A Visitation, and the Barcola

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A buliding along the Barcola

The last ten days have been both busy and kind of annoying. I’ve been waiting around the house all morning, every morning, waiting for the police to arrive to verify my residence. Needless to say, it hasn’t happened yet. I was told “sometime in the next two weeks” by the woman at the Anagrafe, though that, I think, means sometime between then and this Friday. Regardless, I have things to do, and really wish they’d get here so I don’t have to keep waiting. My brother tells me that they don’t necessarily wait very long after they ring your bell, and if I happen to be in the shower or, gods forbid, out taking my dog for a quick morning walk when they show up, I could miss them entirely.

The other part of the reason it’s frustrating is because I was told I had to go sign up for health care, and the only time that office is open is in the morning, when I have to be here waiting. Italian governmental offices are often open for only a few hours a week, and if you can’t get there, you’re kind of screwed. Fortunately, there’s not a hard time limit on the signing up for health care – I can do that anytime in the next couple of months without being too concerned.

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Faro della Vittoria

I was recently visited by a couple of people I met online – Daniel, a Harvard professor of literature and music, and his partner Marta. They spent a couple of days in Trieste, and are currently in Florence. He’s supposed to do a talk in Turin on June 20th on his most recent book, which sounds really fascinating, and right up my alley. I’ve ordered a copy and will see if I can get to the presentation. While I’m not much of an expert on Trieste, I did show them around to some of my favorite places for walks and food and coffee; they really enjoyed the food and the city. Daniel has done work on James Joyce, so we visited some Joyce sites. He’s also doing a book on Giuseppe Verdi, so we wandered around to Teatro Giuseppe Verdi and saw the Verdi statue near Viale XX Settembre, and they went to see Castello di Duino during the next day when I wasn’t available to hang out and show them around.

We talked a lot about art, literature, film, food, and music as we wandered the streets and got rained on. There was a big thunderstorm the first night they visited, and we walked along the riva in the evening, as the storm was moving in, with lightning flashing over the Adriatic. The lights of Piazza Unità were, I think, even more impressive than usual under the darkening sky. By the time I headed home from the apartment they were renting via Airbnb, the hail and the worst of the rain had passed, but my umbrella still got destroyed by the wind. I’m still not used to dealing with them, after so many years in the Pacific Northwest.

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La Mula de Trieste and Miramare

Earlier this week I was over at the AIA helping out with some cooking for a volunteer appreciation evening. I spent a couple of afternoons in the kitchen and had a lovely time. I enjoy cooking for people, though I wouldn’t want to do it for a living. This evening I’ll be going over for a roundtable discussion on LGBTQ activism in the US from the 1970s to the present, hosted by one of the humanities professors at the University of Trieste.

On Sunday, several of us met a woman from the base at Aviano and her two young kids, to show them around the city. Most of the people stationed at the base never leave Aviano; there’s an unfortunate streak of paranoia that the military encourages in its people and their dependents that can be hard to understand for anyone who hasn’t actually been in the military. When I was in service in the 1980s during the Cold War, it was Russian spies under every rock, even when I was stationed in Hawaii. Now, just substitute “terrorists” for “spies” and you rather have the idea of it. Anyway, she had a great time, and her kids loved the train trip, so perhaps we can encourage people to overcome the propaganda and actually enjoy the gift of being stationed in Italy.

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Statue in Pineta di Barcola

Yesterday I ambled down along the coast to the Barcola, Trieste’s “beach,” which is mostly a paved waterfront walk that stretches for several miles from the north end of the city up to Miramare. (There’s a far better, though still short, Wikipedia entry on the Barcola in Italian here.) What natural waterfront exists is stony, like the majority of the beaches I know from the Salish Sea, and from parts of New England. The walk was probably 8 kilometers out and back, and I was really aching by the time I got home, but the glorious view was absolutely worth the time and the aches. The Barcola is where the Triestini go when the weather is nice, to walk or to swim, or just to lie in the sun. On the weekends when the weather is good, it’s apparently nearly impossible to find a place to put a towel down, and the buses are stuffed to the gills from early in the morning until late evening, with the coastal road pretty much entirely parked in along the sides.

