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!

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