I’ve been here for 5 days and due to all the new experiences, people, places, sights, sounds, smells etc. it feels like I’ve done a months worth of things in that short time. Speaking/understanding Italian has been quite difficult and impossible in big groups but I’m definitely improving which is a relief. I keep switching into Spanish without even noticing and putting ‘dad’ instead of ‘tà’ on the ends of words e.g. universidad/università, though this issue is disappearing. Today is Sunday and it has been pouring with rain all day and everything is shut, so I am taking a day off to try and process everything that has happened.
On Thursday night I went to the weekly language exchange, where I met people who spoke to me about Trieste’s past present and future. I was surprised to find out that there is no railway connection from Trieste to Slovenia despite the nearest train station in Slovenia being only 15km away. The people at the language exchange were of the opinion that this is due to a group of politicians wanting to try and stop Trieste becoming more economically successful and creating competition with other Italian cities (Milano, Torino etc.) despite the obvious demand for good transport to Slovenia! In other words the government are trying to hold off making the railways link for as long as possible – and they are succeeding. It’s hard to believe that the Orient Express stopped here in it’s hey-day!
I also met a girl who works for a Slovenian minority newspaper – which has connections with Val di Resia, an ancient Slovenian community located in the Alpine valley about 90km north of Trieste with a strong folkloric tradition. I’d read a bit about Resia before coming so was interested to know more – apparently they are having a big 30th anniversary of the cultural society in November, so maybe I’ll be able to go and check it out!
(Resian Valley) (piccy from wiki)
I also met a guy who told me that his Grandma used to sing traditional songs with him when he was young. He couldn’t remember what they were called but offered to give me a C.D. I went to meet him at the university of Trieste. I cycled there, but it was at the top of an enormous hill, so had to walk most of the way! It’s a shame that I’ve heard recordings of these songs before I’ve heard them live but I suppose that is modern times..
On Friday I thought I’d check out the museum of Theatre and Music. The museum chronicles some of Trieste’s top venues and events when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The most sought after composers of Europe regularly gave performances here – Verdi, Wagner, Mahler etc. Now it is hard to imagine the most successful orchestras queueing round the block to play in Trieste. From what I’ve seen and heard, Trieste is reminding me somewhat of the fictional town of Güllenfrom Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Visit – though not quite as sinister!
Later in the day I watched some street musicians and went to say hello and introduce myself. They were a brother and sister duo who had just got back from a trip to Berlin, busking and doing gigs. We exchanged details and they invited me to a gig the following night. Listen to their song about Trieste:
On Saturday I moved to my next couchsurfing host, Francesco – it’s a nice apartment close to the centre of town and the train station. In the evening I managed to discover the underground art scene of Trieste. I’d seen an advert for a performance at the train station, little did I know that it was a part of an entire evening of public art and performances around Trieste. I went to see the performance at the train station – a group of women from diverse cultures, living in Trieste had created a large ‘carpet’ on which many had contributed a poem from their country in it’s original language. A selection of these were read out by those who had take part and the audience were free to roam around on the carpet after the performance.
Afterwards I asked a woman involved if there were any more events like this in Trieste. As it happens it was a part of this evening of public art, so off we went to the next event – an outdoor concert in a square. Then I followed my new friends to an apartment that has been converted into a bookshop. There was an exhibition there about ‘Ponterosso’ a market that that was big in Trieste in the 70s. The market sold everything but was most famous for it’s Jeans – Yugoslavians flocked to Trieste in their thousands everyday to buy jeans until 1982 when the Yugoslavian government made it more difficult to cross the border (supposedly to ease the traffic). Needless to say, thousands lost their jobs and I don’t think the market exists anymore. It was a photographic exhibition of the market in its prime, selling jeans buy the ton, queues of Yugoslavian buses etc. and there was another room where you could donate your old jeans to be made into something new. The woman who I met at the train station introduced me to quite a few people who were interested in my project and had ideas regarding places to go and people to meet so I’ve swapped details. Someone even wants me to be their babysitter!
After this, I went to the gig of the buskers I’d seen the day before and swapped a Four People C.D for their album. They too are interested in my project and want to take me to an Osmiza. I think this is a kind of cafe/pub/social meeting place unique to this region that locals go to and apparently they sing and play traditional songs. Cool!
So now I definitely feel that my project has begun. There have been lots of chance meetings and kind offers, so now I will have to try and follow through so they actually happen. One thing I have been thinking about is that I don’t want to just ‘observe’ things while I’m here, I really want to do things as well. Share. Participate. Etc. This beginning has felt very observant but I’ve realised that these first few weeks will have to be a kind of exploration. I don’t expect to fall straight into the action when I have only just arrived.