Author inspired rich and famous
HAD Australian-born author Elizabeth von Arnim been around today we’d probably be calling her best-selling books ‘chick lit’. Not that she would have been pleased with such a description. Such marketing was unknown when she was writing her best books in the late 19th and early 20th century and was a household name in the United States and Britain.
She was self-deprecating in the extreme. Not for her the author’s name splashed in bigger letters than the title of the book itself. Indeed, never did her full name even appear.
She was born Mary Annette Beauchamp in a cottage on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour in 1866, before heading with her family to England three years later.
And when she later pursued a literary career she only used pen-names. Mostly it was “by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden” the title of her first best-seller, reprinted eight times in the first year after its release in America in 1899, or more simply “by Elizabeth”.
In general her books were auto-biographical, including stories of two unhappy marriages – one to a fellow she called “The Man of Wrath”. But a book, written in 1922, was very different. It was called The Enchanted April and inspired by a month-long holiday in the Italian Riviera. Over the subsequent nine decades it has been adapted as a couple of Broadway plays, two Hollywood movies and a stage musical.
It was set not just anywhere in the Italian Riviera – but in the beautiful, secluded village of Portofino. Elizabeth had reached the hamlet by travelling in a horse and cart over 50km on a winding, frightening, one-lane coastal road from Genoa via another village, Santa Margherita Ligure.
The literary success of The Enchanted April is universally recognized as the reason why Portofino is today the vacation Mecca for society’s rich and famous. Now they drive there in their Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the one road into town (when the locals deign to allow cars to use it).
Or they sail into the crescent-shaped harbor in luxury yachts, unmoved by the mooring fees at the 14 available berths which are among the most expensive in the world – at around € 2500 ($US3100) per night. The likes of Steven Spielberg, Coldplay front man Chris Martin, pop diva Rihanna follow in the footsteps of Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (they got engaged there the first time around … or maybe it was the second).
But the smart tourists stop by on the small boutique cruise vessels.
Recently the SeaDream Yacht Club polled their guests about their favorite Italian destination. And Portofino won hands down, even though the award-winning SeaDream I and II visit such wonderful places as Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Capri, Taormina in Sicily, the Cinque Terre and Venice.
Everyone who is anyone visits Portofino to shop. Even if they can’t afford it – and, rest assured, few of us can! Along the Via Roma which leads from the waterfront there is every concievable shop and boutique wooing the tourists like the mythical sirens of the ancient Mediterranean. Local craftsmen and women are there with the top-end boutiques such as Dior, Armani, Ferragamo and Gucci. The smart visitors leave their credit cards back in their SeaDream staterooms.
But it is worth spending $10 for a cup of coffee, or even more for an ice-cold beer, and sit at a table at one of the sidewalk cafés and watch the passing parade of well-heeled folk. The beauty of the village makes it all so worthwhile. We don’t mean the azure waters of the Mediterranean. There are the pastel colors of the houses and shops. And the classic architecture of the San Martino church, whose bell-tower peers over the buildings between it and the waterfront.
It is all Charm. Charm with a capital C. There are virtually no cars. The locals like it that way and so, too, do the visitors once they realise they can stroll to their hearts content without having to dodge a host of Vespas and Fiats like they do in Rome, Naples or Genoa.
And why not join the queue outside the bakery for some steaming hot focaccia, topped with locally-grown olives and herbs, straight from the oven? Buon Appetito!
Ask anyone who has visited Portofino why they like it so much and you will probably be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders. “Why?’ he or she will reply. “It is just because I do!” And who can argue with that?
Malcolm Andrews is an Australian author and former Sydney daily newspaper columnist. He has been a regular SeaDreamer since his first voyage in 2006.