text Marilena D’Ambro
Vito Labianca’s face is always tanned by the sun and the salt. He carries his life on the his skin, wrinkles around his lips, his eyes, like indelible tattoos mark his choices. Vito chose freedom, the real one. He lives on the beach of Marina Piccola, in Capri. His bed is in a simple room that looks out onto the light and the sea, the furniture is bare, what he needs to live is outside and Vito knows. In a corner he keeps the pictures that many tourists and local people, fascinated by his life style, have taken and donate him. He was born in Barletta in 1944 but he has been living with the sea of Capri for 46 years. His blue eyes belong to who is young forever, like the sea that will never grow old. His eyes are covered by his hair. His white hair betrays his age, he is 70 years old. Sometimes it’s almost blond. Part of the hair is tied, leaving the rest only falling on his cheeks. His hands are rough, hard, marked by years of fishing and effort taking care of the beach where he lives as a free man. He sounds jovial in his way of telling about himself, often he sits and he loves to stretch while talking, like he really enjoys what surrounds him, with no shame, no lies, authentic like the sea. Between one story and another he likes teasing his friends with his jokes, his favourite one is “Carmela is a saint” (Carmela è una santa), it is also on Youtube. He has a tonic and strong body for a man of his age, like a swimmer. Even if it’s winter, he wears a bathing suit. He carries and empty basket, waiting for something to catch for lunch. His calm and sometimes limp walking reflects his quiet soul and his age. His long white beard reminds of a lost brother of Hemingway who, unlike the American author, finally has found peace. His sincere and neutral smile is in contrast with bristly beard of an old sea dog, of the true captain of his soul. I met him down at the beach of “Bagni Internazionale”, at the end of the main stairs leading to Marina Piccola. People call him “Blue Eyes”. Vito lives in contact with nature, he identifies himself with a bighearted naturalist. He found the courage to abandon the chains that life wanted to tied down with in order to live the authentic soul of the most beautiful island of the world, choosing freedom, the one that blows at night after the sunset behind “lo Scoglio delle Sirene” (the rock of Sirens) and almost brutally enters the naris, because you need it more than oxygen. Maybe it was Capri who chose Vito. He lived for two years in the “Grotta dell’Arsenale” (the Arsenal Grotto), learning the secret language of the sea and the thousands faces of a capricious moon, but faithful lover in stormy nights. I meet him in a day that forewarns spring. In the South side of the island the air is clear, a chilly breeze blows, it undulates the sea and gently cuddles the Faraglioni. While I go down the stairs to get to “Bagni da Maria”, I can see from far away his white and wavy hair. He is talking to a group of friends, all from Capri who never deny a relaxing bath, even though out of season, on this beach always kissed by the sun. He turns to me as he hears the noise of the pebbles under my feet. Vito is nice. He has the eyes of the sky, the look of the sea. Behind his light iris there’s no shadow, but only peace. A peace that fulfills his clean and true smile, framed by chapped lips of sailors. I curiously observe his t-shirt that says “Patagonia” on it. He invites me to follow him. “As you can see, I’m a naturalist, this is my life”. With a gesture of his hands, his points to the small bay as he wants to embrace it. His voice is calm, it carries all the accents of the world, he doesn’t reveal himself, it looks like he has no origins, neither Northern nor Southern ones. He belongs to the sea. Vito lives in a small walling cabin. The plumes of water rise from the horizon making a slightly clash melody that is the background of his story. “I was born in Barletta, province of Bari, in 1944. Destiny pushed me towards Capri”“. Sometimes fate has strange ways of showing, you need to recognize the signs left along the path. Everything started from a black and white postcard of the Faraglioni. “My uncle showed it to me after a short stay in Capri. I immediately wished I could jump off that ragged edge and have on my skin the wild impact of that water that looked to me like velvet”. The young Vito spent his days looking at that picture, even at night with his eyes closed, imaging it with colours and full of life. “The narrow alleys, the Funicolare, Anacapri. I even dreamt about landing with an airplane on the Faraglioni”. I worked as electrician in Barletta, while the Italian