Thursday, April 29, 2021

When Writing is All We Have

I have been spending a lot of time in my journal over the last few months. The writing is mostly scattered and mindless, but sometimes what we need is a little "sfogo," as they would say here in Trieste. Today seems like as good a day as any other to give you an update of our Covid Status.

1. Cases are higher than ever, variants are more serious, businesses are opening.  

2. People are either for the vaccine (we want to travel) or against it (we are the government's guinea pigs). It's hard to get whether you like it or not (unless you have age on your side or you work in health care or you are a teacher). 

3. We can leave our municipalities (I think) without a permission slip, but not the region. At some point it was okay to travel to Spain, however. 

4. You don't have to wear a mask when you run on the bike path.

5. If you need to get your bike fixed, good luck. Everyone in Trieste has a bike now (that needs fixing). During the lockdown you could leave your municipality if you walked or rode a bike. People really wanted to leave their municipalities. 

We are on day 4 of a downgrade. We are now Yellow instead of Orange. The only problem is that every time they change our color (and therefore what we can and can't do), they also change the definition of what that color means. When I say They, I can assure you that I have no idea anymore who They are. 

Is it the head of the region? The Prime Minister? 

The whole thing is a little confusing.  

Monday, December 7, 2020

Life in Trieste after Covid

There is a certain serenity that comes with getting over Covid, and getting on with life afterwards. Luckily my case was not dramatic. It sucked, yes, but I did not end up in the hospital. Now that it's all over, I realize that I had been operating with a baseline stress level that was through the roof, but I had no idea. 

Now that the guilt of maybe someday infecting someone else or inadvertently creating a Covid hotspot single-handedly is past, I can finally relax and get back to work on what is really important. I'm done being busy being busy. 

Now it's time to concentrate on doing the real work that brings more peace, more serenity, more joy, and less of the rest of it. 

No more fear, no more stress. Time to move on.  

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dear Reader I have Covid

 Yes, Covid has come to get me. I could feel the circle tightening around us for several weeks before it actually got here. While the first wave seemed far away, this time we were starting to know people who had it. Most claimed to be "asymptomatic" almost to the point of suggesting that getting Covid was not the big deal it was hyped up to be. 

Let me clear things up for you.  Covid is no fun, or at least not for me. 

For the first week of it, my husband and I were in denial. We were mostly in bed, incapacitated by intense body aches and a pounding head. "Take the tachnipirina and rest" was the advice we were given by our doctor, so that is what we did. My husband had a mild fever, but I had none, so there was not one part of me that suspected it was Covid. In fact, the sneaky thing about Covid is that it changes the rules as it goes along and depending on whose body it inhabits. In our case, my husband and I had completely different symptoms. While my Covid decided to invade my lungs during week two, my husband never even got a cough. While his colleauge (who was also diagnosed) had a high fever for several days but no other symptoms, there was only one day where I had anything even close to a fever. It was at such a low level that in the old days I would have gone to work.

After one full week of feeling like crap, our doctor ordered a test for us. The call came the next day and we were told we had an appointment in 30 minutes at the drive-thru testing site in the Park of San Giovanni. I was teaching online at the time and had to scramble to get someone else to cover my classes. Apparently when they call you, there is no negotiating. My husband took the call. 

During week two we kept our daughter home as well, even though there is no written protocol covering parents who are sick but not yet diagnosed. This was a personal decision. We had been sick too long for it to be an ordinary flu. In the end our doctors said we did the right thing. Our daughter has still not been tested and she continues to have no symptoms. 

Being stuck in the house has not been too dramatic, although our dog has definitely suffered from a lack of long walks. Our daughter has been the main dog walker since we have been home, so that can't be fun for her, either. 

People have been calling to offer help getting groceries, which we appreciate, although most of the people who have called have been more concerned with whether or not they should get tested because they were in contact with someone who had contact with someone who had contact with soeone who was maybe in contact with us. We just tell them to talk to their doctor about their concerns. 

If all goes well, we should get tested again sometime next week, but if we don't, apparently we are free twenty days from onset of symptoms. I'm not sure this will change anything. Trieste is going into lockdown again starting Monday, so we may be free just in time to enjoy more time at home. 

At any rate, this is our story. Stay safe, everyone!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Guest Post: Trieste Staycation

Today's post is the second in a series of guest posts that explore Trieste by the people who live here.  It was inspired by the lockdown period during the first wave of Covid-19 and the idea of the "Staycation" and looking at our city from a different perspective. 

The following post is by Susanne Seghayer.   

When I attended college, I studied literally every single day. In the best-case scenario, I had only one week to rest and charge my batteries. During that week I did not make exotic travels, I just tried to relax and explore as much as I could my hometown, Trieste. Staycation was my routine during my college days.

