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!

No comments:

Post a Comment