Friday, 7 October 2016

The Joyce Trail in Trieste Part 4: Looking for the Beach at Fontana

Here's a photograph of Joyce with his son Giorgio from Joyce Images (edited by Bob Cato and Greg Vitiello).  It was taken in 1914, the year that Joyce wrote a poem about taking Giorgio to the beach in Trieste.

On the Beach at Fontana

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love! 

We can find the inspiration for the poem in Joyce's Trieste notebook of 1907-9 (in The Workshop of Daedalus):

'I held him in the sea at the baths of Fontana and felt with humble love the trembling of his frail shoulders: Asperge me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me at super nivem dealbalor ['Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow'].
 Before he was born I had no fear of fortune.' 

Trieste is famous for its winds, especially the bora, the north wind. Years after leaving Trieste, Joyce described this for his biographer, Herbert Gorman, in a list of all the things he remembered fondly about the city: 'Even the 'bora' that dreadful wind that blew so fiercely through the town that ropes had to be stretched across the streets to aid pedestrians, fascinated him as one of the irresistible phenomena of nature.'

The whining wind is something we saw for ourselves on the beach at Grado, just along the coast. Here you can see the lifeguard holding on to his sunshade as the wind suddenly whipped in from the sea. 


From the opening of Ulysses, where the hydrophobic Stephen Dedalus refuses to join Buck Mulligan for his morning dip, you'd think that Joyce didn't like swimming. But this is what Stanislaus Joyce says in My Brother's Keeper:

'My brother was very fond of swimming...He was a splashy swimmer but fast. Over a short distance he could beat his burly friend Gogarty, who was, of course, a far stronger swimmer.'  

Lisa and I are very fond of swimming too, and I was looking forward to seeing the beach at Fontana, though I had no idea where it was. But while riding a bus along the seafront to the castle of Miramare, the indicator announced 'Fontana'.  We got off, and found it was a popular spot with Slavs, sunbathing on the pavement.  There's no real beach here, just rocks and a roadside, which made me think how much Trieste must have changed since Joyce's day. Where were the shingle and crazy pierstakes?

Lisa on the 'beach' at Fontana where we swam from the rocks
I later discovered, from Renzo Crivelli's Joycean Itineraries, that we were at the wrong Fontana. Joyce's beach was at the other side of town, beside the Trieste docks. Here's a photo of the Fontana Baths from the book. Renzo Criveli says that Joyce was a regular visitor here.

The book says that their location was molo Maria Teresa (today molo Fratelli Bandiera). I fed that into Google Earth and got this aerial view of what the beach where Joyce took his son swimming now looks like.

'Of the original bathing places only the 'Lanterna' baths have survived; moreover they are the only ones in present times to maintain the old tradition of keeping the beach divided into two separate areas, one for the male swimmers and the other for the female.'   Renzo Crivelli

So Joyce's Fontana Baths are no more. The nearest we could get to a swim at Fontana was a visit to the nearby Ausonia Baths which, unlike the Lanterna, aren't segregated. These include a little beach and a series of wooden platforms over the sea.

The Ausonia Baths, named after an ancient poetic name for Italy, date from the 1930s. They felt much more relaxed than the usual Italian beach experience, with densely packed rows of sun-loungers. There were old ladies playing cards, gentlemen sunbathing, and teenagers diving off a high platform. There's also a little bar selling beer and pizza.

From the Ausonia, you can watch the ships coming in.

And you also get a view of the Lanterna, the last of the original bathing establishments. You can see the wall which divides the men's and women's sections. There have been attempts by the city authorities to remove it, but they've always been defeated by popular protests.

Soon we were swimming in the sea, in an area enclosed by a barrier of nets held up by floats.  We stayed there until dusk, when the sky began to turn purple.

While writing this blog just now, I googled 'Ausonia Baths', and came up this bit of history from the Discover Trieste website:

'At the beginning of the twentieth century Bagno Lanterna (El pedocin) and Bagno Fontana opened on the Lantern Pier near the city centre. Over the years, Bagno Fontana was gradually renovated and expanded. In the 1930s it became the magnificent "Ausonia" bathing complex, frequented by generations of residents and still extremely popular today.'