When I was a sophomore, during the last days of July, I was enjoying my staycation with my sister. We decided to have lunch at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants in town but when we were near it, we realized that it was not lunch time yet. I offered her to visit my favorite museum in Trieste, the Revoltella museum. It is the modern and contemporary art gallery of Trieste and one of the most prestigious museums in the city. I’ve visited this art gallery several times and I have many personal memories linked to this place. For instance, when I attended elementary school, I went to visit this museum with my class, and I started to love art thanks to those visits. I had a strong desire to return to this place again especially because I was finally able to appreciate contemporary and modern art, my favorite ones.

The museum is built in the house of an important figure in Trieste history, the baron Pasquale Revoltella. He was crucial in the economic growth of Trieste during the 19th century and was an art and science lover too. The museum is divided into two parts. In one part, you can explore the house of Revoltella and in the other the art gallery. The latter is developed into 3 floors in which there are mainly paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries but the most important and relevant works of art are from the 20th century. On the top floor you can find paintings and sculptures made by some of the most prestigious and talented contemporary Italian artists such as Pomodoro, Fontana, Casorati and Vedova. 

When I was in the museum with my sister it was like being miles away from home. We were totally captured by the beauty of the place and by the amazing works of art that were exposed. It was like entering in a pyramid where your perception of space and time are completely different from the rest of the world. Contemplating art gave me a sense of peace and the feeling that I was on a completely different planet.

On the top of the building there is a panoramic terrace where you can see the gulf of Trieste. During summer evenings they often organize happy hours and concerts where you can relax and elaborate all the beauty that you watched during the visit.

I think that the secret of a rewarding staycation is trying to see your town through the eyes of a tourist, of someone who visits your city for the first time. You need to look at things that you have seen for years with a new glance, trying to observe details that you usually miss and surprise yourself with the beauty that every city hides inside. Every town has angles and places that you usually don’t visit and discovering them gives you the feeling of exploring something new and exciting. From my experience we tend to visit more other cities than ours. I know people who are born and raised in Rome that have not visited important galleries and monuments in Rome such as the Saint Peter church! Monuments that people from distant parts of the world come to Rome to see.

Another trick for an exciting staycation is exploring your city with different friends and members of your family. Each of them has particular interests and passions and they will open your mind showing you the sights that they love and are interested in. For instance, if you have a friend who is fond of science, you can go with him to visit the Immaginario Scientifico in Grignano and take also a swim there. If you have a relative that loves art you can go with him to visit monuments, churches and palaces that you usually do not look at with attention and interest. In Trieste there are palaces of different architectural styles and visiting them with an expert of art is such an incredible experience. Try it to believe!

So this year, explore your city, spend time with your friends and family, take photos and make new memories in YOUR town! Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Guest Post: Stumbling is Worth it in Trieste

Today's post is the first in a series of guest posts that explore Trieste by the people who live here.  It was inspired by the lockdown period during the first wave of Covid-19 and the idea of the "Staycation" and looking at our city from a different perspective. 

The following post is by Marino Michelazzi.   

I usually stumble. A few years ago, I was walking with my youngest daughter. We were talking, smiling. Suddenly I felt something hit my tibia. A moment later I was lying on the ground, in the middle of the street and a car was coming. My daughter was screaming: “Papà!!!”

 I felt ashamed and so, in spite of the pain, I quickly jumped up and stood on my feet again. “What happened?” she asked. I looked back over my shoulder. There was a simple block of concrete near the sidewalk. It had always been there, but I did not see it because I was looking up at the top of a building, as usual. 

My family says that sooner or later I am going to end up under a car and in the hospital if I am lucky. Maybe. In any case, I cannot get rid of my good/bad habit of looking up at the top of buildings and observing the architecture.

In Trieste I stumble a lot. Trieste is not a city with a lot of astonishing monuments or important public buildings, and it is not famous for mesmerizingly modern architecture. It has several beautiful buildings and a peculiar spirit, but it is not Rome, Venice, or Florence. Nevertheless, in Trieste, you can stumble with every step, because there is a lot to look at up there.  


Saba Says

Umberto Saba, our most famous Triestino poet, wrote Trieste has a surly grace…” (“Trieste ha una scontrosa grazia…”). I recognize that surly grace wandering around Trieste (which is a city of distinct neighborhoods) just outside of downtown. There, you can find unexpected hidden jewels in the architecture.


First Stop

For example, let me take you down the boulevard we call Viale XX Settembre. At the third cross-street turn right. This is called via Timeus. It is a narrow street with a continuous flow of cars and two narrow sidewalks. Pedestrians do not walk here, they run towards their destinations. Nobody takes the time to look up, but I invite you to! Stop in front of the building at n.4. Don’t worry about the flow of people, look up and admire the beauty.

