Keith Lile and the mystery woman “Mary Louise” at Marina Piccolo, on Capri, 1945. KBL Family Collection
The Marina Piccolo on Capri in bright, shining color, 2009. Stephanie Lile photo.
March 21, 2014 — A number of Dad’s photographs showed him on a rocky beach with a girl, near some striped huts. His diary noted that they,
“Went to Capri [May 19, 1945] Shutters pilot—We stopped at Rome to drop a guy off. Stout went too. Beasley & I stayed together at the Morgano Hotel, Rm 131. The food isn’t bad, and things are pretty peaceful & quiet. I met a few girls on the boat going over to Capri. They have a funny little trolley going up to the square.”
Sixty-four years later, I rode that same “funny little trolley” —the funicular—up the steep hillside from Marina Grande to the town of Capri. The La Palma Hotel, were Dad mentions having gone for dinner and dancing, was still there with its golden bull on the front stoop. Our hotel was down that narrow road a bit, closer to the Garden of Augustus. From that garden, you can look out over the blue waters of the Mediterranean, down the ancient stone path to the Marina Piccolo.
The beach at Marina Piccolo on Capri, 1945. Note the wooden kayaks on the shore. Those were still there at the marina 64 years later. KBL Family Collection
Another of Dad’s diary entries reads, “Went down to the beach went out in a kiak. It wasn’t bad at all. Met Mary Louise and took some pictures.” That clue helped me figure out the mystery girl in the pictures, no doubt a distraction for a broken engagement. Betty had written earlier to say that, “The men at the office were calling her Cinderella and she thought she would rather stay single and work for a couple of years yet.” He’d agreed with her.
So Dad partied, celebrating the end of the war, testing his freedom, and floating through those last terms of his inductment, “six months after the end of the war.” His pathway home would be as zig-zagged as the stone-paved path we followed into his world.
The proprietors of Marina Piccolo Capri with the author in 2009.
There, at the Marina Piccolo, the last fingers of pathway take you left to the pay beach, and right to the public beach. We knew from the photos in the book that the place we wanted was the pay beach–it was the little bathing huts that gave it away. They were still there, and much improved, brilliant in their green, blue, and yellow stripes. We showed our pictures to the English-speaking lifeguard at the entry, who showed them to an older and taller Richard Gere look-alike. The older fellow clearly ran the place, and he smiled and delighted in the old photos, nodding that this was, indeed the place. He gave us “a deal” on sun lounges and pointed to the fellows in red t-shirts down at the beach.
I showed them the photos as well, and the older of the two got stoked about the boats in one picture, the very boats Dad had mentioned in his diary. The younger lifeguard explained that the boats were “were still there but longer seaworthy.” They motioned me back into the boat shed and sure enough, the kayaks were resting on racks, looking pretty much the same as they had 60+ years before.
The swimmer’s view of Marina Piccolo (public beach) on the shore of Capri, 2009. Stephanie Lile photo
After doing my usual thing–trying to replicate in present-day photos that had originally been taken many years before–my friend and I went for a swim in the deep blue waters off the pebble-strewn shore. It was the first time I really felt the significance of the adventure I was on–out there floating in the swells of the Adriatic Sea–and the presence of my dad. Perhaps swimming there just brought back memories of his swimming with us kids, maybe the intense sun had finally fried my brain, but it felt like he was there, proud that we had traveled half-way around the world to discover his little secret place.
The experience left me quiet for the rest of the day, but a line of words kept running through my brain, begging to be written down and made into a poetic scene. “There are ghosts at the Marina Piccolo…” Real or imagined, there is no doubt in my heart that I was led here for a reason.
The resulting poem appears in THE TAIL GUNNER, the product of the teen-age protagonist Sylvie Stevens. She, too, snuck her way to Italy to discover the ghosts of Capri.
Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! There’s only a few days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.