So we did get to swim at the Baths of Fontana!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Joyce Trail in Trieste Part 3: English Lessons with Signor Joyce

'he was capped out of beurlads* scoel for the sin against the past participle'   FW 467.24

This magnificently moustachioed gentleman is Maximilian Berlitz, inventor of the Berlltz method of language teaching. In the Berlitz system, there is no formal teaching of grammar or use of translation. Instead, classes are held solely in the target language, and the teacher uses gestures and tone of voice to convey meaning. It's a system Berlitz discovered by accident while running a language school in New York in 1878You can read the whole story on the Berlitz website which describes how he came to realise that 'the strict learning method had to give way to an animated process of discovery.'  

The system was so successful that, by the time Joyce reached Trieste, there were more than 200 schools worldwide. Here's the Trieste Berlitz school, founded in 1901 by Almidano Artifoni (who gave his name to Stephen's music teacher in Ulysses). The school was on the first floor, and had four classrooms.

There are two Joyce Trail plaques on the building because, as well as teaching here, Joyce lived upstairs, on the 3rd floor, in 1907.

He also lived next door, at 30 Via San Nicolo, from May 1905 to February 1906, after being evicted from Piazza Ponterosso because of Nora's pregnancy. In a letter to Stanislaus, Joyce explained that he 'conceived the daring plan of living in the house next the school and astonishing the landlady by the glamour of that wonderful establishment.' It was here that their son Giorgio was born, on 27 July 1905.  On the ground floor, there's a famous bookshop once run by the poet Umberto Saba (who has his own trail around Trieste).

Joyce lived on the second floor here



'He (Berlitz) had managed to patent an American style gimmick for filling skulls with modern languages and then making these languages come out through the mouth sounding like a big belch. Then using American high pressure, he gathered an army of stray dogs from every place imaginable and unleashed them on the surface of the globe...Here they are, the wretched ones, with no other inclination but to line the pockets of the Wizard, not only eating their lungs and livers out but also showing the holy image of the Venerable to ignorant and devout humanity.
'Who is this?'
'It is Mr B.'
'Am I Mr B'
'No, (unfortunately). You are Mr Joyce.'' 

That's a description of Joyce teaching the Berlitz method from his fellow teacher and friend, Alessandro Francini Bruni. It comes from 'Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza', a scurrilous and very funny lecture Francini Bruni gave in 1922, which you can find in Portraits of the Artist in Exile.

The bit that jumped out at me is the description of the Berlitz teachers 'eating their lungs and livers out.'  It reminded me of this Wake line:

'And trieste, ah trieste ate I my liver!'  301.16

This is glossed in McHugh with the Italian expression 'mi sono mangiato il fegato': I ate my heart out (literally 'I ate my liver') expressing grief, vexation or anger.

The Wake line also echoes a Verlaine poem, which the poet Dario de Tuoni remembers Joyce reciting in Trieste on evening walks:

'Stopping where the shades grew darker, he would exclaim in a mysterious grieving tone: ''O triste, triste était mon âme/ A cause, à cause d'une femme.' (Ricordi di Joyce a Trieste)
'My liver' also suggests 'livre', or book: Trieste was (était) my book, and 'my living' maybe. So this little Wake line is packed with memories of Trieste.
In his letters to Stanislaus, Joyce often 'eats his liver', expressing vexation at working in the school:

'The other English teacher here said to me last night as he looked at my suit 'I often notice that eccentric people have very little taste: they wear anything. I give you a tip. If you have no taste go for grey. Stick to grey. Doesn't matter what kind – always looks gentlemanly.' Now this seems to me on mature reflection a bloody awful position to be in. Some day I shall clout my pupils about the head, I fear, and stalk out.'  
To Stanislaus 4 April 1905 (SL 59) 

'Trieste is not cheap and the difficulties of an English teacher living with a woman on a salary fit for a navvy or stoker and expected to keep up a 'gentlemanly' appearance and to ease his intellectual heart by occasional visits to a theatre or bookshop are very great...The regime of these schools is a reign of terror and ...I should be in a much more terrorised position were it not that many of my pupils (noblemen and signori and editors and rich people) have praised me highly to the director....There is no hope of advancement and a continual fear of collapse. 
 To Stanislaus 12 July 1905 (SL 65)


Near the Berlitz School, on the corner of Via Dante and the piazza Sant' Antonio Nuovo, we found the Caffe Stella Polare, a regular haunt of the Berlitz teachers, who'd come here after work to 'eat their livers'.  Joyce used to meet his friend and pupil Italo Svevo here, who also has a plaque on the wall.

I had a pint and Lisa had a caffè freddo.

