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Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere


Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

James Joyce called it home for years and taught English there while
working on ULYSSES. That is the only thing I knew about Trieste,
the strange little city that belongs to Slovenia more than the
Italian peninsula on which it rests. Jan Morris, the travel
writer/historian whose sex change once threatened to override her
journalism career, thinks it a fascinating and complicated place in
which she finds her adult self (when she was a he, she was a
soldier in World War II, stationed in Trieste). Coming back again
after so long, Morris looks not only at Trieste's history but also
at its meaning in her life --- the way it represents her aging is a
perfect foil for her railings about patriotism and sex, some of her
favorite topics.

"The legacies of this society are still inescapable in Trieste. The
families may be extinct, but many of their names are still part of
the civic vocabulary, and sometimes their memories live. 'Who's
that?' I asked the man behind the counter at the Cosulich Travel
Agency on the Via Rossini, pointing to a photograph of a
prosperous-looking gentleman on the wall behind his back. 'That's
one of the bosses,' he said --- and he was referring to the
Cosulich brothers, ship owners who died generations before he was
born." How perfect a place for a treatise on death, among other
things, to be situated! Although its history is tied up in the
tangled nightmares of fascism as much as the steadfast prosperity
of the Hapsburg regime or the difficulties of the Cold War, Trieste
is ultimately an Italian territory, in thought, deed, and legacy.
To consider the dead your boss you have to understand and
have taken to heart the Italian idea that your "elders" include
those who have passed as well as those who are present. Morris then
turns this into a metaphor for the aging she herself is doing, how
she has created a personal history that will live beyond her, how
what she feels seems to come to her from a place beyond herself ---
she is part of a long line of muses that perhaps date back to a
long-ago Trieste.

With the world being commercialized for homogenous travel these
days, it is wonderful to encounter a strange little bit of the old
world, as represented by Trieste, and enjoy the witticisms and
noble perception of such a time-tested and trusted guide as Morris.
Her command of the language is supreme, her ability to express her
deepest feelings is considerable, her love of her subject matter
permeates every syllable. Perhaps TRIESTE AND THE MEANING OF
NOWHERE could be a swan song of sorts after a lengthy career that
has produced over 30 books. But, somehow, the heart of this book
beats as strongly as Morris's own heart, and it is clear that she
is still ready to go at a moment's notice. May her next stop be as
charmingly full of interest as this one.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 23, 2011

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
by Jan Morris

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Travel
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743201280
  • ISBN-13: 9780743201285