Fiction: Madonna on Capri ; Jeanette Winterson, One of the Most Innovative Writers of Her Generation, Explores Cyberspace as Metaphor

By Winterson, Jeanette | The Independent (London, England), September 3, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Fiction: Madonna on Capri ; Jeanette Winterson, One of the Most Innovative Writers of Her Generation, Explores Cyberspace as Metaphor


Winterson, Jeanette, The Independent (London, England)


An e-writer concocts stories to order over the internet, but those who enter the tales as themselves must risk leaving as someone else. The action moves across London, Paris, cyberspace and the isle of Capri

I DON'T STAY IN CAPRI. It's too crowded, too expensive and too noisy for me. I rent a little place in Anacapri, high up on the hillside overlooking the sea. I read, swim, work and feed the stray cats on mince.

When I first came here, I realised from the pitying looks on the faces of the butchers that they thought of me as the Inglesa who only eats mince. This compounded the humiliation of asking every day for "Half a pound of coffee-pot", as I seemed to have been doing. I had mixed up my macchinetta and my macinato. One is mince, the other is one of those steel coffee- pots they heat on the stove.

Anacapri is a small village high on the island. It has a busy square where the bus stops, and where the tourists go to get a chairlift up Monte Solano, followed by "English Toast", as the sign encouragingly offers.

There are some smart shops leading off the square and the usual jostle of tourist stalls, but there is something else too, which I can't quite explain...

About halfway down the Via Orlandini, and for no reason at all that I can tell, an invisible fence rebuffs the tourists. They turn back. Yes, that is exactly what happens, they turn back.

If you continue, you will come to the true heart of Anacapri. There is the church. There is the square in front of it. There are greengrocers and a fishmonger and a bakery and market shops and a bookshop and a chemist and everything you could want. And no tourists.

So why am I not a tourist?

A tourist could be anywhere. The place doesn't matter. It's just another TV channel.

I went to the bus stop in Capri and took my turn with the matrons and off-shift waiters to stand in the tiny, throaty diesel bullet of a bus that fires on all cylinders up the ladder-like road. The cliff face is netted to check falling rocks, and here and there a Madonna cut into the cliff face smiles down under her blue light.

I always cross myself as we reach a particular bend. So does the rest of the bus.

At the Piazza Monumentale out we get, and the women disappear with their string bags, and the men stand together for a moment, jackets slung over their shoulders, lighting cigarettes. I walk down towards the invisible fence and feel a slight tingle as I cross through it. Then I have been admitted. Then I am on the other side.

I know the people at the Pizza Materita, and they always find a table for me on their terrace, which overlooks the church and the square. I don't ask for anything straight away, but still somebody brings a jug of vino rosso and a breadbasket.

I can see Papa, with his long-handled paddle, ladling the pizzas in and out of the wood-fired oven. Nearby, Mama sits at the cash register, her glasses on a string round her neck. The daughter and the son-in-law deal with the customers. She is dark and gorgeous. He is young and good-looking, with his hair tied back like a pirate's.

The food is very good - all done to a secret recipe they say - and they are pleased with their cooking and each other and the new baby. You can taste the pleasure, strong as basil.

And then it happened as I thought it would. You came.

You had taken off the little black dress and you were wearing combat trousers and a hooded sweatshirt. That is, a hooded cashmere sweatshirt. Your hair was in a ponytail and the rings and the jewellery were gone.

You saw me, you came and sat down, your head in your hands for a second, then smiling.

"You bastard."

"They only speak Italian here."

"Very funny."

"So why did you come?"

"Why do you think I came?"

"You are a Gemini and you have to be in two places at once.

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Fiction: Madonna on Capri ; Jeanette Winterson, One of the Most Innovative Writers of Her Generation, Explores Cyberspace as Metaphor
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