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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsItalian Journeys - Minor Travels - Chapter 3. Trieste
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Italian Journeys - Minor Travels - Chapter 3. Trieste Post by :kildar Category :Nonfictions Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :3324

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Italian Journeys - Minor Travels - Chapter 3. Trieste

MINOR TRAVELS CHAPTER III. TRIESTE

If you take the midnight steamer at Venice you reach Trieste by six o'clock in the morning, and the hills rise to meet you as you enter the broad bay dotted with the sail of fishing-craft. The hills are bald and bare, and you find, as you draw near, that the city lies at their feet under a veil of mist, or climbs earlier into view along their sides. The prospect is singularly devoid of gentle and pleasing features, and looking at those rugged acclivities, with their aspect of continual bleakness, you readily believe all the stories you have heard of that fierce wind called the Bora which sweeps from them through Trieste at certain seasons. While it blows, ladies walking near the quays are sometimes caught up and set afloat, involuntary Galateas, in the bay, and people keep in-doors as much as possible. But the Bora, though so sudden and so savage, does give warning of its rise, and the peasants avail themselves of this characteristic. They station a man on one of the mountain tops, and when he feels the first breath of the Bora, he sounds a horn, which is a signal for all within hearing to lay hold of something that cannot be blown away, and cling to it till the wind falls. This may happen in three days or in nine, according to the popular proverbs. "The spectacle of the sea," says Dall' Ongaro, in a note to one of his ballads, "while the Bora blows, is sublime, and when it ceases the prospect of the surrounding hills is delightful. The air, purified by the rapid current, clothes them with a rosy veil, and the temperature is instantly softened, even in the heart of winter."

The city itself, as you penetrate it, makes good with its stateliness and picturesqueness your loss through the grimness of its environs. It is in great part new, very clean, and full of the life and movement of a prosperous port; but, better than this, so far as the mere sight-seer is concerned, it wins a novel charm from the many public staircases by which you ascend and descend its hillier quarters, and which are made of stone, and lightly railed and balustraded with iron.

Something of all this I noticed in my ride from the landing of the steamer to the house of friends in the suburbs, and there I grew better disposed toward the hills, which, as I strolled over them, I found dotted with lovely villas, and everywhere traversed by perfectly-kept carriage-roads, and easy and pleasant foot-paths. It was in the spring-time, and the peach-trees and almond-trees hung full of blossoms and bees, the lizards lay in the walks absorbing the vernal sunshine, the violets and cowslips sweetened all the grassy borders. The scene did not want a human interest, for the peasant girls were going to market at that hour, and I met them everywhere, bearing heavy burdens on their own heads, or hurrying forward with their wares on the backs of donkeys. They were as handsome as heart could wish, and they wore that Italian costume which is not to be seen anywhere in Italy except at Trieste and in the Roman and Neapolitan provinces,--a bright bodice and gown, with the head-dress of dazzling white linen, square upon the crown, and dropping lightly to the shoulders. Later I saw these comely maidens crouching on the ground in the market-place, and selling their wares, with much glitter of eyes, teeth, and earrings, and a continual babble of bargaining.

