The white-hot sun of the Isle of Capri (just off Italy’s Amalfi Coast) has been burning brightly in my memory all winter. I’m going back there if it kills me, andjust like a childI want everything to be exactly the same as it was when I first visited last summer. That means I’ll have to borrow a Boxster S from Porsche in Rome. This is easier said than done, Italy not being on the top of Porsche’s list of places to ship test cars. And the farther south you go, the more skittish they get. Last year, Porsche had arranged to show the press its updated Boxster (more power, subtle body alterations, and a few cabin improvements) on a rollicking, 140-mile loop of two-lanes east of Rome. Headquarters was Villa Grazioli, a very secure former cardinal’s residence in the hills. Taking a car away from there to spend a couple of extra days unguarded on the Amalfi Coast was a big deal for me, and a big deal for Porsche, too.
“You’re not going to Naples, are you?” I was quizzed by a nervous public relations guy. I could feel his pain. I was on the fated Porsche 911 Turbo trip not so many years ago in the south of France, during which six fabulous Turbos were stolen in the night, and all disappeared foreverall, that is, but the one found crashed into a nearby tree. I checked the map. I could honestly say I wasn’t staying in Naples. I was aimed with my girlfriend Debra toward the Le Sirenuse Hotel, tucked in the middle of the mystical town of Positano, where multicolored buildings hang from steep hillsides over the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. Arguing that the price of my room there indicated a high level of security, I convinced Mr. Porsche PR to hand over the keys, but I think I saw a tear slip from the corner of his eye. I was guaranteed a jubilant homecoming.
We wanted to see what all the fuss was about Naples, so naturally we made a beeline down the A1 autostrada. There are speed limits in Italy, but I can’t exactly say what they are. I just flattened the pedal on the floor. The top speed of the Boxster S with the Tiptronic gearbox is 160 mph. Debra is an exceptional passenger, in that she never, ever checks the speedometer when I’m driving.
“You can tell me to slow down if you want,” I suggested.
“You drive better than most men I know,” she answered blithely, reading a magazine and munching some Italian pretzel thing. This should not be taken as an indictment of men. Just the men Debra knows.
Naples should not be on your list of places to see on a summer Sunday in a convertible. It’s hot, humid, crowded, and filthy, with bumper-to-bumper traffic. And once you see Positano, you’ll wonder why you didn’t leave Rome at four a.m. There are two hotels of note, the Il San Pietro and Le Sirenuse. Both are fab, but there is something more relaxed about Le Sirenuse. Perhaps it’s the handpainted ceramic tilesa different theme in each roomwhich are for sale at www.emporiosirenuse.com. Dinner at Il San Pietro should not be missed, if only for the exceptional view back up the coast to Positano.
Arriving at a resort in a new Porsche (don’t ask me how every Italian on the street could tell from the reconfigured side vents that this was the new Boxster) does wonders for your reception, not that the staff of Le Sirenuse is shallow. But they understood just how serious I was about armed security for the car.
You can see the island of Capri in the distance, you can see a ferry below at the dock, and it all falls together. Luck came as we disembarked the ferry, in the form of a bright red 1960 Fiat President four-door parked in a sea of bland white Saab taxis. All had their roofs chopped off for better sightseeing, but Paolo De Gregorio’s vintage Fiat sported a spunky yellow-and-white-striped and fringed awning. He’d assembled a shrine to Italy’s newest saint, Padre Pio da Pietrelcina, on his dash. We hired him for the day. “I took off the roof myself,” he said proudly. “It was my father’s car, and I drove it with him for fifteen years, and now twenty-five years myself.” Every five or six years, he puts in new seats, and he changed the engine once.
“Maybe you saw me in a Kenar clothes ad in 1995 with Linda Evangelista?” He had a folded-up, signed poster he showed us.
Capri is a small place, but the hills above the shopping area are cool and shaded, so we made him slow down, milking our day for all it was worth. It made him nervous, because he had a little scam going. He’d been hired by some other folks for the day, and he managed to juggle us all day (“You need to go shopping now.” “I have a great place for you to swim. You must swim now.”) until we caught him at 3 p.m. sending them shopping, while we were early meeting him to go swimming. He laughed uproariously. We loved our swim.
We left the long waydown the Amalfi Coastjust because a friend told me that she’d hired a driver, and the road was so narrow and scary she couldn’t look out the window. Please.
So I must go to Rome and borrow a Boxster S, Debra must go with me, we must stay at Le Sirenuse and eat fresh tomatoes and mozzarella every day for breakfast, and we need to take the ferry to Capri and find Mr. De Gregorio for a ride. I’m wearing my Padre Pio medal for extra help on the Amalfi Coast drive. It’s my dream, but you’re welcome to share.