The Bells of Trieste

There is something wonderful about being woken up by church bells in a foreign city! The chiming seems to lift you, to synthesise you, almost to cleanse you!

Last Saturday this was my experience in Trieste. The good cheer was reinforced by the sunny weather that had defied the forecasts of rain. Sipping coffee in Caffè Degli Specchi and see the world go by is a treat.

Now, you could easily assume that there would be something melancholy about Trieste – the great port of the vanished Habsburg Empire, all the Habsburg era buildings, the site of Miramare, the palace of Archduke Maximillian, who as Emperor of Mexico was executed by republicans after a tumultuous three year reign. Yet, there is no melancholy at all. Trieste is a normal Italian city through and through, and even the rain the day after did not seem to affect spirits. The dogs appeared in raincoats and made sure they looked chic, just as their owners in theirs.

What was truly melancholy was the May Day demonstration on Piazza dell’ Unità. At first there were only three red flag with their carriers, and no one else. John Lennon’s Imagine blared from the loudspeakers with the hope that ‘some day you’ll join us’ as a sort of incantation. Eventually a few hundred people turned up, more of a Grey Panther parade than anything else. The decline was palpable.

My conclusion was that Trieste has moved on, and that the labour movement has not. Trieste seems to have taken the best of Habsburg and turned it into something new, something Italian. The labour movement seems to have the face firmly towards the past, unable to adapt to a new reality. The fall of the Habsburg Empire, with all its traditionalisms at the end, is a demonstration of the pitfalls of such an approach! Beware – not only the labour movement!

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