Friday, 21 August 2015

Jan Morris, Barbarians, Loo Seats

So many of the things Jan Morris described in her book ‘Trieste’ are still true, even though it was written 14 years ago. She talks about the calm of the city, how well-dressed people are, their civic pride, the international sense of the place, the strengths of the bourgeoisie, the culture. I have just been reading her account of the statuary in the Tommasini Gardens… She points out that James Joyce, the only outsider allowed into the pantheon of respect, is distinguished or circumscribed by a strange kind of frame behind his head, like a rectangular halo, whereas I was looking at how all the heroes are male, and female statuary is relegated to positions of furious homage or welcome – flying round the great botanist Tommassini himself, or draped around doorways and pediments (banks, insurance offices, cinemas).  The females are all naked or semi-naked. The men are mostly in overcoats and hats.
But Morris’s book is such a pleasure to read, so rich and well-researched, I will seek out more when I get home.  She pulls in all sorts of characters and stories from the past, and weaves them together with careful observation and anecdote, whereas I think I dwell rather too much on happenstance and (possibly meaningless) incident. I know I rely on tiny events to cast light on the greater world, but perhaps I can start to incorporate wider ideas.
Today, I remembered, this time, to take with me a Swing the Bridge badge from our current fundraising campaign, to photograph it at the fixed bridge over the Canal Grande – which Jan Morris described as having some nice old boats, some half-sunk… These have all gone, to be replaced by lots of white plastic ones, but the fruit market is still there in the mornings, and various coffee bars (well known to James Joyce) are still happily in business.
Our plan was to go to the so-called ‘Venetian fishing village’ of Muggia along the coast for lunch. The ferry timetable is usefully published online, but quite wildly erroneous. We arrived on the quay in good time, to see the ferry chugging away over the horizon.
We spent the hour or so before it reappeared by visiting the international coffee exhibition in one of the huge and beautiful trading halls on the seafront. It’s a terrific exhibition and worth going to see – a silver lining in the cloud of the poor public information about the ferry. It makes imaginative claims about how Trieste could once again become the seaport for Eastern Europe, an idea which had occurred to us before. Coffee is a huge international business, and the Illy family of Trieste are doing all they can to make us more aware… It is certainly a city of coffee bars, and the coffees we’ve had have been delicious. I will, in future, go more for Arabica, and away from Robusta, which is grown mostly because it is resistant to disease, rather than for flavour.
They did not include the traditional Eritrean way of making coffee, which I once enjoyed at a resto in Stockwell (with the Hernhill Reading Group), consisting of a tiny table-top brazier on which we roasted our own beans, then a long wait while they were ground up, and then the coffee brought inside a real gourd, hollowed out, and a filter made from a single horse-tail hair, stuffed inside a long pouring tube. The portions of coffee were minute, but it was the best coffee I have ever had – and years later, I still remember it.
The ferry arrived exactly on time according to the schedule pinned up on the quayside: the Green Dolphin. It was very smart, spick and span, clean as a whistle. The trip took 30 mins, past huge tankers, crumbling warehouses, and what seemed to be a colossal steelworks from the age of Tintin.
Muggia is very pretty, small in scale, depending now pretty much on tourists who come girl lunch, but quiet and charming and not too pushy. We had a drink, watched a huge parasol on a restaurant terrace collapse over the parapet in a squall, chose to eat there anyway. We had fish and more fish. Delicious. People sitting on the terrace fled inside when the rain started again – we made space at our table for a voluble local vet and his very quiet girlfriend. Signor Snazzy was multilingual, wanted to practice his English, had lived in London  for four years (and Vienna for ten), had views on everything, had been everywhere. He said if we went to Istria (we are planning our next visit), we will find the food inferior with garlic used to mask the off-flavours of bad fish.
We came home on the same sweet ferry, wandered steeply up to the old citadel to see the Duomo and the castle, caught a bus back to the centre, went to view the beautiful railway station as advised by Jan Morris, and then bought an ice-cream (at last) for Andrew. Here we are back at the hotel, preparing for tomorrow’s journey to Rijeka in Croatia. Trieste was regarded as on the edge of barbarian country (Austro-Hungarian Empire?). Our vet thought barbarity begins at Istria, on the edge of the city. We shall see.
A quick note about toilets. They have all been pretty clean. Many are in the Turkish style, which some think are barbarous. I still moan about how loo-seats on the sit-down kind are so poorly anchored. They must be badly designed, and then serially badly abused, for so many of them to be so wonky. Maybe the giant half-naked statuesses of Trieste were making the same point. Who knows?

No comments:

Post a Comment