economic development after the Second World War was hailed as a miracle. He escaped various accidents and he needed to calm down and find himself. At the earliest opportunity he decided to see and touch the island of his dreams. He arrived in Capri with some friends in 1963. “As soon as I stepped on the island for the first time, I fell in love with it and I found out that the places I used to dream about were real”. The dream had been premonitory. Vito left the island to go back to his land, but he could feel the its call everywhere he could go, so similar to a fascinating song of a Siren. “My soul was always in turmoil. I could calm down only remembering those places chiseled in the rock and populated by warm and hospitable people”. He decided to abandon definitively his old life and to go back and stay forever in his desired serenity. He was travelling towards Capri while Italy was in chaos because of the first young protests in 1968. “I have been living here for 46 years, in summer times and winter times. I take care of Capri, I keep this beach clean. In the past I had jobs on television and in theatre”. In 1992 he participated to the performance “Il mito di Capri” (the myth of Capri), written and directed by Lina Mangiacapre. “I used to hang around and chat in “piazzetta” and often directors and photographers, curious about my look and my life style, asked me to join their movies, I used to help them with their equipment. It was the golden age of the island”. For few seconds his attention is captured by the pages of a magazine moved by the wind. All of a sudden his eyes are full of other memories. “I was also a paperboy, on this very beach. Kids knew me as “il Mattino” (“the Morning”, name of an Italian newspaper). I had my own special way to sell it: “Breaking news! I’m Il Mattino”. Because in the afternoon I used to go to the beach, at night in “Anema e Core” and in the morning my eyes are sleepy. It was the first earning on the island working with a bit of happiness which made him welcomed by everyone. Vito is not the only Labianca. He is the fourth out of eight brothers. “I get often invited, but I can’t live without the sea and also the vicinity of the heart means more than a hug”. Taking him around the world is the job of the people he met in his life, people to whom he left a chip of sea salt in their hearts. My eyes are caught by the t-shirt once again. He intercepts my look and reads my mind. “It’s a gift of some friends. They recorded a video about me. It got down there, in Patagonia. There are pictures of me while I am doing the “dive of the angel” from the rocks of Arsenale. There they know me as Vito of Capri”. He proudly shows me pictures, paintings, postcards, everything people offered to him. “In this pictures here, I had just caught 50 kilos of boops, I also haunt moray eels. On his wrist he has small lucky bracelets marked by the saltiness. I look at him comfortable with himself. I ask him if he ever feels lonely. “Solitude is the moment I give myself to think about me. Today this has become something precious and difficult, you run to get nowhere. But I do have friends, Peppino Ferraro e Roberto Alberino were my company for two years when I lived in “Grotta dell’Arsenale”. They are my family. I also take care of two kittens, Chicca and Ringo”. Vito Labianca loves adventures and Grotta dell’Arsenale, ragged oasis underneath “via Krupp”, the most intense one: the night bonfires light up the rocks with a carmine colour, in the background the dark blue sky with a diamond set in it. The chats, the popping of the wood is a company to the happy eyelids, in a ageless paradise. A paradise scanned by the time of Capri, the island that doesn’t ask for anything in return, it only want to be loved. “The nights quickly passed by with songs and jokes. We used to cook the fish just caught and have dinner in the moonlight”. His voice is now covered by a veil of deep emotion. “It’s the most beautiful place for its whether, its rocks and its view. He loves the sea and also women. Long time ago it was easy to find him as playboy with pizza and beer, or with a drink in “Guarracino”. Also he used to go to night clubs to sing. He remembers with nostalgia a night in the “Taverna degli Amici”. The music was in the air of via Camerelle, vital sap of the nights in Capri. “In 1995 I met Renzo Arbore and Luciano De Crescenzo. That night I sang a Neapolitan song and they complimented”. Vito is a real “chansonnier”. In the past he also performed in the folkloric band “Scialapopolo”. He stands up to join few people of the beach and have lunch with them. “The island gives me everything I need, bread, tomatoes and Faraglioni”.