The Casa Rossa (or Red House) in Anacapri, in the province of Naples, peaks through the memories recorded by Alberto Savinio – a master of Italian literature, although he was born in Athens, Greece – in what became the “Capri” collection, published in 1988 by Adelphi.
“Gray sky. Great clouds sweep the top of Mount Solaro. On the road that cuts through Anacapri, I look for the passage going up the mountain. Past Santa Sofia, I discover a red house, a mix of Moorish and Byzantine stiles. The inscription above the entrance welcomes me, ‘Hello, inhabitant of Apragopoli’. The emperor was right: there I was, elected honorary citizen of the city of idleness.”
“Apragopoli”, meaning “city of sweet idleness” (or ‘dolce far niente’ in Italian) was the name Suetonius gave Capri in “The Twelve Caesars”, when writing about the retirement of Emperor Augustus on the small island.
In his book, Savinio meets a man who explains that the “house belonged to a former English colonel, who wanted to turn it into a museum. That’s why the courtyard is full of potsherds, maimed statues, and sarcophagi.” Through a window on the ground floor, Savinio sees “two old women, dressed in black, still, quiet, as if they were keeping watch over a dead body. But who is the deceased? Let’s not inconvenience the secrets of a retired English colonel. Especially since his retirement is great, and eternal.”
In fact, colonel John Clay MacKowen was American, not English. The house he had built in the late 1800s is still a museum, displaying archaeological finds as well as some splendid paintings from the 19th century.
And idleness remains a beautiful surprise at the Red House in Anacapri.