Posts Tagged ‘Barcola’

Apart from the fact that I’m fast coming to the conclusion that it’s impossible to work full time, do all the family stuff AND blog, I am also having to recognise for the nth time that I easily stray from the matter in hand. Strangely enough, in Italy, at least in the circles we seem to move in, you are constantly reminded of how little commitment, dedication and focus you have. Most often, this shows up in the expectations parents have for their children.

Kids should do the best they can in EVERYTHING. If they are able, then they must work and work, practice and practice, and be the best they can be. If you are not being the best you can be, then parents have a right to punish you. These punishments are so harsh… my daughter’s eleven year old friend was telling me that she couldn’t come and play because she had been grounded (I don’t usually like Americanisms but this is the only word that means this in English I know of) – and no friends could come to her house. She had also been forbidden to watch television, use the internet, play games on the computer and read. (Hah! Not reading is a punishment – very cool). I looked at her aghast and asked her what was she doing then at home? “I study a bit, then I play a bit, then I study.”

“And why this punishment povera?”

“Because I only got 7 out of 10 in my test.”

At this point my daughter piped up, “If I get a 7 my dad jumps in the air’. Oh dear, said her friend, is he very angry? “No, she replied, “He’s really happy.”

This whole scene loses a LOT in translation, but never mind.

The downside of not doling out all these punishments is that maybe your kids AREn’t doing the best they can, and they’ll hate you for it afterwards.

Anyway, back to the crowded pavements… I was sat next to a lovely Indian professor on the bus who had just spent two months in Chanai after living in Trieste for twelve years. Now he’s going back to live there for good. Meantime, he’s back in Trieste.

“I really appreciate this” – he said, waving his arm to include the stunning cobbled pavements that line the road that travels next to the sea from the pineta in Barcola to the bivio that leads in one direction to the Castello di Miramare, and the other up the hill to the physics centre.

“I know”, I said, fully appreciating how breathlessly beautiful and life-giving this sea walk can be. “I love it too.”

“Well no, I mean, not this pavement, any pavement will do – just an empty pavement”, he said. “You can barely walk in Chanai. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it again.”

I remembered leaving London almost for the same reason – the unbearable claustrophobia of the tube at rush hour, the museums full at weekends, the crowded parks.

Later of course, thinking I might write about this for my blog, I went online to find out more about these crowded pavements. There were some great videos of bobbing heads of all kinds, weaving in and out, colliding on the sidewalks of New York. From New York I followed the weird internet path of connections to videos of the twin towers that fateful day. I had never watched a film of that event. I had just returned from Brazil (to London) that very day – on a long-haul flight myself and was already in a fog from jet lag. I thought it must be a joke. When I woke up later I knew it was true – and horrific and enough. I didn’t even consider watching it.

But now I have.


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So – two reasons for writing this. First, I’m moving (back) to Trieste this summer. Second, we’re reading Jan Morris’s Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere for our monthly Book Club meeting at The Rocket this Sunday. 

I am loving this reunion with Trieste. As I’ve said in an earlier post, I first lived in Trieste from 1990 to 94. Back then I was teaching English as a Foreign Language at the British School of Trieste, run by the indomitable Peter Brown (who is still there, I hear:  a kind of towering yet bumbling entrepreneur with his fingers in lots of pies, a Brit who has embraced networking the Italian way….). I had never taught EFL before (but had enjoyed teaching Clear Writing to first year  American undergraduates at the bucolic, idyllic Marlboro College in Vermont). I was up for anything – and most of all, wanted to get away from the intensity of academic study (I’d just spent two years writing a Masters thesis on ‘Historical and Sexual Marginalisation’ in three women writers …you understand why I needed a break). And this EFL was hands-on stuff. 

I did a month’s training at another British School in Udine (with the wonderful Richard and Marjorie Baudains – wonder what they’re up to now?) and then it was a baptism of fire – an intensive (as in every day from morning to evening) course for Italian railway men. We practised all the relevant vocabulary (I loved translating the – for some reason – hilarious and ubiquitous E Pericoloso sporgersi…) and rehearsed improbable conversations:

‘What time is it?

‘It is quarter past eleven.’

‘What time does the train arrive?’

‘It arrives at half past twelve.’ 

There was an overtly flirtatious dynamic: a young female teacher and a group of five (fortyish I suppose) Italian family men enclosed in a room for seven hours a day. They would often buy me presents and take me out for expensive meals with spectacular views of the Gulf. I would cruelly mimic their pronunciation (Iya wanta to-a be-a a- pop-a star-a) while they would solicitously praise mine. I can remember three faces (one square face, one moustache, two deep crevasses instead of dimples), only one name (Roberto) but a general sense of their kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, generosity. My first surprising introduction to the Italian male en masse

At that time we were living in a flat in Roiano (mid-way between the cobbled promenade and pineta of Barcola and the deeply polluted city). For one month (or was it three?) we shared the flat with our friends Juno Lamb (a student from Marlboro College) and Eric Demers (from the International summer camps Stef and I were involved in – more of which later..). And at some other point we shared the flat with Etienne Schelstraete from Belgium ( we met at the Youth Hostel where we first camped out – he was writing entries for encyclopedias, or translating, or just passing the time) and Michiel Blumenthal from Holland (another friend from summer camp – and guess what – not having heard from either of them for years, Michiel and I are doing summer camp together this July!! And Etienne is coming to visit us in Trieste this autumn…the circle closes).