As is, unfortunately, fitting for a popular beachfront, getting a drink was really expensive. It was €3 for a tiny bottle of peach juice and I’m sure it would have been more had I used a glass instead of having the bottle porta via (to take away). Some of the little bars along the beach will let you use their tables for €.50, but it’s always better to get a little something from the place if you’re going to sit. I tried sitting on a bench to scribble in my notebook, but my fountain pen went dry in the middle of a sentence, so I had to put it away. I usually carry a backup pen, but didn’t have one in my bag yesterday. That’ll teach me to be unprepared. What kind of a writer doesn’t carry more than one pen? (This one, obviously.)

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Castello di Miramare

I also had my first conversation entirely in Italian with a random person as I walked back along the beach toward Trieste. I didn’t quite understand everything, and probably gave a couple of kind of odd answers, but we mostly understood each other. Most of my (brief) Italian conversations have either been with people I know, or in places where I’m paying a bill or buying groceries, and they’re very limited. This was one of those “where are you from, what do you do” kinds of conversations you have with random strangers. I struggle with words when I’m not sitting down and writing, with a dictionary close at hand. Even when I know the words, I have to search for them in my head. “Non ho molte parole” is a phrase I’ve taken to using of late – “I don’t have many words.” That, along with “parlo solo un poco italiano” (I only speak a little Italian) tends to be my fallback when I’m struggling. It’s hard, feeling so limited in my ability to talk with people. Combined with my innate introversion, it makes it very difficult for me to actually talk with strangers, but I’m fighting the impulse to say nothing, rather than make mistakes. Sounding like an idiot sometimes is preferable to total isolation, much as I dislike the idea.

Next week at some point, I’m supposed to go with my Italian teacher, Luisella, and her husband Gino, up to the university in Miramare. He teaches in the Physics department and has offered me and my brother a tour of the facility and a chance to see the particle accelerator. Science geekery FTW! We just have to schedule a day when everyone is available and the place is open to the public.

And I shall leave you with a picture of the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3, from his first day in Italy.

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The Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3

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In which there is a thought-provoking film, and trains are not what they seem

I’m back in Montereale. We’re having some sunshine and my brother is off on his motorcycle for a little bit while it lasts. It apparently poured here all weekend, where Trieste had a little bit of a break and occasional sunshine.

I spent most of Sunday wandering a little further afield. Rather than heading down to the waterfront, I walked inland a bit to the Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini.

triestegardenIt’s a roughly triangular public park and botanical garden founded by its namesake, a botanist born in Trieste, who later became the city’s mayor. There’s a pond and a playground for the kids, some chessboards (including a large one paved in an alcove between some seats amid the trees), and busts of cultural figures lining the paths. Artists, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals of varying sorts who have some connection with Trieste are found all along the park paths. James Joyce and Italo Svevo are found next to one another with statues erected at the centennials of their birth.

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James Joyce at the Public Garden

I sat for a while on a park bench next to the pond, under the watchful eye of Joyce and Svevo, scribbling in my notebook while the sun edged in through the clouds. The weather was relatively warm and pleasant, particularly after the previous day’s pouring rain. I enjoyed the respite as I let myself get a feel for this part of the city.

Because it was Sunday, and around lunchtime, most of the city’s businesses were closed, but people were out walking and taking advantage of the nice weather. I passed by Cafè San Marco (free wi-fi advertised in the window), which looked large and inviting, though I passed it by instead of going in. Wandering randomly, I eventually stopped for lunch myself at a little kebab place on a small side street before heading back to the apartment.

At the film festival, I watched La Mia Classe, which was much more about immigration issues than learning language, per se. It was fascinating, hilarious, and heartbreaking by turns. Part of the film was fictional, though some of it seemed to be entirely too real to be scripted, and the person associated with the film who spoke at the festival said that it had started out as fiction but mutated into something else as filming went along. It reminded me of how very fortunate I am in my own circumstances. I’ve never thought of myself as a wealthy person, though I know I am a lot better off than some of my friends. In Seattle I am just under the income cutoff for public housing assistance. I could have qualified for a very small, subsidized apartment. Over here, by comparison, I have a lot of money, and that isn’t a circumstance I ever thought I’d be in.

