Chapter 3: Caitlin – September 1970

Caitlin spent the first weeks of the summer in the family home in Easthampton, Long Island which was always fun.  She had enjoyed the couple of days that Penny spent with her laughing at her friend’s astonished and admiring response to the splendours of Caitlin’s palatial home.  Penny was so innocent of any kind of envy that her reaction was pleasing to Caitlin who was not unaware of her own good fortune and she was more than happy to share it with others.

The whole neighbourhood was full of families like her own.  Rich people with big estates. Often women and children only during the week as the men were still working in the city.  The men would come out and join their families at the weekend.  The days were filled with tennis parties and pool parties, the evenings with cocktail parties and dinner parties, the weekends with hog roasts and barbeques.  There were plenty of young people her own age that Caitlin had known for years, the sons and daughters of the ‘right’ people, the people who her parents expected her to mix with and eventually select one to marry.

Caitlin spent more time with her mother during the holidays in Long Island as Sophia relaxed and eased up away from all the charity committees and lunches that kept her endlessly busy in the city.  This summer Sophia had made plans to take her daughter out to Italy to visit her parents the Conte Alessandro and Contessa Maria Elisa Santononi dei Barraresi at their summer Palazzo near to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast.

Sophia’s parents were getting elderly, her father now in his early eighties; they had not seen their grand-daughter for several years, Sophia having made transient visits usually to their main residence in Venice.  The Conte and Contessa did not like to travel abroad and Sophia knew that she had been neglecting her parents recently for no real reason other than feigned industry.  Once the plans had been concocted Sophia was relishing the visit for she loved her parents dearly and the thought of the holiday had her yearning for the taste of the Mediterranean food that had filled her childhood.

Built high above the town of Sorrento enjoying breathtaking views across the azure blue of the sea to the islands of Ischia, Capri and beyond, the family Palazzo was a gem of Romanesque architecture.  Stone porticos and columns surrounded a courtyard featuring a central fountain where water gently played a peaceful lullaby.  The whole structure built to create shady private seating areas from where one could enjoy the stunning vistas.  Caitlin, who had last visited the Palazzo aged six had no real recollection of the place.

Caitlin was completely bowled over by the beauty of the building and its surroundings and could understand her mother’s attachment to the place.  Caitlin’s grandfather, the Conte, took special pride in showing his teenage granddaughter around the palazzo and through the steeply terraced gardens.  The winding paths lead down to patios and terraces cut into the hillside each with its sumptuous view across the distant rooftops of Sorrento framed by the brilliant blue of the sky and the sea beyond.

Caitlin spent the days drifting around soaking up the peace and beauty of the place.  She would read for a while and then just sit and stare, she had rarely been so content.  The four of them lunched together chatting about family and friends and neighbours sometimes in English and sometimes Italian in which Caitlin was not as fluent as her elders.

Sometimes they sat in the courtyard enjoying the shade in the heat of the day sometimes they would be driven into Sorrento to dine at one of the hidden delights that tourist rarely stumbled on.  The best of the local restaurants were behind unprepossessing doors off side streets, once you entered and climbed a flight of stairs they opened out into wonderful, miraculously tiled rooms and patios where fountains played and orange trees grew.  Here tables laid with bright white linen were shaded with grapevines trained over lattices to shade the diners.

The food was divine capturing the flavours of just picked fruit and vegetables, fish and shellfish straight out of the sea, the best ice cream in the world, the best coffee.  Caitlin thought she had found herself in paradise.  Mealtimes would fill the afternoons, and often friends of her grandparents would pass by their table and chat for a while as they wandered to or from their own seats.  Her Italian was improving quickly and she understood much of what was being said; always she noted smiles and glances at herself as the Italian men said:

Bella, bella ragazza!’ to her grandfather, who responded with pride.

One day Sophia decided to enjoy a day out with Caitlin, just the two of them, she arranged for a boat to taken then out to the Island of Capri.  They would do some shopping and have lunch together.  The motor launch dropped them off in the harbour at the foot of the steeply winding road up to Capri town.  They undertook to walk the short, but very steep, way up to the top rather than take a taxi along the snaking road.  The path climbed, breaking into winding steps and through high-sided cuttings affording glimpses of house roofs and gardens as they looked down.  Reaching the top they paused for breath and admired the view back over the way they had traversed.

‘We have definitely earned ourselves a coffee and gelato’ smiled Sophia to Caitlin; ‘I haven’t had so much exercise since I left New York.’

They headed to the Piazzetta and sat at a table well positioned to watch the world go by.  It was a colourful sight as tourists of all shapes and sizes, ages and races dawdled through the square stopping to admire shop windows and peruse restaurant menus as they passed.  Fortified by an espresso and chocolate gelato they joined the shifting throngs pausing to admire jewellery in Desiderio’s long established shop window before heading off down Via Camerelle where all the top designers were represented in the up-market boutiques that attracted the well heeled to Capri.

They stopped at Canfora and browsed the array of decorative leather sandals, Sophia telling Caitlin of the different pairs that she had purchased there over the years.  Caitlin chose a pair of simple flats in soft aqua leather decorated with matching square cut jewels and Sofia selected a pair of richly beaded ruby coloured toe- peg sandals.  They stopped and bought a bottle of Limoncello to take back to London for Caitlin’s father Frank and bought some local bread, olive oil and cheeses for the evening.

Ready to escape from the fierce heat of the early afternoon sun and eager for their lunch they headed to La Capannina, just off the Piazzetta.  The restaurant was a long time favourite of Sophia’s family as well as the haunt of many well-known holidaymakers past and present.  Caitlin and her mother admired their purchases while they ordered a glass of Prosecco and perused the menu before settling on the unbeatable Ravioli Capresi with a simple side-salad to eat.  The day had been a great success for them both, Caitlin felt grown-up and accepted as an equal by her mother.  Almost as though I was out with a friend for lunch thought Sophia, pleased with her plan to bond with her daughter.

The holiday had been a great success all round and it was with regret that they packed up ready to leave for London to join Caitlin’s father.

Caitlin held special memories of the time she spent in Sorrento but did not return to the Palazzo for several years.  Her mother never did.  She was killed in a car crash only two months later.

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