|Along the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. July 24, 2004.
|September 2, 2010. Another very hot day in New York with the weatherman forecasting an hurricane dubbed Earl gathering strength in the Atlantic off Puerto Rico, on its way to greet us over the coming Labor Day Weekend.
Summer reveries. Yesterday’s Diary about a yachting trip in the Mediterranean ten years ago reminded us of another such visit, on the same boat, the Big Eagle, three years later, when the same group of friends cruised from Corsica, to Sardinia and all the way down to Capri.
One of the many highlights of that trip was a night spent in Porto Cervo on our way to Capri. The port’s village is the main center of the Costa Smeralda and a fairly new marina built especially to accommodate the growing number of private yachts and their passengers of Arab sheiks, European aristos, Russian oligarchs, English rockers and American heiresses -- all “just folks” when gathered nautically on the sparkling, sun-drenched Mediterranean.
|The luxury yachts of the big boys lined up in Porto Cervo.
Wednesday, after anchoring for the day outside Cala di
Volpe for our swim and sun and lunch,
we pulled up anchor and went around the bend north to Porto Cervo
(chair-vo) to tie up for the night.
in port is quite an experience because these enormous boats — such as the one I am traveling on, and of which there
are many — are each assigned what looks like a very narrow slip
to slide into.
Furthermore, the captain must back the ship with exacting precision into
dock, with often little more than two or three feet from another
enormous boat on either side. There’s no towboat to make
it happen and if there’s a wind, as there was on this day,
it can get kind of hairy.
So there we were, the voyagers, all standing on the upper deck
watching nervously (although it’s very exciting) as the
crew prepared for docking and Captain Ed maneuvered from his
on the captain’s deck. Everyone on the yachts on either
side were out and watching with the same sort of exciting trepidation.
there were men ready to grab the ropes to hold us in place. The
whole maneuver took about a half hour and from this point of
view it looked impossible until we were maybe within ten yards from
when you realized the awesome precision required of the captain.
Cervo, I was told by someone knowledgeable a
couple days before at Baroness Thyssen’s
late afternoon drinks party, is a fairly new community
built specifically for the rich and their yachts. I had
no idea exactly what that meant but on arrival it is easy
to see. A small bay wall-to-wall with big yachts and sailing
ships, and at its center a large and rambling two- and
three-story hotel and shopping mall (it turns out) which,
again like Cala di Volpe is a faded salmon pink. And in
the hillsides on either side, like architectural outcroppings,
are smaller versions of that Mediterranean adobe/stucco
and stone villas, some white, some salmon pink, some yellow.
Idyllic, not fancy although very likely not modest, the
scene is almost quaint and simple in feeling.
|Clockwise from above: Our next door neighbor ... Squeezing through ... All the way out.
inside the central complex, the mall and hotel, if the billion
dollars in yachts tied
up on the dock didn’t already tell you, this is not
a place for the packaged-tours – unless it’s
something like Sea Goddess. Design-wise, it has
a quality that Americans have become used to thanks to
Disneyland and Las Vegas – a kind of repro of long ago. The shops – and
there are lots and lots of them, are occupied by Van Cleef,
Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Chopard, Versace, Prada,
Tods, Hogan, Loris Abbate, Loro Piana, Cacella, Valentino,
Magli, Gucci, Pucci, etc. Not that you have to be a gazillionaire
to shop there, but you get the picture.
Mind you, the crowds are dressed very casually and if you
better you might be inclined to think the lot of them (or, a lot of them) are
really in the wrong spot for their means. Yeah sure; but then swivel around
and take another look at the boats they arrived on, gleaming white and navy in the bay.
point I’m making is that it is very relaxed and homey in the Euro sense – families,
young teenagers in small packs, children in strollers, some dogs (one Dalmatian
running hither and thither manically, provoking my fears that he was lost
or at least separated from his owners).
as it is all over the Mediterranean, at six in the afternoon, or
even seven-thirty, the shops don’t seem very busy if busy
at all. One of the guests on the boat asked a shopkeeper how
long they stayed open (this was at almost eight o’clock).
She laughed and shrugged: “oh, as long as we think ...
maybe eleven, maybe later.”
| A handful of shoppers in Porto Cervo.
||Porto Cervo shops.
|On our only
night there, we decided to go out to dinner rather than eat on
board – although
the chef’s fare is extraordinary; she outdoes herself every day. We booked
a table for eight at eight, at a lovely fish restaurant at the foot of the bay,
adjacent to the main building, with an open terrace on the water. Crisply picturesque:
red tablecloths, candles, a low-slung thatch-like roof, red tile floors; kind
of rustic Mediterranean with Villeroy and Boch plates made for Michel Rostang
for place settings along with crystal and lantern candles.
Small menu which included
a pasta and a risotto and a large buffet, a combination of vegetables and seafood.
