O Ce Biel
From the Friulan song "O Ce Biel Cjiscjel a Udin"
Memories of 1970s Friuli
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Trieste

This section is by Chris Taylor, who started the Friulan adventure with me, Sue, Charles and others in 1975. As I've mentioned elsewhere (see the "Return" section for my brief comments on both Chris' family and Trieste), Chris stayed in Udine after we left, married Daniela and has just finished a long and distinguished career at the University of Trieste.

I worked for the Oxford School in Udine for five years, gradually augmenting the initial meagre earnings with private lessons and jobs in various "Istituti Professionali" - further education colleges. This led to a comfortable life-style but career-wise it was going nowhere. I'd already decided I was staying put in Friuli and was in a lasting relationship with Daniela. Then I got to know about the position of "lettore" in the university, a kind of language teacher backing the lecturers and professors. I met two "lettori", who were to become and still are great mates; they got me an intro and I began at the University of Udine in 1980. Whilst there, the word got around that there might be openings for "lettori" at the prestigious Interpreters School in Trieste, which had recently become a faculty of the university there. After a couple of years I was taken on in Trieste and have been there ever since. I continued to live in Udine and have now completed thirty-six years of commuting courtesy of Trenitalia.

We'd visited Trieste over the Oxford School years, but essentially as tourists. Now I was able to really get to grips with the city and so here is the start of a potted history of my time there. Travelling by train three days a week has never been a real problem. I live near the station in Udine and our premises have been near the station in Trieste since 1995, so the total time involved is little more than an hour. I use the time to do some work, listen to music/audio books or sleep. However, when I first started, I also had to catch a bus in Trieste which crossed the city to the old premises out by the race-track. Thus I got to know the layout of the place and exploring its many nooks and crannies became a pleasurable pastime. One of the aspects of Udine which had always appealed to us teachers was the ubiquitous presence of "osterie" to drink in and "trattorie" to eat in. Trieste turned out to be even more well served in this respect with a host of hostelries ranging from classy restaurants to dives known as "bettole". The fare consists mostly of fish in thousands of different guises and Austro-Hungarian dishes harking back to its relatively recent history. Trieste became officially Italian only in 1918 although had long been a predominantly Italian speaking city under Austrian rule.

The grid-like urban plan and the city centre architecture are all redolent of Maria Theresa, though the irredentist period has left its mark on the Italian nature of Trieste. Vienna sausages and the "iota" bean and "sauerkraut" soup appear on menus next to "lasagna" and "spaghetti alle vongole". Trieste's "Bagutta" was my favourite restaurant of all time. Sadly it no longer exists.

At the turn of the twentieth century it seems that Trieste was a thriving port serving the Austro-Hungarian empire and, more interestingly, extremely cosmopolitan. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction, testify to this fact. Colleague John McCourt's best-selling book on James Joyce "The Years of Bloom in Trieste", explains how James and his brother Stanislaus fitted into this milieu of German, Italian, Slav, Greek and Jewish citizens, drinking in the "bettole" and participating in the varied cultural events for which the city was renowned. Incidentally, Stanislaus was one of the founders of the Interpreters School, which became Trieste University's Faculty of Language, Interpreting and Translation. Returning to the cultural theme, Trieste is still today full of theatres, including the Teatro Verdi opera house, and other cultural venues, all of which are well frequented. Today the city is less cosmopolitan than in Joyce's time, though there is still a 10% Slovene population and a fluctuating number of foreign language teachers, and the large synagogue still serves a much reduced Jewish community.

The years surrounding the period of the Second World War took their toll on the city. There was fascist nastiness and reciprocal brutality from Tito's Yugoslav forces, and Trieste was not returned to Italy by the Allied Military Government until 1954. The nearby peninsula of Istria and some border country had already been ceded to Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, these events have left, in the minds of a number of Triestini, an abiding mistrust of the Slav nations. There is a lingering fascist element which sours the political landscape but they are in the minority and not in power.

Much has been made of the rivalry between Trieste and Udine, or between Venezia-Giulia (that strip of land that stretches from Monfalcone to Trieste and the Slovene border) and Friuli. Basically the Triestini consider the Friulani a dull, peasant race with no sense of fun, culture or adventure. The Friulani consider the Triestini a frivolous bunch of irresponsible spendthrifts, similar to their impression of the "meridionali", the people who live in the south of Italy. Naturally the reverse side of this coin is what the two peoples think of themselves. The Friulani are diligent, hard-working folk who save responsibly, build their own houses and provide for the future. They point to their exemplary reaction to the earthquake disaster reported elsewhere. The Triestini enjoy life and are culturally aware. Certainly the night-life knocks spots off Udine. The sea gives the city a further dimension and highlights the fact that the Triestini are not "stick-at-homes" and are open to adventure. Of course the truth lies somewhere in the confusing middle of all these commonplace assertions.

Having crossed the border between these two realities countless times over the last almost forty years, I must admit that I have never witnessed any hostility apart from the one occasion when the respective football teams found themselves in the same division. This, of course, is an area where Udine has decidedly had the upper hand over Trieste. Udinese have been a Serie A team, apart from the odd temporary drop to the division below, since the 1980s, including a period when the team boasted Zico and Causio, whereas Trieste have disappeared into some much lower division beset by financial problems and dwindling support. Udinese have recently seen their stadium become a state of the art facility complete with restaurants, other sports amenities and a public auditorium.
Chris Taylor, Charlie Lewis (additional text only) 2021
Email: charlie_c_lewis@hotmail.com