|Tram in Trieste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|Trieste, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|Central square, Trieste, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday I promised to keep you informed about Europe’s border problems, so far as they have affected me. Today I can report that in travelling this morning from Slovenia into Italy, no border intervened, no one asked for our passports, and everything went smoothly.
Since apparently only two buses were running during the day from the small town of Piran in Slovenia, where I have spent the last five days --- in an effort to escape the accursed family Christmas celebrations, but that is another story --- and since Piran historically has been under a huge Italian influence, and was at one time predominantly Italian in population --- I expected the traffic to Trieste, just across the border, would be brisk. Therefore, expecting a long queue for the bus, I struggled out of bed at just after 5 am in order to make sure I got a seat in the bus, which was to leave at 6.45 am. Of course, there was no one else there except my partner and myself, and for the better part of an hour I had to run up to every bus that turned in, to be told it was not the bus to Trieste.
Eventually the correct bus came, on time, and we took off, slightly groggy from the rather hectic takeoff, and in just over an hour we were in Trieste.
I had no particular expectations of this city. But I was disappointed when our bus entered the city through what looked like a working class district, of hillsides covered with medium-rise low-income-looking apartment houses of indiscriminate colour and shape. Not to worry. After being put off in the back end of the bus depot, we eventually managed to attract the interest of a taxi --- it was 8 am, building up to the rush-hour, I guess, and taxis were few and far between. However, this guy took us to our hotel, an ordinary, comfortable place, where they agreed to allow us to eat breakfast, even though we were not able to formally check in until 2 o’clock.
After a short rest we headed off, in the general direction of the main town square. Along the way, my mind was blown, as one might say. In one street after another pedestrians were king, cars forbidden, and the vistas that opened up astonished me. Vast spaces, broad boulevards, superbly decorated, coherently-composed buildings surrounding elegant, leisurely squares, lined with chairs for sitting and having coffee or whatever you felt like. I was back in Europe with a vengeance. It had been many years since I had first experienced the delights of the better European cities, their beauty, self-confidence, and immense cachet, and I immediately felt myself to be in one of these wonderful places again. At last.
I thought of Ilya Ehrenberg’s dictum (formulated in the very depths of the utilitarian Soviet Union) that every man has two homes, his own, and Paris. You could extend that to any of the better European cities, with their facility through their human scale for making people feel that they really matter.
It has never been my way to be a tourist wherever I have gone. Rather, I like to settle into a new place, then mooch around its streets, finding companionable places to investigate, comforting and warm places to sit over a glass of wine, getting a sort of feel for the place. So I have to confess that my knowledge of Trieste and its history is rather perfunctory, although I have gathered that it was once one of the four premier cities of Europe, is now a medium size place of just over 200,000 with a long maritime and industrial history, and has always been, distinctly from other Italian cities, a polyglot sort of place that has always attracted foreigners speaking their own languages. All this is enough to recommend any city to me.
But how, along with all this activity, all the trauma of being at the centre between the Eastern world and the Western world, all the continuous drama around its identity (there is still an ornamented building blazoning the inscription right across of Free Territory of Trieste), how has it managed to have the serenity to create such beautiful streets as I have experienced this morning just strolling around. There is the city centre, with its massive, ornamental public buildings; melding so effortlessly into the square blocks of privately owned places, but not far away an even more remarkable area, the streets of the Old City, slightly rundown in appearance, at least on the outside, tucked in beside the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Here one finds remarkable bookshops, crowded with tens of thousands of books (and only two, if that, in English); and restaurants of such individuality as almost to defy description. I have probably never been happier than a few hours ago sitting in one of these inimitable restaurants into which one almost has to fight one’s way past the ranks of bottles, the shouts of the proprietor from behind the bar in conversation with one of the locals, through past the place where it is right to have a glass of wine, into the tiny eating place itself, with only seven tables, where I enjoyed a light lunch of mozzarella and cheese, finished off with the most delicious tiramisu I have ever tasted.
Trieste, I am leaving you tomorrow, but I’m already in love with you, and I really hope to return some day.