Una scontrosa grazia

I like Trieste the best when it’s grey, cold, and a little bit windy. Whenever I can, I’ll have a stroll along the seafront, then warm up with a coffee or a hot chocolate in one of the city’s many old Austrian cafes. If you’re feeling “reserved and pensive”, to put it like poet Umberto Saba, there’s nothing like a solitary afternoon in Trieste to gather your thoughts and then ease you gently back into society. I took these photos a fair few years ago, to try and capture this mood; I’m pretty sure it was my second ever roll of film, so there are obviously hundreds of framing, focusing, and exposure mistakes I wish I could fix. But I still love this little set; it brings me back to my town on the Adriatic every time I look at it. Thank you to Isabella, my long-suffering model, for playing along (and for wearing these deadly uncomfortable stilettos which only really appear in one photo. Oops).

Ho attraversata tutta la città.
Poi ho salita un’erta,
popolosa in principio, in là deserta,
chiusa da un muricciolo:
un cantuccio in cui solo
siedo; e mi pare che dove esso termina
termini la città.

Trieste ha una scontrosa
grazia. Se piace,                                              
è come un ragazzaccio aspro e vorace,
con gli occhi azzurri e mani troppo grandi
per regalare un fiore;
come un amore
con gelosia.

Da quest’erta ogni chiesa, ogni sua via
scopro, se mena all’ingombrata spiaggia,
o alla collina cui, sulla sassosa
cima, una casa, l’ultima, s’aggrappa.
circola ad ogni cosa
un’aria strana, un’aria tormentosa,
l’aria natia.

La mia città che in ogni parte è viva,
ha il cantuccio a me fatto, alla mia vita
pensosa e schiva.

– Umberto Saba

I traversed the entire town.
Then I climbed a steep slope,

crowded at first, deserted further up,
closed by a low wall:
a nook where I sit
alone; and it seems to me that where it ends 
the town ends too.

Trieste has a surly
grace. If one likes it,

it is like a rascal, hash and voracious,
with blue eyes and hands too big
to offer a flower as a gift;
like a love
with jealousy.
Up from this slope every church, any street
I discover, whether it takes to the huddled beach,
or to the hill where, onto the rocky
top, a house, the last one, clings.
All around
circles all things
a strange air, a tormented air,
the native air.

My town that is in each of its part alive,
has a nook made just for me and my life,
pensive and reserved.

– Umberto Saba


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