Joanne Sasvari

You can hav your, Ibiza, your Santorini, your Maui, your St. Burt's.
I'll take Capri.
I'll take its retro glamour, its spectacular beauty, its gracious people, its frivoulos, excessive, hedonistic reputation and the whiff of scandal that mingles with the cleaner scents of lemon and myrtle.
If I could, I'd be sitting in the Piazzetta right now, sipping a glass of sparkling wine and watching the fabulous people go by.
"All the world pass through here", observes Adriana di Fiore, whose family owned shop has had a prime spot in the Piazzetta, formally known as Piazzetta Umberto I, Capri Town's main square, since 1906.
Or I'd be riding along the narrow, winding roads in Paolo De Gregorio's taxi, a convertibile cherry red 1960 Fiat Presidente.
We'd swoop between the herbs and oleander, past the restaurants of Capri Town, down to the riot of brightly coloured beach umbrellas and back up along the scary cliff road to historic Anacapri, skimming by the famous Blue grotto, where the tourists line up.
"There are two things about Capri", Paolo shouts over the rush of wind. "Beautiful view and no crime."
Or maybe I'd be at the Buca di Bacco, dining on chef Serafina Alberino's "cucina della semplicità," perhaps an insalata caprese, some local fish and glass of Capri Blu, the intoxicating local white wine. "We distinguish ourselvels for our hospitality and kidness," Alberino says.
Yes. All in all, I'll take Capri.
It is a Mediterranean Avalon, a mystic isle where, if the Fates were just, good hedonists would go when they died.
Now, after a couple of decades as little more than a whistle stop on the package tour marathon of Europe, Capri is, fabulously, fashionable again.
Designer shops are flowering like the bougainvillaea that tumbles down the steep slopes of Monte Solaro. Celebrities are once again posing attractively in the Piazzetta. And, on a summer afternoon, the waters of Marina Grande and Marina Piccola are so crowded with white yachts, it looks like the scattering of icing sugar on storta caprese.
Capri (properly pronounced kahapree) is a fourbysevenkilometre rocky outcrop on the edge of the Bay of Naples. If you stand on the ferry dock in Naples itself, gazing past the Sorrento peninsula and Mount Vesuvius on your left and the islands of Ischia and Procida on your right, Capri is straight ahead, a misty, purple smudge on the horizon.
Capri, it seems, has two of everything, including its reputation. It has two hills, two towns (Capri and Anacapri), two harbours, two worldfamous attractions (the Blue Grotto and the Faraglioni rocks) and two versions of almost every story.
It has a great reputation for artificialsty and excess: the celebrities, the orgies, the frivolity and the hint of delirious, decadent evil. "A gossipy, villastricken, twohumped chunk of limestone, amicrocosm that does heaven much credit, but mankind none at all," the writer D.H. Lawrence once described it Capri is also known for its great natural beauty its caverns and grottoes and soaring conical peaks its neat villas and riotous gardens and for the graciousness, tolerance and artlessness of the 13,000 yearround residents.
Until the celebrity invasion of the 1950s and '60s, Capri's most famous resident was the Emperor Tiberius, who lived here from AD 27 to 37. His story, too, has two versions.
According to one, Tiberio took refuge on Capri from the corruption of Rome to build his sa magnificent villas, study astronomy and design the blueprint for western civilization. The other tale is that he lived a life of hedonism, seducing young boys in his private orgy room, the Blue Grotto, and hurling those who displeased him from a 300metrehigh cliff while boatmen below beat them with oars as they plunged into the sea.
After Tiberio's death, the island was left largely to the locals and to the goats, the "capre" for which it is named. Then, in i8al,a couple of German painters, August Kopisch and Ernest Fries, "rediscovered" the Blue Grotto.
Since then, this has been the chosen destination of poets, artists, aristocrats, sybarites, fashion designers, celebrities and the paparazzi who follow them.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald honeymooned here. Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Lenin planned the Russian Revolution here, at the Villa Krupp. Sophia Loren and Clark Gable made movies here. A young local woman named Andria di Fiore was inspired by the caprese fishermen's trousers to design the first capri pants. Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill arrived, hiding from the paparazzi behind oversized sunglasses. A young local man named Costanzo Ruocco handmade their caprese sandais. Brigitte Bardot, Liz Taylor, Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra were all here at one time.
Today, a visitor might catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Hurley, Rod Stewart, Julia Roberts or Linda Evangelista, along with such famous Italians as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Ferragamo dynasty.
But the average visitor doesn't stay long enough to see anything but the Blue Grotto, the Faraglioni rocks and the view from the funicular from Marina Grande to Capri Town.
It is a shame: There is so much to see here, where history mingles with whimsy.
"Capri is done as museum so everyone want to see, to look one time hi his life," says Elio Sica, head of the Tourism Board of Capri.
Phoenicians, Greeks and Saracens, Romana and Romantics each swept through the island, each of them leaving some sort of mark on the island, culinary, architectural or cultural.