The ground floor is painted ochre-yellow and the three floors above are light yellow with fake grey columns. Above the doorway there is a bas-relief showing what I think is two lovers standing on a pile of wood, amid other figures. It looks like they are going to be burned alive. I can’t tell you why. It’s a Mystery.

The first floor has a balcony with an elegant railing. But the real surprise is that at every floor, on the sides of the windows there are two classical-style niches in the wall with statues in them: two young women holding flowers or jars.

Second Stop

Don’t fall behind, now! We’re not done!

Let’s return along Viale XX Settembre. When we reach via Rossetti turn left. After two hundred meters, we encounter the entrance of the park of via Giulia. It is not Central Park but, anyway, it is a peaceful place with high trees, where kids can play, and older people can rest on cozy benches. We must walk to the opposite side. Look up please. It is an ordinary building like all the buildings near it. There are five light yellow floors above the ochre-yellow ground-floor. I am guessing that no building in the neighborhood, or even Trieste, has the same type of balconies: on first floor there is a small balcony in the middle,  on the third floor there are two little balconies near the sides. The Second and fourth floors have long balconies that cover the entire length of the façade. If you observe this strange railing closely, you will notice the elaborate floral motif in Secession style (do you remember Klimt?).

Maybe this is the reason the other buildings seem like walls of stone, while this one seems to speak to the high trees of the park.

Third Stop

 Don’t linger please, we have just one more stop for today. Saba continues:

“(Trieste) If liked, it is like a boy, harsh and greedy, with blue eyes and hands too big to give a flower….

(“se piace, è come un ragazzaccio aspro e vorace, con gli occhi azzurri e mani troppo grandi per regalare un fiore”)

We have to work for that flower by walking to the neighborhood of Roiano. Let’s take via Boccaccio, a lonely street with a gentle slope at the beginning. At one point, it opens up to form a large square with one side completely open towards the railway station and, beyond, the sea. In front of us, at one corner of the square, we find what we are looking for. The building has two sides that form a 90-degree angle. The less visible side is the same as the other facades, which is not surprising as they were built in the same era.

The other side, however, gives us something never before seen in Trieste. There are no walls dividing inside and outside. The spaces between the supporting columns, the floor to the ceiling are wood-framed glass windows. All four floors of the façade are made of glass. Remember, it is not a modern building made of steel and glass. It was built over a century ago with cut stone and, perhaps, one of the first attempts with concrete, in Trieste.

If take a look inside the rooms they all seem like artists' studios.

Saving the Rest for Another Day

We are coming to the end of our walk. Now we understand why Saba closed his poem with this:

“…like a lover, with jealousy “ (“…come un amore con gelosia”) Trieste loves its inhabitants with a widespread beauty, but is sometimes reticent to show off the gems. I am sure that if we take another walk tomorrow, however, we will stumble upon other hidden treasures once again.    


Monday, July 20, 2020

Culture and Connecting Again

My plan to get the hell out of Racine, Wisconsin, came to fruition a year ahead of time when I got accepted to an exchange program while I was in High School. I spent my Senior year in Liège, Belgium attending a public school for girls and living with three different host families, spending roughly 3 months in each. This was in 1990 and living abroad back then was a completely different beast compared to now. There were no cell phones or email just yet so communicating with home was all about crackly phone calls, writing letters on onion-skin paper, and trips to the post office. I was limited to one collect call home per month because it cost a lot and the quality was terrible. I spent most days writing long and detailed letters about my life in Belgium to anyone whose address I had remembered to record in my address book. The mail arrived twice a day in Belgium, and my goal was to receive mail in both deliveries. I wrote about 10-12 detailed letters a day.

Besides the endorphin kick I got every time the mail came and there was something in it for me, letters helped me cope with homesickness, process my experience, and make sure life didn’t go on too much without me back home. Every time I met someone I liked, we exchanged addresses and wrote letters to each other. I told my pen pals things I couldn’t tell anyone else in a million years. Letters were the magic stuff of procrastination and not paying attention in class. I loved them.

Mix tapes were the sophisticated cousin of the hand-written letter, the soundtrack to our teenage years. My friend Peter, a prolific mix-tape maker, remembers hours in the basement recording them, trying to create “the perfect score.” Sometimes they took days or weeks to compile, one song at a time. The choice of tracks was painstaking and planned. There was no internet then so you had three choices for collecting music: records, including scratches and skips, other cassettes, or the radio. You could also punctuate them with your own recorded voice like a radio D.J. or a Henry Rollins spoken words album. They took time to make and getting one was special. You didn’t just listen to them, either, you learned them.