It seemed to me that the average of good looks was greater among the women of Trieste than among those of Venice, but that the instances of striking and exquisite beauty were rarer. At Trieste, too, the Italian type, so pure at Venice, is lost or continually modified by the mixed character of the population, which perhaps is most noticeable at the Merchants' Exchange. This is a vast edifice roofed with glass, where are the offices of the great steam navigation company, the Austrian Lloyds,--which, far more than the favor of the Imperial government, has contributed to the prosperity of Trieste,--and where the traffickers of all races meet daily to gossip over the news and the prices. Here a Greek or Dalmat talks with an eager Italian or a slow, sure Englishman; here the hated Austrian button-holes the Venetian or the Magyar; here the Jew meets the Gentile on common ground; here Christianity encounters the hoary superstitions of the East, and makes a good thing out of them in cotton or grain. All costumes are seen here, and all tongues are heard, the native Triestines contributing almost as much to the variety of the latter as the foreigners. "In regard to language," says Cantu, "though the country is peopled by Slavonians, yet the Italian tongue is spreading into the remotest villages where a few years since it was not understood. In the city it is the common and familiar language; the Slavonians of the North use the German for the language of ceremony; those of the South, as well as the Israelites, the Italian; while the Protestants use the German, the Greeks the Hellenic and Illyric, the _employes of the civil courts the Italian or the German, the schools now German and now Italian, the bar and the pulpit Italian. Most of the inhabitants, indeed, are bi-lingual, and very many tri-lingual, without counting French, which is understood and spoken from infancy. Italian, German, and Greek are written, but the Slavonic little, this having remained in the condition of a vulgar tongue. But it would be idle to distinguish the population according to language, for the son adopts a language different from the father's, and now prefers one language and now another; the women incline to the Italian; but those of the upper class prefer now German, now French, now English, as, from one decade to another, affairs, fashions, and fancies change. This in the salons; in the squares and streets, the Venetian dialect is heard."

And with the introduction of the Venetian dialect, Venetian discontent seems also to have crept in, and I once heard a Triestine declaim against the Imperial government quite in the manner of Venice. It struck me that this desire for union with Italy, which he declared prevalent in Trieste, must be of very recent growth, since even so late as 1848, Trieste had refused to join Venice in the expulsion of the Austrians. Indeed, the Triestines have fought the Venetians from the first; they stole the Brides of Venice in one of their piratical cruises in the lagoons; gave aid and comfort to those enemies of Venice, the Visconti, the Carraras, and the Genoese; revolted from St. Mark whenever subjected to his banner, and finally, rather than remain under his sway, gave themselves five centuries ago to Austria.

The objects of interest in Trieste are not many. There are remains of an attributive temple of Jupiter under the Duomo, and there is near at hand the Museum of Classical Antiquities founded in honor of Winckelmann, murdered at Trieste by that ill-advised Pistojese, Ancangeli, who had seen the medals bestowed on the antiquary by Maria Theresa and believed him rich. There is also a scientific museum founded by the Archduke Maximilian, and, above all, there is the beautiful residence of that ill-starred prince,--the Miramare, where the half-crazed Empress of the Mexicans vainly waits her husband's return from the experiment of paternal government in the New World. It would be hard to tell how Art has charmed rock and wave at Miramare, until the spur of those rugged Triestine hills, jutting into the sea, has been made the seat of ease and luxury, but the visitor is aware of the magic as soon as he passes the gate of the palace grounds. These are in great part perpendicular, and are over clambered with airy stairways climbing to pensile arbors. Where horizontal, they are diversified with mimic seas for swans to sail upon, and summer-houses for people to lounge in and look at the swans from. On the point of land furthest from the acclivity stands the Castle of Miramare, half at sea, and half adrift in the clouds above:--


"And fain it would stoop downward
To the mirrored wave below;
And fain it would soar upward
In the evening's crimson glow."


I remember that a little yacht lay beside the pier at the castle's foot, and lazily flapped its sail, while the sea beat inward with as languid a pulse. That was some years ago, before Mexico was dreamed of at Miramare: now, perchance, she who is one of the most unhappy among women looks down distraught from those high windows, and finds in the helpless sail and impassive wave the images of her baffled hope, and that immeasurable sea which gives back its mariners neither to love nor sorrow. I think though she be the wife and daughter of princes, we may pity this poor Empress at least as much as we pity the Mexicans to whom her dreams have brought so many woes.