It’s sobering to think about. In my life, I have spent time homeless. I’ve slept on people’s couches and floors and in their spare rooms for a couple of days, or a few months at a time for a total of probably three years of my life, though, thankfully, I’ve never had to sleep under a bridge or in a doorway anywhere, or try to deal with a homeless shelter. I’ve had to go to food banks because I didn’t have money for food, but I’ve never gone more than two days with nothing at all to eat. By the standards of some of the people in the film, even those circumstances were better than what they left when they came to Italy. I have always been thankful when I have enough – a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep, something hot to eat that tastes good. I can only say that I am moreso now.

When the film ended, I grabbed a sandwich and went to find the train my brother had referred me to for the trip back to Pordenone. He gave me the information for the last train of the night, not realizing that it wasn’t the train to Venice via Udine, but the overnight to Rome. There is a price differential of €5, and I didn’t have that much cash in my pocket. They didn’t take credit cards on the train. There wasn’t enough time for me to run to the Bancomat for a little cash. I’d already stamped the ticket, as you’re supposed to, so I couldn’t use it the next day; it was now essentially just a piece of paper that had cost me €13 and change. Thankfully, my apartment was just across the street, so I hauled my backpack up the stairs again and stayed on the air mattress for another night, and caught a morning train down to Pordenone, happy that I had a place to stay and more than enough money to buy a new ticket.

Today my brother took me out to look at furniture and mattresses. I found one that will do nicely and shuffled funds around so that I have the cash in my bank account to buy it, but I will have to find out how much delivery will cost and when they will be able to get one to Trieste. It was at one of the chain department stores, so they can probably talk to a more local branch for less distance, but I’ll have to be in the apartment to take delivery. It’ll be a while before I can get a bed to put under the mattress, but it’s a pretty good start. A warm, comfortable place to sleep, even if it’s temporarily on the floor, is worth so very much.

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Giardano Pubblico Muzio Tommasini

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A view from the garden

Meeting Trieste

Monday my brother took me down to the coastal town of Caorla. After the pouring rain of the weekend (we got two inches or so and rained out the Befana bonfires), it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and relatively warm. He didn’t tell me where we were going. When we were nearly there he asked if I could guess.

Frankly, I hadn’t any idea where we were or even that the coast was anywhere near. The only thing I knew was that we were heading south, away from the mountains, but “south” covers a lot of territory from Aviano. Living on a huge, open plain, there are no real vantage points from which to see the surrounding territory, so I had no way to even guess we were near the coast. “Um, no,” I said. “I haven’t got any idea of the geography yet.” I think he was slightly disappointed.

Caorla

Caorla

 

Caorla seems like a lovely little seaside town. We walked along the paved path along the beach, but didn’t actually venture down onto the sand. I would have, had I been by myself, but I wasn’t sure where my brother was going or how long he wanted to spend out of the house. I very much enjoyed it, though.

 

Right on the beach is a little church. One side of the church tower has a large light on it, facing out to sea, so I imagine that it functions as a sort of lighthouse, though the light wouldn’t be visible from all directions. The stones along the sea wall are interspersed with a variety of stones that have been carved by different artists. Some of the carvings are whimsical (one of the first ones I saw was a head with an alligator or crocodile perched atop it like some Egyptian deity), while others seemed more abstract or more serious. They did liven up the waterfront walk quite nicely.

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

Church tower on the beach at Caorla

We finished up our short walk and had lunch at a seafood restaurant. The grilled fish was delicious but the rest of it was really only so-so. He hadn’t eaten there before, so it was a shot in the dark. The place he usually eats there was closed, as Monday was a holiday. Despite the mostly uninspiring food, I was glad to have a bright day, and to get some salt air in my lungs again. I’d been missing it mightily.