Nikolai was in Belgium that year, too. He lives in Strasbourg and I live in Trieste. We try to speak every few weeks even if we both prefer letters. The first part of the conversation is mechanical, the things we perceive we are supposed to talk about. Then comes the good stuff along with a sigh of relief. What books are you reading and what did you think of them? What are you writing? “I am working more on my letter writing,” he says. He still sends post cards, and long letters when he has something complicated to say. I call him, but I wish for letters.

For a while, blogging was a good alternative to letter writing. It helped me process my experiences and gave me a satisfying boost when I pushed “publish.” I could go back and manipulate or delete what I wanted, and there was no mental anguish like there was when waiting for someone to reply to a letter. But blogging triggered the voice of my inner imposter. Why are you writing? You’re wasting your time. Nobody cares about the crap you’re putting out there. You should be doing something that brings in some money! Loser!

I never expected that people would actually read anything I wrote, so when they did, I felt ashamed and inadequate, which made me write less. I worried what people would think of me.

The humble, heart-revealing letter has disappeared, I lamented on a regular basis, along with that special connection between writer and reader. Can friendships be as deep without them? Has the intimacy and vulnerability of writing down our feelings and sharing our deepest secrets with that special person who is lucky enough to be on the receiving end gotten lost in the abyss? These were the questions I had been pondering before February 2020 when life changed forever in my tiny village on the outskirts of Trieste. The country went into lock-down because of the arrival of the novel Corona virus.

We were not allowed to go to work, or even leave the house without meeting strict guidelines and bringing complicated signed declarations with us detailing where we were going and what we were doing when we should have been home not getting infected. After a few weeks, we were all working from home and distances that used to seem immense got tiny.

I loved teaching online. I started making regular contact with friends from Racine, Wisconsin I hadn’t spoken to in years and others who were in Belgium with me. We met on Zoom and WhatsApp and laughed like old times. They came into the virtual classroom with me as guest speakers. I was in the International throngs of online working and my oldest and dearest friends were right there with me. Our friendships, in turn, went deeper.  

We dispensed with small talk. We stopped asking each other what we did after college, where we work, who we’re married to and how many kids we have. We started asking the important questions. What are you reading? What do you think of what’s going on in the world? What is important to you? And we were talking to each other the way we used to write to each other. The heart of the hand-written letter was back.

We also started creating together. Culture was never as important as it became during that lockdown period and since. Like letters had saved me during my year abroad in high school, culture became my new survival tool: creating art, reading about it, watching plays online, writing. Culture and creativity keep us alive and connected. When you can’t leave your house, culture is what pulls you through. Tanja, my bestie from Racine, and I are doing a writing course together to unleash our inner artists. Laura, who was with me in Belgium and lives and teaches in New York state, comes into my Zoom classroom once a week and we teach and learn together. We also started writing a play about being exchange students. Could it be that it took a pandemic and a complete shock to the way we live and work and communicate to remember how to connect again from the heart and make it matter?  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Enjoy your Staycation!!

Here's an update on what's happening in Trieste. Things have been pretty quiet and almost (dare I say) normal for the last few weeks. We can go out freely, we have to take our masks with us in case we can't safely distance, and many stores, especially grocery stores, require them. Otherwise things are like before but different. There is less traffic but no one seems to mind.

Our habits have changed. We eat out less often than we did before the pandemic. We are not making any travel plans, either, which we normally would have hammered out months ago. Daughter Eva is the exception. She has had two weeks of camp so far, a day camp just over the border in Koper to learn how to play tennis, and this week she is at sleepaway camp in Tolmin, Slovenia. She is living the river life, rafting, kayaking, playing with bugs, taking pictures with an old-fashioned digital camera because she doesn't have a phone. It was a lot easier to get into these programs this year since we signed up before we even knew if they would open up the borders again (they did, yay!). 

Socially, we are confused. The neighbors we quarantined with no longer talk to us and we are not sure why. That felt strange at first but we are not that sorry for some reason. We still say hi when we water the plants.

We are no longer required to show any form of affection to anyone if we don't want to. With other people we truly miss we throw our arms around each other and say YOU ARE WORTH THE RISK! and I DO NOT HAVE A FEVER, I PROMISE. We listen for a moment, no cough. 

Friends from the past have come back, the office no longer seems to need us there so much, people kind of like classes on Zoom. Some of us have taken up new hobbies, lifestyles, diets, started cultivating a creative life. My conversations with people are deeper than they were before when we were too busy to feel anything.

Culture has saved me from despair. I have watched a million plays I couldn't see before. I have read everything I could get my hands on that was different from what I was reading before. I started drawing and writing again and appreciating other peoples' art where possible. 

What is important has not changed but my relationship to it has shifted. Connecting to other people and creating things have become more urgent.  I feel thankful for that. 

We make no plans. Anything can happen between now and then. We live for the present. We are staying home this summer.