It was a beautiful night for dining on the water, and within earshot and purview
were the sun-tanned visiting throng at the center nearby. The service was excellent
and the food did not compare to what we were used to from Wendy,
our American chef on the Big Eagle. But then, we figured, what could?
We finished up about ten. The
sun had finally gone down and the crowds seemed to materialize
out of nowhere — all those villas in the hills, the guests
at the hotel. We were only several hundred yards from the dock,
a very short walk back to the boat.
|The big boys on Thursday morning.
|Big boys not so big next to the sheik's.
By this time, the crowds
were making the promenade also. For it is a tradition at these
ports that everyone takes a leisurely stroll along the waterside
and views the yachts, backed up to the dock as they are, lighted
and ready for life.
In my book it’s called ogling and gawking. People stopping and standing
in front of each ship, watching the passengers and the crew go about their business
and their life, as if on display in a shop window.
It’s the curiosity-seeker’s
dream come true, for no one – and I mean no one – has any
compunction about staring into everyone’s boat. They just stop, and stare.
And ogle and gawk. While those on the boats go about their business – having
their meals, leisurely taking the night air, chatting, drinking, whatever, as
if no one is there.
is fun, that’s for sure, since no one feels the slightest
about it. Well, not no one. I felt slightly self-conscious. Although
I got over it in no time. The main attraction on this night, however, was the
biggest boat which was parked at end of the quay — the gigantic Montkaj,
said to be owned by some Arabs — about 220 feet long, with four decks and
a tender about 100 feet long.
|The Big Eagle, second from the left.
star of the yacht basin, you couldn’t just stand and look
this honey, however, because the Montkaj had a white sheet covering
the midsection of its rear deck to avoid such impositions of the hoi-polloi.
It also had a couple of security guards (besides the crew) standing guard. Nevertheless,
you could kind of look around the white sheeted obstruction and sort of see
(not much) inside. By ten thirty, there were probably forty or fifty people gathered
on the macadam, just standing there, as if waiting for a celebrity to appear.
In fact, I was beginning to wonder if one would. Sharon Stone,
by eleven there were three Mercedes, two sedans and a convertible,
as well as an Escalade with tinted windows, lined up on the quay
also, as if waiting for someone to appear. Finally several individuals
emerged from inside the ship, all rather innocuous looking, getting
into their sleek cars (the Escalade was for the bodyguards) and
driving way. Not very far, no doubt, as the hotel is only several
hundred yards across the parking lot.
|Early Thursday morning in Porto Cervo.
|America's future, the Smart Car.
|I finally went into the main saloon to go onto the Internet and check my email.
By midnight the crowds on the dockside had grown, milling about, stopping and
staring, moving on, eventually congregating down by the Big One, waiting for
whatever and what-all. I went to bed.
morning, it was overcast and foggy. We were leaving
by nine and so I got up early to be sure of getting a picture of
the lineup. The parking lot was empty and the gawkers had long
ago gone home. There were a few cars in the lot including a black
SmartCar with a red parking ticket on its windshield. This is the
car of the future, at least in New York; that’s my prediction.
By nine we were all aboard and on the upper deck watching the Big
Eagle being precisely maneuvered by Captain Ed out
into the harbor and back out to sea to continue our voyage of stupendous
leisure and luxury, heading south.
you’ve been following: We cruised Corsica
to Sardinia and from Sardinia along the Costa Smeralda where
there’s not much more than rocks, sun and
sea. One day we tied up on some rocks off an uninhabited little
slip of an island not far from Porto Cervo. The crew put out
the waverunners (or jetskis) for us which I and another used
to explore the jagged coastline. The rest of the gang jumped
off the back of the ship into the warm salty water for a swim,
and otherwise we just lolled on the upperdeck (or the party deck
as Cheri, the head stewardess calls it because of its days in Cannes
where an American producer chartered it for the Film Festival parties). After lunch the captain pulled up anchor and we cruised
several hours down the coast to Ponza.
Ponza is another huge hunk of volcanic detritus, part of the
five Pontine islands, parts of crests of craters. They are fairly
to Rome and in July and August day-trippers either on the ferries
or on their own boats come over. Ponza was colonized by the Romans
(by the Volscians before that in 313 BC).
a villa for himself there. And Caligula, Mr. Hideous
himself, used it as a place of exile for certain members of his
his brothers, and his sister Agrippina who was the mother of Nero.
