Wednesday 28 July 2010

Joyce and Svevo in Trieste

There they are, Trieste's two most original literary chroniclers, among the many statues in the public gardens described by Svevo (born Ettore Schmitz, a typical Triestine mix - the nom de plume marries Italian and Swabian roots) as 'that greenery which seems so pure in the midst of the grayness of the streets and houses that surrounds it'.

I confess that this will be a very patchy entry, as I hardly trailed around the Joyce sites in Trieste much more than I did the ones in Dublin (in that instance, not at all). And I'm only halfway through Svevo's putative masterpiece, Zeno's Conscience, which so far has disappointingly little about the city in which it's set, though it does make me laugh from time to time.

Still, we'd just come back from the Julian Alps and Udine in time for Bloomsday, 16 June. There was a happening of sorts starting at the Urban Hotel Design, somewhat chaotic as these Italian esposizioni usually are. In a very crowded room, a man in a straw hat clowned around a bit on a whistlestop reading of Ulysses with musical interludes. We were shown films of the four artists involved in the 'projetto', one of whom made fun of picking up Ulysses, putting it down and declaring that Joyce could go hang; Svevo was the man for him (the two are not unconnected: Joyce saw Svevo into print and is even supposed to have modelled Leopold Bloom on his Triestine drinking buddy). Here are a couple of Luigi Tolotti's digitally elaborated collages.

Then we went walkabout, up to the street with the Augustan arch, but it had all fizzled a bit and so the two of us branched off and headed back for the harbour.

Joyce lived with Nora Barnacle in no less than nine poky apartments in the vicinity as a struggling writer and Berlitz School English teacher, fascinated by the Triestine dialect and the red-light district, both of which are supposed to have found their way into Ulysses - a book with a double consciousness split between Trieste and Dublin. He also spent hours absorbing the Greek orthodox liturgies in the Church of San Nicolo dei Greci.

It was brilliantly illuminated by the late afternoon sun when we visited, especially when the west door swung open. The young sacristan was very welcoming, and told us how large a community it still hosted on a Sunday morning.

We spent one of our four nights at the James Joyce Hotel in the old city - quiet, clean, rather dark and not bad value for money. Of course I have to show you the toiletries.

Even so, for our last night we returned to the hotel recommended by blogging pal Willym, Le Corderie, high on the hill and quite a hike from the centre of town (though weaving up and down through the backstreets, we caught some marvellous art nouveau). Le Corderie is modern, filled with books in every room, and boasting two especially delightful members of staff in the incredibly vivacious Edwiga and the very nice girl who served us breakfast on the terrace and gave us extra helpings of cherries. And what a breakfast it was - our new friends certainly weren't wrong about that.

But how have I got from high literature to food? I can't say that Svevo's Zeno would have especially approved - the idle, neurasthenic and hypochondriacal merchant's son is much more interested in cigarettes.


Minnie said...

Fascinating, David! Must confess have yet to try Svevo; you've intrigued me enough to prompt a look.
Joyce spent time in Nice, and wanted to stay; but N didn't (she usually got her way). There used to be an annual Bloomsday show on the Tour Bellanda (next to hotel favoured by J). I was in it last year; but that was the final presentation (not because of my participation, I hope!). Details on blog.
Although Dublin's red light district - 'Monto', about which there's a raucous old song which all Dubliners know - would have provided enough material for J, I suspect: it does seem to be what he's thinking of in 'Ulysses'. I suspect exile made him see the Fair City more clearly.
My cousin (composer, Roger Doyle) dramatised 'The Sirens' section of 'Ulysses' & put on a show @ TCD ago which garnered excellent reviews a while ago.
How very interesting to learn even more: thanks again!

David said...

Likewise fascinating, Minnie, thank you for further enlightenment.

I'm wondering if the Penguin translation of Zeno's Conscience isn't quite up to the mark. It doesn't sparkle, though I was much more hooked when Zeno tells of his courtship - there are some genuinely funny passages there. And I now understand what Svevo is getting at re the 'conscience'. So far, a B.

Laurent said...

I am glad you enjoyed Trieste and Le Corderie. A nice hotel.

Minnie said...

Thank you for the qualification re the translation. One reason why I tend to avoid 'em.
Have unread copy of a new (to me) edition of Bulgakov's 'The Master & Margarita'. Looking at it askance as I loved the novel years ago & now worry that the translation might spoil it for me. It can happen. Coincidentally also a Penguin edition; imprint used to be a byword for translations - now ...?
That hotel does sound wonderful!

David said...

I always wonder how reviewers who don't speak the lingo KNOW a translation's good. But I would swear by what reads well - and the glorious Anthea Bell always does it for me. Her translation of Hoffmann's Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr is just gorgeous - I was thinking of that when I said I didn't find this Svevo job elegantly funny.

Also, I'd swear by the Sarah Death translation of Linn Ullmann's A Blessed Child, which I finished in Verbier, and I reckon it's a masterpiece.