I first came here in November 1995; I had just won some money in a short-story competition, and because I was thinking of maybe writing something about Pompeii (it would turn out to be my first novel), my partner and I came to visit the remains and look in the mouth of the volcano. One day on a whim we caught the ferry from Sorrento to Capri, where Gracie Fields and Graham Greene had both lived, which was pretty much all I knew about it. We arrived in the Marina Grande, small and excitingly ramshackle. There was a funicular railway running up the side of the mountain, so we got on. Then we boarded a bus which took us up a ribbon of road too small for a bus and let us off in a tiny white village square. We followed our noses down a shop-lined road, and came to a Moorish-looking building. In we went – by chance exactly 100 years after Munthe bought the land from Master Vincenzo, the carpenter.
[….] It’s as if the air is electrically alive with it. It’s like hearing your own ear waken. I move back into the study for a moment. A lot of people walk past me – one of the curious things about the Villa San Michele is that although it’s pretty busy, nothing feels crowded – and I listen, first to the birdsong at the back of everything, then to what the people say, in all the languages, every time the house springs its surprise of openness and light on them. Oh. Look.
That’s what it’s like to visit the Axel Munthe Museum. You walk through a hall, a kitchen, a bedroom, a study, a place to live that’s lined and scattered with fragments of art, junk, beauty, history. Then you find yourself on a path that gets lighter and lighter; then art, junk, history, home, trees, stone, leaves and sky all shift together on the edge of a view so open that it renews the very word “view” itself. I’m laughing at my own inadequacy, at the inadequacy of memory, but most of all at how cunning this place is, making you open your eyes, ears, senses, leading you through from space to open space until finally you hit it, it hits you – a kind of blue infinity, an epitome of openness.
Ali Smith, ‘The Wings of Capri: Villa San Michel’.
There is a stillness and silence in the air up here, that is quite unlike any other I’ve ever encountered elsewhere.
Although this may not be the same view, as described, from Villa San Michele, but it certainly is about as close as it gets to looking at infinity, I’d say.