Anyway, our conversations (with Etienne and Michiel in particular) I remember most vividly. They were all about Trieste and its lost sense of identity. How it was once an important port for Austria, and then switched nationalities (once. twice)..how there was a general sense of emptiness, of faded grandeur, of indefinable longing..both for the past and the future. I know it sounds unlikely (and pretentious of course) but this, truly, was an almost daily topic of conversation between us. Mostly steered by Etienne who had a historian’s curiosity and Michiel who had a dramatist’s sense of romance…and myself who had..a confused sense of identity typified by an overwhelming sense of longing for something indefinable. Stefano was less immersed..being the only one of we itinerants with a ‘proper job’ – and thus proper preoccupations (such as do Lorenz attractors really attract? etc etc How do mathematicians get away with studying this ephemera??!) Insomma, we felt at home in Trieste. This Nowhere was Somewhere to us.

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This is now…

Spent the last couple of days taking refuge in the shade all day. Monday was apparently the hottest day in May for —-years. We went down past Grignano, hoping to use the outdoor pools. But they don’t open for the summer till this weekend. Instead, we went further along to another ‘private’ paying beach, where you can hire a lounger, there are showers and changing rooms and toilets. All very civilised. And there are steps down to an almost-clean sea. Veteran Triestinis are already camped out  for the summer, obviously in their faithful spots. Looks like you can rent (or own?) the beach huts too. Though beach is not quite the word – it’s all concrete. But still, the sun, the smell of pines, the holiday air (and the requisite getting ripped off at the bar/ cafe – their caprese was to die for – and we almost did).

In the evening we went to another beach even further down the coast. The kids snorkelled. Stef played with them. I ignored everyone and soaked up the remaining sunshine.  Before dinner we walked from the beach past a fancy-looking castle which turned out to be the Oceanographic department, then along a grassy path that led to more rocks all along the sea till we noticed a lone couple, naked, on the rocks. I was sad to have disturbed them, imagining their little outdoor retreat. And the kids came rushing up, whispering their surprise and delight. But then we saw a sign saying this was the naturist  part – and we felt bad, then, to have all our clothes on, though it was late by now, and there was no one else…

We discovered, too,  a little camping area back up in the woods, where people looked as if they were staying long-term (there was even a pole strung with clothes hangers). On the way back, we met weathered brown men carrying bottles and bottles of water to their simple abode. I was curious to know who lived there, and how.

But we, in holiday mode, went to the fabulous restaurant back on the beach right there. You don’t get restaurants like that in London – where you can walk in off the pebbles in your flip flops, where half the clientele have been topless minutes before, where babies are swiftly and happily perched in high chairs by solicitous waitresses, business men chat on their mobiles, couples gaze out to sea…and the food is fresh, delicious – and reasonably priced.

take a left down towards the sea...

take a left down to the sea...

Tuesday we stayed at home all morning it was soo hot!  Then the girls and I walked down to Barcola, down our by now well-trodden path:past the ferocious dogs who make us jump out each time,

down the steep path...

down the steep path...

past the irises (now blown out completely), past the lighthouse, down in the pencil line of shade by the side of the road, down the crumbling steps to the railway bridge, then past the scuola statale, imagining all the kids inside busily reading and writing (they are so quiet in there!) till we arrive at our favourite ice cream bar – Pipolo. There is always a party of some kind going on in the canopied terrace – last time it was a kids’ birthday party – with a massive cake made entirely of ice cream. This time it was a more sedate adult affair, with cocktails and canopes. Fran is very excited that she might have her next birthday party at Pipolo’s. (I wonder who her friends will be, a year from now?)

past the terraced gardens..

past the terraced gardens


along the pencil-line of shade

along the pencil-line of shade



Then back again to the big pebbled beach and more snorkelling. I spent my time watching a young couple trying to get their alsatian to swim. He hated the water! They had to keep throwing hime in – and he jumped right out. Then they tried enticing him with a ball. But he didnlt know how to play with the ball either. Just looked at it and wagged his tail. He just wasn’t doing any of the things dogs are supposed to do. A very pregnant lady with a sunburnt face (could have been British) sat at the edge of the sea and screamed with delight as the waves pounded her belly. I wondered how the baby inside was enjoying the ride. And another couple, peacefully side by side, reading, joined suddenly by a woman with a tiny baby – and they are transformed, looking on longingly as the baby does baby things, wobbling her head, smiling.

Wednesday I spent the morning in bed with a migraine (haven’t had one of those for a long time – must be the release of stress), while the kids bounded around the small apartment, making films of themselves on my laptop) – and then Stef arrived to take Fran to the doctor’s in town (a suspicious-looking mole that turned out okay – but what is it about us, Trieste and doctors? We never go in London!). 

Today, feeling better, off to take the kids to the Napoleonica. Will finish my update of Trieste, then..this evening perhaps…

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