Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trieste - Last Stop In Italy

The English travel writer Jan Morris wrote  that Trieste is the city where she learned to be "usefully indolent" as every travel writer needs to be. "...if ever you hear them saying, 'What's become of Morris?' tell them to come to Trieste and look for me loitering with my adjectives along the waterfront."  

During this, our last week in Italy, in this beautiful most un-Italian of Italian towns, I've tried to follow Morris'  advice although I've done most of my loitering in the city's historic Belle Epoque cafes or in one of the its many excellent seafood restaurants.

If you don't know where Trieste is, you are not alone. (Click here for a map.) In an interview in 2004, Morris cited a 1999 poll which said that 70 percent of Italians didn't know Trieste was part of Italy.  Morris' book about Trieste, which she calls her favorite city in the world, is entitled "Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere."

A beautiful hilly city on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste had its heyday in the 1800s when it was an important part  of Austria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the Empire's only deep-water seaport. The city's prominence began to wane at the end of the First World War when it became part of Italy, which had other important seaports. After the Second World War, the city was invaded by Yugoslavia.  It was not until 1954 that Trieste was officially returned to Italy. 

Trieste remains Italy's main coffe port, a hub for the coffee industry and home to Italy's famous Illy coffee.  Not surprisingly, the city  is brimming with cafes.  It also has a long literary tradition.  James Joyce lived in Trieste for many years and wrote  most of "Dubliners" and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," and part of "Ulysses," there. The Italian writer Italo Svevo is a native son.  

Joyce and Svevo were friends and often frequented the Antico Caffé San Marco, which supposedly is still a haunt for artists and litterati.  When I was there, the artists and litterati must have been somewhere else so the existential, intellectual conversation I hoped to have with one of them will have to wait for another time.

One has a lot of time for possible conversation in Trieste because there are no real big must-see tourist attractions. The biggest draw is Miramare, the 1856 castle built on the Adriatic by Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg.  After only a few years at Miramare,  Maximilian unwisely went off to become Emperor of Mexico.  He was executed there three years later and the castle has become a monument to his past glories.  

That could be a description of Trieste itself where the past is very much alive and where you have the impression that everyone is waiting for the return of Trieste's former glory. It's all very gracious though and it gives one the feeling that there's no need to rush about seeing this and that.  It's enough to walk along the waterfront and then to sit in one of the beautiful cafes -- reading, writing, watching and waiting, along with everyone else, for something to happen.

To see my photos of cafes and cafe clients in Trieste, click here.
For other photos of Trieste, click here.


                                                                                                                                                                             with James Joyce

1 comment:

  1. I've never been to Trieste, although I've certainly heard of it. It looks beautiful! Now that you mention it, I do remember, when reading about James Joyce, that that's where he had lived for some time. Thanks for the tour! I'd love to see it one day.


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