Yesterday, though, we got up at about 6:30am to get the train from Sacile to Trieste. My brother prefers to take the train from Sacile rather than Pordenone (which is closer) because you can actually find parking there, and the train isn’t as crowded when you get on. We got first class tickets because he wasn’t sure whether the second class compartments were going to be packed with students and commuters. By the time we got to Udine, there were crowds boarding, but first class remained relatively roomy by comparison.

I enjoyed the train ride up to Trieste. For quite some time, we were traveling over the plain but as we got more into the mountains, I began to feel much more at home. All I could think was, “This is more like it. This feels right.” I’ve been missing having hills surrounding me. I feel too exposed out here with nothing but space around me and I know I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like this, even in a city, for very long before it really started getting to me. I need the steep hillsides and the variety in the terrain to truly feel comfortable. I need the sea close at hand. I need to be able to look up and see the hills ranging into the mist, and the trees on the mountainside.

One of my brother’s friends had commented about the hills in Trieste, suggesting that I might have a rough time with them. Having lived in and around Seattle for so long, the thought mostly amused me. I can’t wait to be living between the mountains and the water again. I’m fine with climbing hills, and I can generally take my time if I’m walking. The exercise agrees with me. So far the only three complaints I have heard from anyone about Trieste are:

  1. The Bora wind. I figure the city is prepared for it and I can learn to live with it.
  2. There’s no parking. Since I can’t drive, this is irrelevant.
  3. Hills. See above.

If these are the only complaints people generally express, it can’t be that bad a place to live, can it? These may well be famous last words, but we’ll see what happens.

Trieste is a border city, on the edge of Slovenia. It was the seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a couple of centuries. During the Cold War, it was nearly as divided as Berlin, though without the physical wall. There was once a small US Navy base there, long gone now. The British writer, Jan Morris, wrote a book about the city called Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which I read a month or so before coming to Italy. She made the place sound quite melancholy, which wasn’t the impression I got when we visited.

As we approached Trieste, Duino Castle was visible along the coast in the town of Duino, made famous in the literary world by Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies series of poems. Not much further along was Miramare Castle, built by the ill-fated Hapsburg Archduke, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico. He lasted for about three years before he was executed by firing squad. Personally, I’m more of an Emperor Norton fan, myself, but the castle is lovely from the train, situated on a point overlooking the Adriatic. Sadly, the train windows were a little smudged and dusty for taking photos.

When we arrived at the Trieste station, there was a young man walking out into the city ahead of us; he was wearing a long and rather nice black cloak. “Okay,” I thought, “that looks about right to me.” The impression was further confirmed when we stopped at a bar across from the train station. A woman who may have been in her early 40s was one of the baristas, wearing nose and labret piercings with studs. Obviously among the conceptual group of “My People.” I felt a tiny spark of joy at seeing her.

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

Detail, Serbian Orthodox Church

In hopes of talking to some people with experience around Trieste, we went over to the American Corner. I’d found them on the internet when I was researching the city several months ago; they’re located at Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, number 6. There’s a library there that used to be part of the no-longer-operating American consulate in Trieste. When the last consul died in 2008, the State Department closed the consulate and never bothered to send anyone else, but the library remained and was taken over by a group of volunteers. Now they manage a library of books and movies, they host movie nights and English-language documentaries, offer English classes and Italian classes, along with other social gatherings. One of the things they host is a monthly gathering for English-speaking newcomers to Trieste to offer some orientation to the city and its services. The next one is on Friday the 17th, and I’ll be hopping on a train to go down for the weekend to attend.

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

Canal into the Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, Trieste

The Facebook page for the organization had them listed at number 9, and the map pin on the page had them placed in yet a different location. I asked my brother to call them and we headed off to Piazza San Antonio Nuovo, along the waterfront up to the canal. “It’s after the Serbian church,” he was told.

There is no number 9 after the Serbian church. I don’t think there’s a number 9 at all, actually. I spotted a nondescript door in between a couple of businesses, with the typical column of resident/business labels and doorbells. “Maybe we should look at the door, there,” I said. “They might have a name tag up.”

“Oh, no,” my brother said, “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Let’s walk a little more.”

We walked around the block. We walked up to number 1 and down past the Serbian church. I said, “We should call them again.” He did.

