
Capri, Neruda, and The Captain’s Verses
After denouncing Chilean President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla for his violent repression of the 1947 miners’ uprising, Neruda lived in Capri in exile. There he wrote The Captain’s Verses and published anonymously in 1952. It is my favorite book of love, erotic, and political poetry, and it was exciting to see the place that sheltered him to create such beauty in a dark time.
Neruda never expected The Captain’s Verses to become such a sensation, and did not publish it under his own name for a decade. Based on my experience, Capri offers unexpected good fortune to others who visit it, too.
Our ferry from Naples docked right as the sun was slipping beneath the horizon. We had arrived on Capri, ready for a final adventure to end a lovely holiday. And if at that moment you had told me I would become an international model over the course of our five-day trip, I would not have believed you.
The Right Question at the Right Time
To clarify, I am not an international model in the strictest sense, but three of my four younger brothers and I did find a way to model for Italian suitmaker Isaia while staying on Capri.
The events unfolded after meeting up with family friends, Dwayne and Terese Clarke, owners of Aegis Living, at the Capri Isaia store. Isaia has crafted suits for Dwayne “The Rock Johnson, Alexander Rodriguez, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. My brothers and I all wanted to manifest our way into gorgeous, ‘needle and thread’ Italian suits.
At this point, we faced a fundamental hurdle: the suit’s prices reflect the care, materials, and workmanship required to create an Isaia suit. Being that we are all college students and work only part-time, that isn’t in our price range.
In a moment of brilliant resolve, my brother Ben turned to Giulia, the lovely general manager of the Capri store and said with playful confidence, “If you ever need four models, we’d be happy to help out.”
Maybe because it was a gorgeous day in July, and maybe it was because my brothers and I were ooing and awing at the merchandise, but Giulia made an offer we couldn’t refuse: If we wore Isaia’s newest T-shirts (showing CEO Gianluca Isaia sporting a brown suit and red glasses) and ‘cat-walked’ around Capri, among the tourists in the other boutique shops, she would let us keep the shirts
It didn’t take the four of us long to agree to the deal and start our rounds of the shopping district.
The center of activity in Capri (both Capri the town and Capri the island) is the famous Piazza Umberto Primo, also known as La Piazzetta. It is completely surrounded by boutiques and bistros, beneath the soaring towers and arches of Chiesa di Santo Stefano. The cathedral’s complex was built up in the 17th and 18th centuries, on the site of a medieval Benedictine convent. (The aforementioned church tower is all that remains of it above ground today.) Capri is full of ancient sites and treasures, but La Pizzaetta is so central to it all, an official guide to finding them (see it online) uses it as its starting point for each destination, taking you along the many historic streets of the town.
The four of us walked confidently down those island streets—trying our best to “look the part.” We were convincing enough that we were asked to be in a bridal photo shoot while in the main square, where Francesco Scognamiglio’s Fall 2018 fashion show would happen later that day. We also made a point to be seen by the always busy bars and cafes, such as Al Piccolo Bar, the first bar established in La Piazzetta and a hub for fashionable cafe culture.
After several hours of strutting down every opulence-laden street, my brothers and I were invited to meet Gianluca Isaia himself, who graciously thanked us. Gianluca and Giulia were generous and kind. Isaia’s social media began reposting our photos on their Instagram stories, corroborating the stories we would tell about the adventure and affirming our feelings of super-model status.
Our time as models was short and sweet. Giulia’s deal gave us a chance to step into a position that requires confidence, and just by playing the part, I walked away genuinely feeling more confident, especially when I wear that shirt (now my favorite shirt).
Which means that Capri is now the source of some of my favorite poems AND threads.
Back to Neruda. His time on Capri was not so short, but the ending was quite sweet. The Captains Verses were inspired by his lover Matilde Urrutia, whom he finally married fourteen years later, after the book was finally published under his name. It certainly contributed to him winning the Nobel prize for Literature in 1971, as well.
Reading certain lines from The Captain’s Verses, it seems that Neruda could have been anywhere in the world. It would always be beautiful with Matilde by his side.
There are countries, there are rivers,
in your eyes,
my country is your eyes,
I walk through them,
they light the world
through which I walk,
Until next time, Capri.