"Capri is little in appearance, but is very large, too," says Sica, and he talks of making "the two ways of tourism work for the island," encouraging more people to stay inits 35 hotels and encouraging those who only visit for the day to use electronic bandheld guides to see more of the island.
Romana d'Angiola, a former journalist who works for the tourist board, suggests that a oneday visitor should first take the chairlift to the top of Monte Solaro, for a view of the whole island, then head to Anacapri to take in the eccentric Villa San Michele and the magnificent church with its 18thcentury mosaic floor painting, and finally return to Capri Town to visit the lovely Gardens of Augustus.
And, of course, she says, visitors must linger for awhile in the Piazzetta, "the small theatre of the world," as the English writer Norman Douglas famously called it where the beautiful people are barely clad in Versace and Valentino, the bars happily charge $20 for a small glass of wine and the glamour is relentless.
There is also the serene monastery, quirky museums (one has "ninfei," naughty ceramics from the orgy rooms, on display), fabulous shopping, the boat tour around the island that takes in Il Faraglioni, concerts at San Michele, the marvelous Via Krupp that leads to an unofficial nude beach and, of course, the Blue Grotto, la Grotta Azzurra, inescapable, overhyped, cheesy and touristy as it is.
From May to September (except when it's stormy), tiny rowboats bob outside the grotto, each one manned by a boatman called a "barcaiuolo" The grotto is only accessible from the water through a tiny opening in the cliff face, although legend has it that Tiberius had a secret passageway from the villa he built above what the barcaivolos call, with a lewd wink the emperor's "private swimming pool."
The barcaivolos use s chain to pull their boats inside the grotto while their passengers lie down to avoid the rocky overhan. Inside, it is at first dark disap pointing. Then the boatmen start to sing; Volare, O Sole Mio, Nessum Dorms bounce off the walls, echoing, ghostly. Then the unearthly blue glow, an optical illusion, atrick of the light fills the cavern. No hype could dim its glory.
Like everything else on this magical island, there is reality and myth here, and it is impossible to untwine the two.
If 1 could, I would be in Capri right now, perhaps relaxing on a lounger at blare del Canzone, the poshest of the island's private beaches, where the cover charge is about $30 a person and most of the women wear their diamonds with the skimpiest of Eres or La Perla bikinis.
"The thing is that in Capri you don't have to dress as in the city;' says Francesca Settani, who is the owner of the local Fendi boutique and Adriana di Finre's daughter. "I always say don't bring any clothes, you don't have to dress here. It's very simple."
Like many caprese, she left the island to goto school and work for a few years, but she came back. They always do. And I think now, that I know why.
"In Capri you can do whatever you want to do," says Francesca "In Capri, you can do the life that you want"

IF YOU GO
• Getting There: From Rome, Naples is an hour assay by Alitalia flight or easily accessible by bus, train or rental car. From Naples harbour, take the hydrofoil across the bay to Capri's Marina Grande (foot passengers only).
Your hotel will seed a truck to the marina to pick up your luggage and, from there, you can either take the funicular up to Capri town or catch the bus or a taxi. Paolo De Gregorio at Capri Taxi can be reached at 081837g336/0136.
• Staying There: There are 35 hotels in the two towns, Capri and Anacapri, ranging from a simple hostelry run by nuns to the opulent La Quisisana. There is also a plan in the works for a local B&B operation.
La Palma is the oldest hotel on the island dating back to 1822 and is an elegant, comfortable and surprisingly tranquil choice just off the Piazzetta.
While still glamorous, it is also slightly less exorbitant than some of the other accommodations on an island not exactly known as a bargain destination. Hotel La Palma, Via Vittorio Emanuel 39, Capri Town, 80073. Phone 0818370113.
• Dining: Caprese cuisine is simple seafood, pasta, local produce and herbs complemented nicely by that slightly acidic local wines and the
island abounds with restaurants. Try the caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil), spaghetti frutti di mare (with local shellfish), the local fish called pezzogne with lemon and buffer, torta caprese (a dense chocolate cake) and limoncello, a headsmashingly strong liqueur made from Capri's sweet, heavy lemons.
Buca di Bacco da Serafina, Via Longano 35, Capri, 80073. Phone 0818370723.
La Rondinella, Via Orlandi 295, Anacapri, 80071. Phone 0818371223.
Da Paolino, Via Palazzo a Mare il, Capri, 80073. Phone 0818376102.
Ristorante Faraglioni, Via Camerelle 75, Capri, 80073. Phone 0818370320.
• Shopping: This is a shopper's heaven, with designer boutiques spilling all over the island.
In addition to fashion, you can buy ceramics, bottles of limoncello and perfume made from the local herbs and flowers.
La Parisienne, Piazza Umberto 17, Capri, 80073. Phone 0818370283.
Da Costanzo Sandali Caprese Via Roma 49, Capri, 80073. Phone 0818378077.
• For more information: Check the Capri Web site (www.capri.net) or call your travel agent for details.
The Faraglioni rocks, one of Capri's two worldfamous attractions. The other lathe Blue Grotto.