A pint in memory of Joyce at the Stella Polare



On Corso Saba, just down the road from our hotel, Lisa spotted a building with a Joyce plaque which I wasn't expecting – it's not included in the Joyce Trail leaflet.  
This is the grand house of Count Francesco Sordina, a Greek nobleman who took lessons with Joyce at the Berlitz school. Joyce wrote to Stanislaus in October 1905, 'Count Sordina has praised me very highly and brought several real live ladies and gentlemen of his acquaintance to the school.' (Letters II 123).

Thanks to Sordina's connections, Joyce was able to leave the Berlitz school in 1907, and make a better living as a private teacher to the upper classes.  Sordina also helped Joyce get to Zurich when World War One broke out. 

The front door of Sordina's house has this lovely wooden relief of Mercury, the god of money, holding a moneybag. I bet this struck Joyce as a lucky sign every time he walked through the door.  In 1921, he wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 'I have spent a great deal of time with Greeks of all kinds from noblemen down to onion sellers....I am superstitious about them. They bring me luck.' (Letters I 167)


Here's another school we found on the Joyce Trail. It's the Scuola Superiore di Commercio, known as the 'Revoltella', at 12 Via Carducci.  Joyce taught for six hours a week here from 1913-15. This was very different from the Berlitz system, as grammar was taught, and Italian was spoken alongside English. Joyce was expected to teach commercial correspondence, using English accountancy texts and business contracts.



John McCourt's excellent book, The Years of Bloom, has some fascinating accounts of what it was like to be taught by Joyce. He quotes Boris Furlan, a pupil of Joyce's at the Revoltella.


'His lessons were...a little bit particular: he could ask me to describe a petrol-lamp – of course I was unable to do so, with my knowledge of English, and then he started describing it himself for about half an hour.'


And here's a private pupil, Oscar Schwarz, from a letter sent in 1955 to Richard Ellmann:

'I do not know how James spent his time with other pupils: as to myself I can tell you that he mostly declaimed Paul Verlaine in French or read St Thomas Aquinas in Latin or sang arias by Bellini accompanying himself on the piano....he treated me more as a friend than as a pupil. I was then 17 years old.'


My favourite account is from Renzo Crivelli's Triestine Itineraries, where he quotes an interview with a lady referred to as Signora G:

'Here in Trieste there was an English teacher who taught me very little English. Sometimes he was competely dressed in grey, from his hat to his shoes. Other times he wore an embroidered waistcoat, hem-stitched with figures and scenes...Sometime he began to talk and would not stop. He spoke about me, about my friend who came to the lessons with me, about my mother who came to the door and immedately withdrew, about my father, whose voice we could hear, about all my relations and friends that he could see in the photographs on the walls and on the tables. Joyce did not know them but he talked about them all the same.' 

So Joyce did decide to take the other English teacher's advice and 'go for grey'!  The embroidered waistcoat must be the hunting one, made for Joyce's grandfather, which Gabriel Conroy wears in 'The Dead', and which you can see today in the James Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove. When I quoted this on twitter, the James Joyce Gazette posted a photograph.

'a waistcoat of purple tabinet, with little foxes' heads upon it...'
Back to Signora G's memories, as quoted in Triestine Itineraries:

'My friend fell in love with him, she started to write and speak in English. She really lost her head. But her mother cured her'. And, because Joyce was 'inclined to get drunk', one evening 'he fell flat out on the floor of our sitting room. My friend's mother stopped us from helping the teacher get up and from assisting him in any way; she rushed off in a taxi to collect her daughter who was visiting a friend a couple of kilometres away, and brought her straight back to the house where Joyce was still lying on the floor. My friend, on her knees with a handkerchief in her hand, like a humble servant with a rag, looked at the teacher's face for a long time, at the bubble of saliva that swelled and shrank between his lips, at the one gloved hand that seemed, more than ever, to be made of fabric and the other, half hidden under the unbuttoned waistcoat, at the left pupil shining like a piece of glass at the edge of his eyelid.' This disgusting and repellent spectacle certainly had an immediate effect. 'Joyce came to a minute after love had left his young student's heart.'

Imagine if your English teacher did that!

* Berlitz and the Irish word 'Béarla': English language

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Joyce Trail in Trieste. Part 2: By the Canal and a Greek Mass

Armed with Renzo Crivelli's Triestine Intineraries and the Joyce Trail leaflet we set off to track the great man down. Walking across a bridge over the canal, we came across his statue, by Nino Spagnoli. It was placed here in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his arrival in Trieste. It's a shame that Spagnoli chose to show him as the middle-aged writer of the Paris years. He was only 22 when he came here.

