In Trieste, there is nothing between the Alps and the Mediterranean, and even the local news and gossip reflect this extraordinary Contiguity. On a street two minutes’ walk from the center of town, an old lady adopted a sweet little puppy looking in the garbage for food, and not until several months later did she realize it was a wolf. A young goat, having come too far off the mountain, had no other escape route but to throw himself into the sea, right there in the heart of the city, and several times the papers have run stories about Slovenian bears that have come to the edge of town to snack in local chicken coops. In Trieste, the industrial area backs up to a wilderness canyon called Rosandra, with sixth-degree cliffs, and that gorge takes you to the border in a half hour’s walk. That’s where the no-man’s-land is marked by my inn with the iron bar; a place typical of the Cold War, still intact, where thirty years ago soldiers from the now defunct Yugoslavia used to stop in for couple of rounds of unauthorized drinking with the Italian tax police.
Once, during the Jewish feast of Purim, in which getting drunk is a licit activity, a Jerusalemite rabbi whose family was originally from my area gave me the best definition of my Heimat (home). “When a Triestian sits at the head of a dock and looks out at the sunset with a good bottle of wine in hand, well, that is prayer, great and blessed prayer.” And if you pay close attention in those moments, he added, “the sea bristles with pleasure, the brass on the Karst turns to velvet, and women look at you with bursting desire. And the master of the universe, caressing his beard, says to you with satisfaction, and just a pinch of envy, ‘my lads, you’ve got the better of me yet again.'” In other words, the magnificence of the place resides in its unique contiguity with antithetical situations. Seeing is believing. The distance between a mooring berth and the opera house is fifty yards, between your boat and a tavern less than thirty.
I am proudly attached to this shoreline of mine, where I have dreamed up all my departures. There are nights, especially autumn nights, where the breeze kicks up, the air turns to glass, and the ferries to Istanbul weigh their anchors to pass in front of the freshly snowcapped Alps, when I really do have the sensation that God envies us mixed-blood bastards perched between worlds on this fabulous precipice. Standing at the head of a pier, without moving an inch, we can see Europe and Turkey, imagine the islands of Ulysses and the beer halls of Prague, where Bohumil Hrabal looked for his passengers; make out, among the ribbing of the surrounding hills, the front of the Great War, which intertwines with the Iron Curtain; sniff the warehouses of Serene Venice, packed full of goods from the East, and at the same time the wild smells of the wild steppes beyond the Danube. In the mid-1980s, when a Bavarian Chancellor landed with his helicopter on one of these piers, he said, “Unglaublich” (incredible), because such was the synthesis of the different worlds.