Ponza is very remote (which is one of the reasons why everyone
on the boat loved it) and dramatically rocky and desolate, so you
can imagine way back in Roman times without the advantage of cell
phones (which are everywhere of course) and power boats, Agrippina
must have hated her crazy brother to the point of going mad herself
over that one.
|A natural harbor in Ponza.
|Harbor hotel in Ponza
put down anchor in a natural harbor called Cala Inferno not
far from a tanker which sits there much of the time supplying
some kind of energy to the few houses on the island. After
our swim and our jetskiing and our massive and leisurely
luncheons which habitually were finished off with coconut,
chocolate or orange gelatos (or a combination thereof),
some of us went into the one small harborside town, also
called Ponza. I was always looking for a newspaper, hungry
for any news to restore my natural anxious New York state
of mind. There isn't/wasn't much.
The village of Ponza is very rustically Italian and they live a life unperturbed
by the fanatics who bedevil our daily lives back in civilization (i.e., the
fast, last lane). So there was a Herald-Tribune to be found, yesterday's
issue. After obtaining a copy, we walked around and took in the atmosphere,
finally stopping at one of the cafes overlooking the harbor and having a beer,
and watched the world go by untroubled by its languor.
are lazy days, the very best kind, sated
by salt and sea which makes you either hungry or sleepy
or hungry or sleepy. Back on the Big Eagle after
a trip to the town, a lot of the party retired to their
cabins (or the lounges on the upper deck for sun) and took
From Ponza, as we sat down for dinner, the Big Eagle moved on for
a several-hour cruise south and east to Ischia. There was a crescent moon directly
behind us at eye level, illuminating the frothy wake of the boat as we arrived
in the outer waters of this fabulous island, also part of the volcanic crest
that created this part of the world back before anyone existed to have a memory
|In the main saloon.
|My cabin after naptime with my handy Mac right nearby.
|Arriving in Capri.
Ischia still has hot springs, which indicates to the geologists that
there is still activity way down deep underneath it all. The island had its
last big eruption in the 300 BCs when the Greeks were occupying it. After that
came the Romans. It was always famous for its hot springs said to be good for
those suffering from arthritis and rheumatism.
awoke the next morning in a harbor off Ischia. There
was a pretty little red hotel with a white parapet on a point
above the harbor where we were staying, and on a narrow,
curved strip of beach were set out a couple dozen blue beach
umbrellas in neat rows. And a few boats bobbing in the waves.
By noontime or one, however, there were dozens of boats of
all sizes that had come into the harbor and dropped anchor.
By the end of lunch, I counted more than 100 boats in this
harbor, crowded to the point where anchor lines were getting
crossed. Not a pretty picture. A little like the island of
Coney on a Sunday afternoon. Or the Beach of Jones. Time
to go for those of us seeking solitude. About three o’clock
we pulled up anchor and left that nautical melee, and set
out for the ride of two (or was it four?) hours over to Capri.
This was the second time I’ve come to Capri. It has
a magic to its name and that magic is there on first sighting.
Capri is where the Emperor
Tiberius, another lovely, had his famous villa and his famous orgies
during which it has been said (historians claim it is false) that when he finished
with whomever, boys, girls, etc., he was having his way with, he threw them over
the cliffs to their jagged rocky fates. Nice. Stories like that always make me
think that the Roman Empire definitely had it coming, that which they finally
got (and got and got).
|The Piccola Marina in Capri harbor.
|Capri has been
a favorite island in modern times for the wealthy and social and
chic. Mona von Bismarck, the former Mrs. Harrison
Williams had a villa and spent the best part of the end
of her life gardening there.
Water for her extensive gardens was
brought in especially on her own tanker. Noel
Coward went there and even wrote about it (In a bar on the Piccola
Marina, life called to Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster). As did his American counterpart, Cole
|Life on the Piazza in Capri.
||And more alternatives.
|So did Maxim Gorky, the revolutionary who attracted Stalin and Lenin here
(and who probably ended up acting out like Noel Coward's Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster in their many spare
moments). Friedrich Krupp, the German arms manufacturer came
too (not for revolutionary reasons, however).
Nowadays it is said to be over
run by tourists and therefore things are not what they used to be. Ever heard
that one before? As in: what isn’t?
|The famous Grand Hotel Quisisana.
We passed by the Marina Grande and found ourselves a spot in a remote harbor
once again. The following morning we went into the harbor and took a berth for
the boat for our final night and day on the island.
Once settled, most of us,
at varying times, took the taxi or the funicular up to the town where all the
action is. I took a taxi, one of those stretch open air Fiats - so comfortable. and Just
as we reached the top of the hill, on the very narrow, sharply winding road,
we stopped to make space for another taxi about to make the descent.
the moment of stopping, I noticed a young couple in the back seat of the
taxi waiting to descend. He looked familiar to me, or at least that was
what I was thinking as
he was looking at me, as if thinking the same thing.
Then he said: "David
Patrick Columbia, we read New York Social Diary everyday and
it’s a fantastic site!"
Really. I’m not kidding. Way up there above the bar on the Piccola
Marina. Thrills and chills.
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