This exploration and evocation of "a middle-sized, essentially middle-aged Italian seaport, ethnically ambivalent, historically confused, only intermittently prosperous, tucked away at the top right-hand corner of the Adriatic sea." (Prologue) is written in remarkably beautiful prose. Trieste is perhaps the post-modern place: "a liner terminal without liners, an air station without aircraft". Jan Morris is a wonderful wordsmith who uses her observations of this unforgettable city to meditate on aspects of life.
My only criticism of this almost perfect little gem of travel writing is that there are no maps. She refers to places that I cannot envisage and I resorted to Google but even Google doesn't (yet) do historical maps. Please, in the next edition, add maps!
This book is full of memorable moments:
- "Those arcane moments of hush that sometimes interrupt a perfectly ordinary conversation, and are said to signify the passing of an angel. Perhaps on biblical grounds - something to do with the Crucifixion? - these are popularly supposed to happen at ten minutes before the hour" (Prologue)
- "The Trieste effect ... is as though I have been taken, for a brief sententious glimpse, out of time to nowhere." (Prologue)
- "Young people tell me they find the civic ethos oppressive. Others say it is being whittled away by the influx of migrants from Italy, who bring with them what one informant defined for me as caosmismo, chaoticness." (Ch 5)
- "Imaginary illnesses have always been prevalent here ... a malade imaginaire is worse than the real thing because it is incurable." (Ch 6)
- "If race is a fraud ... then nationality is a cruel pretence. There is nothing organic to it. You can change your nationality at the stroke of a notary's pen ... It is not usually racial prejudice that incites hooligans to bash each other in football stadiums, but particularly unaccomplished convictions of nationhood." (Ch 10)
- "I am of the opinion that lust is one of the more banal impulses, essentially functional and familiar not just to the birds and the diligent bees, but to any old lop-eared tomcat." (Ch 11)
- "I sometimes think that transient love, the sort that is embodied in a one-night passion, or even a passing glance, is no less real than the lifelong sort." (Ch 11)
- "A great city that has lost its purpose is like a specialist in retirement. He potters around the house. He tinkers with this hobby or that. He reads a little, watches television for half an hour, does a bit of gardening, ... But he knows that the real energy of his life, the fascination of his calling that has driven him with so much satisfaction for so many years, is never going to be resumed. He no longer reads the technical journals because they make him feel outdated. He no longer goes to professional conventions. The world forgetting, but the world forgot! What's it all been for, he wonders. Sometimes he feels he is cracking up or fading out, and he avoids the newspaper obituaries because ..." (Ch 14)
- "Jeans Best for Hammering, Pressing and Screwing." (Ch 14)
- "Joyce liked the fact that Trieste was in no sense a tourist city, unlike Rome, which suggested to him a man making a living by exhibiting the corpse of his grandfather." (Ch 15)
- "The past is a foreign country, but so is old age, and as you enter it you feel you are treading unknown territory, leaving your own land behind. You've never been here before. The clothes people wear, the idioms they use, their pronunciation, their assumptions, tastes, humours, loyalties all become more alien the older you get." (Epilogue)
- "dear God we are all transients, and sooner or later we all become out of date." (Epilogue)
Apart form the map thing, perfection.
April 2021; 188 pages
|This review was written by|
the author of Motherdarling
Many thanks to my wonderful friends Danny and Mary for buying this book for me. Other selections from the 'Mary and Danny' book club include:
- Watling Street by John Higgs
- Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
- How to Connect with Nature by Tristan Gooley