Following James Joyce

There are a million ways to fall in love with a place. Seeing the mark it made on your favorite writer is just one. For GoNOMAD writer Christine H. O’Toolel, Tracking James Joyce in Trieste was the best way to experience the Italian city.

“It’s a classic James Joyce scene: glittering water, slim boats sliding by a low bridge, bustling crowds, and surveying the scene, the anti-hero who made it all famous. Joyce’s bronze statue slouches near the home where he detonated English literature: not overlooking the Liffey in Dublin, but by the Adriatic, in Trieste, Italy.

Joyce was broke when he came here. Before Trieste, he’d dabbled as a med student in Paris. He’d won the Irish national singing competition. His writing would remain unpublished for another decade. The local Berlitz School hired him to teach English to immigrants–German, Slovenian, Italian, Greek, or Croatian.

“There was an enormous underclass in Trieste,” says Schneider, “laborers, sailors, and dockworkers from all over Europe, side by side.” Triestine, originally a Venetian dialect, was a stew of all their languages, and it fascinated Joyce. Some say the tongue-twisting passages of Ulysses have roots in this local slang.

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home,” Joyce wrote in Ulysses. He continued to take the long way, dying in Zurich in 1941. The city he called “la belle Trieste” would become only a memory.”