Monday 1 August 2016

Trieste, Adriatic city of nowhere

Trieste sits perched on the very edge of the deep blue Adriatic

as do Le Sartine, the little seamstresses, who dangle their legs above the waves on the sea wall in front of the sea-facing Piazza.

It was once the major commercial sea-port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

a legacy only too visible in the serious, imposing insurance company buildings, still headquartered here, that flank all three sides of the huge Piazza dell' Unità d'Italia

Assicurazioni Generali

reflecting an era when every commodity bound for Europe from the near and far East, Brazil and north America bore a "via Trieste" lading bill.

Lloyds Triestino

On the car journey to Trieste I read Jan Morris's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, about her love for the city she (then he) had first visited as a young soldier at the end of the second world war. 

'Nowhere' because of its nationless, diasporic, unplaceable character, this cosmopolitan city claimed by Austrians, Germans, Italians and Slavs, the junction for European Jews headed to Palestine and Europe's intersection with the rest of the world. 

Maybe this quality of nowhereness is what has attracted expats and exiles here for centuries.  

James Joyce lived here for many years, as an impoverished English teacher at the Berlitz school.

Here on the Canal Grande di Trieste he's immortalised, in the city he called Europiccola, where his first child was born and he wrote prolifically, finishing The Dubliners and starting on Ulysses

I liked the unobtrusive, almost incidental, way he's placed, having a casual stroll across the bridge.

In Trieste Joyce taught English to Italo Svevo, then an aspiring writer who Joyce helped get translated and published in France, thus making his name. Svevo (born Ettore Schmitz), who Joyce used as the inspiration for Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, is also captured wandering the city, in a little piazza not too far from the Canal Grande, on his way to the public library.

This is clearly a city that celebrates its literary figures. Umberto Saba, poet and novelist, is caught walking out of his bookshop where he made a living from 1919 selling old and rare books

The Libreria Antiquaria Umberto Saba

For all its nowhereness and geographical oddity - only just inside Italy, at its northeastern edge, almost completely surrounded by Slovenia on one side and the Adriatic on the other (according to Jan Morris, in a 1999 survey 70 percent of Italians did not know it was in Italy at all!) - after driving through Germany, Austria and Slovenia, I felt instantly, getting out of the car on the sea-facing piazza, that I was in Italy.

Something to do with Vespas in the sunshine  

and Verdi

and a particular way of relaxed and animated people enjoying life in cafes. 

At Caffè Specchi on the Piazza Unità d'Italia we watched functionaries from local government and insurance companies on their unhurried lunch breaks, casually and beautifully suited

and had fabulously good, simple food, bread and wine.

Trieste is also quite literally Europe's home of coffee - another legacy of its commercial sea-trading past when Trieste received coffee beans from all over the world and supplied the Austro-Hungarian empire, including Vienna's coffee houses.

It's home in particular to Illy coffee. I stocked up on beans in their fab flagship store and admired their Artist Collection of espresso cups.  

Illy espresso is served in every cafe (probably helped by the fact that Signor Ricardo Illy, head of the coffee dynasty and MP, was mayor of Trieste for some years!)

The piazza and Adriatic view at sunset made me nostalgic to leave, planning a return ...

Trieste, Italy, July 2016


  1. You make me want to visit there!
    Have been so often to Italy - but never discovered Trieste!

  2. Dear Karen, I think that these beautiful scenes and descriptions have now given me nostalgia for a place that I have never visited. What magic you perform! xo

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