I also think he's too short

So Trieste has both a statue and a bust of Joyce, which makes it second to Dublin (two statues and a bust) and one ahead of Zurich, Pula and Szthombathely (one statue each).  Paris, where he lived from 1920-39, doesn't have any statues of him. Neither, for that matter, does Bognor Regis, where he wrote part of Finnegans Wake.

It's in a perfect place beside the canal, which reminded Joyce of the Liffey back in Dublin. He wrote to Italo Svevo in 1924 that the Anna Liffey 'would be the longest river in the world if it weren't for the canal which comes from far away to wed the divine Antonio Taumaturgo*, and then changing its mind goes back the way it came.'

*The Trieste canal ends in front of the church of St Antony the Miracle Worker.

Lots of people like being photographed with him, as you can tell from his shiny shoulders.


The grand building on the left, which Joyce is walking towards, is Piazza Ponterosso 3, where the couple lived, on the third floor, from March-April 1905. This was their first address in Trieste after arriving from Pula. They were evicted soon after moving in when the landlady found out that Nora was pregnant. Here's a glimpse of their life here:

'Nora sings sometimes when she is dressing...At present she is licking jam off a piece of paper. She is very well, wears a veil now and looks very pretty. Just now she came in and said, 'The landlady has her hen laying out there. O, he's after laying a lovely egg.' Jaysus! O Jaysus!...Nora says I am to tell you she is axing at you!'  

To Stanislaus Joyce, 15 March 1905, Selected Letters, 58-9

There's a James Joyce Café on the ground floor on the left, with his name in gold letters above the door, but unfortunately it was closed when we visited.

The most striking thing about Trieste is how grand the buildings are. All of Joyce's addresses are five storeys or more. When he lived here, in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, this was the great port of Vienna.  The big empty square you see now was a bustling marketplace.

Joyce lived in the big building on the left




A short walk to the waterfront brought us to another address on the Joyce Trail, the Greek Orthodox Church. Joyce liked to go here to watch the Mass.  Although he lost his faith, he never stopped enjoying Church ritual, telling Stanislaus, 'The Mass on Good Friday seems to me a very great drama.' (My Brother's Keeper p117)

Renzo Crivelli quotes Joyce's sister, Eileen, who followed him to Trieste:

'He used to go to the Greek Orthodox Church because he liked the ceremonies better there. But in Holy Week he always went to the Catholic Church.'

Crivelli also quotes a lecture from Stanislaus Joyce on his brother's attitude to Catholicism:

'Something in the pomp and ceremony with which the legend of Jesus is told in the offices of the Church impressed him profoundly, but on almost all the fundamental tenets of belief his attutude to Catholicism was more like that of the gargoyles outside a cathedral than of the saints within it.'

The inconostasis of the Greek church in Trieste

Here's Joyce's own description of the Greek Mass:

'The Greek mass is strange. The altar is not visible but at times the priest opens the gates and shows himself. He opens and shuts them about six times. For the Gospel he comes out of a side gate and comes down into the chapel and reads out of a book. For the elevaton he does the same. At the end when he has blessed the people he shuts the gates: a boy comes running down the side of the chapel with a large tray full of little lumps of bread. The priest comes after him and distributes the lumps to scrambling believers. Damn droll! The Greek priest has been taking a great eyeful out of me: two haruspices.'  

To Stanislaus Joyce, 4 April 1905, Selected Letters, 59 

That 'two harsupices' remark is interesting. Haruspices were Ancient Roman priests who specialised in divination by examining the livers of sacrificed animals. I think Joyce is either saying that he and the Greek priest were like two haruspices, or that the Greek recognised something priestly about him.

A Roman haruspex at work, from a relief in the Louvre
Joyce always saw his own artistic vocation in priestly terms, and compared his writing with the performance of the Mass. In A Portrait, Stephen Dedalus describes himself as 'a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.'

In My Brother's Keeper, Stanislaus records this conversation:

'Don't you think, said he reflectively, choosing his words without haste,  there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own...for their mental, moral and spiritual uplift.' 

And here's J.S.Atherton, in The Books at the Wake, describing Joyce's attitude to writing Finnegans Wake:

'Joyce believed that his words were 'Words of silent power' (345.19)....The book was indeed his life and he believed that he was entrapping some part of the essence of life within its pages....Joyce was not in his own opinion simply writing a book, he was also performing a work of magic.' 

As far as I could see the church doesn't have a Joyce plaque on the wall.  Perhaps the Greek Orthodox Church objected to being part of a Joyce Trail!