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Serbian Orthodox Church, Piazza San Antonio Nuovo

It was, in fact, the door I’d suggested we check out. Naturally.

We went inside, up the tiny, ancient lift and into the offices. It’s actually a fairly nice location, with a number of rooms for their library collections, their movie room, classrooms for adults and kids. The volunteers we spoke to were quite nice and there’s apparently a thriving small community centered around the place. They have regular hours, but are often open if someone’s in the office just because someone is there. We had a very nice chat with Denise, who was helpful and quite informative. She gave me a stack of flyers for classes and events, and some contacts for people in the city who might be able to help with finding a place to live. “We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “Do you have any library experience?”

I’m not a librarian, but I live in one, and I’ve worked in bookshops and libraries before, so it’s likely I’ll be spending time there and probably doing some volunteer work myself, to get acquainted with people and start to find community. It’s always easier for me to talk to new people if I have an actual reason to speak with them, rather than just randomly approaching strangers; having A Thing To Do would be very helpful while I got settled in.

After our chat with Denise, we grabbed some lunch and called a rental agency. We had found a few places that looked like possibilities on an online rental site. She said to meet her at one of them at 2:30, so we spent a little time wandering around the area of the apartment we were going to look at. Denise had said the neighborhood was a nice one, and fairly quiet, which was encouraging. The building itself is across the street from the train station, in walking distance of pretty much everything, and at a fairly substantial hub of bus routes. The place was gorgeous inside, as well, so I’m currently in the process of dealing with attempting to get a rental contract. I emailed the agent today and gave formal notice that I want to rent the place; she’d texted my brother and asked me to do so, as they had another inquiry about the place today. I don’t know whether I’ll get it, but it would be ideal if I could, as it’s a lovely large place with a southern exposure and lots of light, in a place that was just renovated. The apartment went on the rental market not three weeks ago, right about the time I arrived in Italy. I’d love a place with light after spending ten years living in a cave.

Friday we’ll be going into Trieste again. Italian banks run very differently than US banks, and the only way you can withdraw cash from the bank without a bank card is to go into the branch where you opened the account. That means I’ll need one in walking distance of wherever I happen to live.

You can’t just walk into an Italian bank. The damned things have airlock doors equipped with metal detectors. With most of them, you can’t even carry your bag inside. You have to leave your purse or backpack in a locker outside the door, provided by the bank. It certainly seems like the sort of thing that would make robberies a lot harder, if nothing else. I’ll admit it all seems very strange to me, used to being able to walk into any branch of my credit union without having to pass through an airlock, and withdraw money if I there is a teller at the branch.

A lot of banks here don’t do online banking yet, either, so I had to spend time today searching Italian bank websites (mostly in Italian) to figure out what services they offered. I did find one on the waterfront, only a few blocks from the apartment I’m trying to rent, that actually has online services something like what I’m used to, including bill paying. It’ll make life a lot easier if I don’t have to deal with walking down to the bank for a check every month when I need to pay bills to places that don’t take cash. It looked like they might even set up automatic payments for rent, though I’m not certain. We’ll have to talk to them when we are in town again on Friday.

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d'Italia

Neptune getting his Sea God on, behind the Piazza Unità d’Italia

Before we headed back to Sacile on the train, we wandered around the city a bit. The more we walked, the more I thought, “This is a place I could live. I’d like living here.” We found ourselves in the Piazza Unità d’Italia and stopped at Caffè degli Specchi, a very famous and very elegant café. The place has a tea menu along with all the coffee, for which Trieste is quite famous. They have loose leaf tea, served in those wonderful Japanese cast iron teapots. It’s the first place I’ve found in Italy so far that had more than a little box of random tea bags, if they had any tea at all. Loose leaf tea. My day was made.

Tomorrow we’re supposed to go into Montereale Valcellina and see if we can get my ID card. My brother’s landlady was supposed to go file a declaration that I’m living here so that I can get the documentation. I have no idea if she’s had time to do that yet. We shall see.

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal

Me and my bud, James Joyce, taking a walk along the canal