It was the midnight following my visit to Miramare when the fiacre in which I had quitted my friend's house was drawn up by its greatly bewildered driver on the quay near the place where the steamer for Venice should be lying. There was no steamer for Venice to be seen. The driver swore a little in the polyglot profanities of his native city, and descending from his box, went and questioned different lights--blue lights, yellow lights, green lights--to be seen at different points. To a light, they were ignorant, though eloquent, and to pass the time, we drove up and down the quay, and stopped at the landings of all the steamers that touch at Trieste. It was a snug fiacre enough, but I did not care to spend the night in it, and I urged the driver to further inquiry. A wanderer whom we met, declared that it was not the night for the Venice steamer; another admitted that it might be; a third conversed with the driver in low tones, and then leaped upon the box. We drove rapidly away, and before I had, in view of this mysterious proceeding, composed a fitting paragraph for the _Fatti Diversi of the _Osservatore Triestino_, descriptive of the state in which the Guardie di Polizia should find me floating in the bay, exanimate and evidently the prey of a _triste evvenimento_--the driver pulled up once more, and now beside a steamer. It was the steamer for Venice, he said, in precisely the tone which he would have used had he driven me directly to it without blundering. It was breathing heavily, and was just about to depart, but even in the hurry of getting on board, I could not help noticing that it seemed to have grown a great deal since I had last voyaged in it. There was not a soul to be seen except the mute steward who took my satchel, and guiding me below into an elegant saloon, instantly left me alone. Here again the steamer was vastly enlarged. These were not the narrow quarters of the Venice steamer, nor was this lamp, shedding a soft light on cushioned seats and paneled doors and wainscotings the sort of illumination usual in that humble craft. I rang the small silver bell on the long table, and the mute steward appeared.

_Was this the steamer for Venice?

_Sicuro_!

All that I could do in comment was to sit down; and in the mean time the steamer trembled, groaned, choked, cleared its throat, and we were under way.

"The other passengers have all gone to bed, I suppose," I argued acutely, seeing none of them. Nevertheless, I thought it odd, and it seemed a shrewd means of relief to ring the bell, and pretending drowsiness, to ask the steward which was my state-room.

He replied with a curious smile that I could have any of them. Amazed, I yet selected a state-room, and while the steward was gone for the sheets and pillow-cases, I occupied my time by opening the doors of all the other state-rooms. They were empty.

"Am I the only passenger?" I asked, when he returned, with some anxiety.

"Precisely," he answered.

I could not proceed and ask if he composed the entire crew--it seemed too fearfully probable that he did.

I now suspected that I had taken passage with the Olandese Volante. There was nothing in the world for it, however, but to go to bed, and there, with the accession of a slight sea-sickness, my views of the situation underwent a total change. I had gone down into the Maelstrom with the Ancient Mariner--I was a Manuscript Found in a Bottle!

Coming to the surface about six o'clock A.M., I found a daylight as cheerful as need be upon the appointments of the elegant cabin, and upon the good-natured face of the steward when he brought me the caffe latte, and the buttered toast for my breakfast. He said "_Servitor suo_!" in a loud and comfortable voice, and I perceived the absurdity of having thought that he was in any way related to the Nightmare-Death-in-life-that-thicks-man's-blood-with-cold.

"This is not the regular Venice steamer, I suppose," I remarked to the steward as he laid my breakfast in state upon the long table.

No. Properly, no boat should have left for Venice last night, which was not one of the times of the tri-weekly departure. This was one of the steamers of the line between Trieste and Alexandria, and it was going at present to take on an extraordinary freight at Venice for Egypt. I had been permitted to come on board because my driver said I had a return ticket, and would go.

Ascending to the deck I found nothing whatever mysterious in the management of the steamer. The captain met me with a bow in the gangway; seamen were coiling wet ropes at different points, as they always are; the mate was promenading the bridge, and taking the rainy weather as it came, with his oil-cloth coat and hat on. The wheel of the steamer was as usual chewing the sea, and finding it unpalatable, and making vain efforts at expectoration.

We were in sight of the breakwater outside Malamocco, and a pilot-boat was making us from the land. Even at this point the innumerable fortifications of the Austrians began, and they multiplied as we drew near Venice, till we entered the lagoon, and found it a nest of fortresses one with another.

Unhappily the day being rainy, Venice did not spring resplendent from the sea, as I had always read she would. She rose slowly and languidly from the water,--not like a queen, but like the gray, slovenly, bedrabbled, heart-broken old slave she really was.

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