You can never see everything in travels. Every journey contains multitudes of bypassed opportunities, potential experiences passed over in favor of another sight. Contemplating these is a good way to go mad, and for the most part, I think I've learned to accept it -- to focus on what I'm doing rather than what I'm not.
But some still haunt me. I've recently had occasion to page through old notebooks, and that's taken me back to an affecting few hours of my life.
There are sensations that affect us deeply and immediately, and we don't know why -- a short sentence, a melody on the radio, a pair of pretty eyes. That's my pass through Trieste in a nutshell. Before the trip, I hadn't even thought of it as a possible destination -- I just ended up there through happenstance, when I realized it was the most convenient transfer point on the trip from Venice to northern Croatia. But upon entering I was immediately taken.
In my notebook of times past, I write that "Trieste is a city built for war -- a clenched fist." In memory, this remains an accurate view -- even bathed in September sunlight, the Adriatic sparkling, there was a beautiful coldness in the architecture and layout. An ice queen of a city, lovely but distant. And that may contribute to its appeal to me, that feeling that it would be impossible to truly know Trieste. I've always thought that I saw it in the wrong element, that it would be better suited to a gray winter's day, fog rolling in.
Like many of my favorite places, it's a combination of cultures: it's been part of Austria-Hungary, now Italian, many say it's more Slovenian than anything else. Mediterranean beauty with Germanic reserve. I spent some time in the bar at the bus station (next to a souvenir shop with a "Kevin Funtime" doll and plastic radios in the window) -- illuminated entirely by natural light streaming in, and the sunny seacoast feel without the normally associated bustle and energy was soothing.
I don't know that I'll ever see Trieste again, except in a similarly accidental and incidental visit. But in a few short hours a few years ago, it imprinted itself on me -- a rare place that evoked an instant connection.
(Trieste has a few interesting literary ties -- James Joyce spent time there, as he did in Pula, Croatia. And Jan Morris wrote a wonderful book about the place, "Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere," that indicates that I'm not alone in my feelings. My Mom called the latter book "pretty boring," but don't listen to her.)