Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

This lyrical memoir (203 pages) was published in September of 2001 by Da Capo Press. The book takes you to Trieste, Italy. David read Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

buy is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.


Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

Jan Morris

During the 94 years that British writer Jan Morris walked this Earth, she led a remarkable life. This moving portrait of a city is just one of her 40 books in which she explored the intimacies of place and how they shape us as humans.

Most people might not think to visit Trieste, a small city on the northeastern side of Italy. Walking distance from Slovenia and tucked into the far corner of the Adriatic, it’s not even part of Italy’s boot, for heaven’s sake. Though it once rivaled Hong Kong as a port city, it doesn’t have the romance of Venice, the history of Rome, or the art of Florence. It’s barely even Italian — the Austrians held Trieste for far longer.

There are parts of this book that feel as if the author Jan Morris is actively trying to talk you out of visiting, as when she points out that the writer Paul Theroux, recording his impressions of Trieste in 1995, used the adjectives ‘serious,’ ‘gloomy,’ ‘dull,’ ‘solemn,’ and ‘lugubrious.’

She shares her remarkably complex history with Trieste, having visited as a young man in the 1960s and later in her life, after gender reassignment surgery, as a mature woman.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this relationship with the city, she loved it. In her carefully rendered, if a bit dense, prose, she vividly describes being homesick for this place that was not her home and conveys a deep nostalgia for a time she did not see.

This was the last book she ever wrote, and she knew that at the time it would be, so it’s peppered with the kind of poignant reflections you might expect — and sharp insights that you might not. Throughout, she writes with intelligence, passion, and clarity, able to put on the page precisely what she found remarkable and how it made her feel.

It’s transportive and effective — you will feel that you’ve walked the streets of Trieste in the 1800s and mid-20th century with an erudite tour guide that might send you a side trip to Google. The experience of this journey is well worth the ride.

I write of exiles in Trieste, but I have generally felt myself an exile, too. For years I felt myself an exile from normality, and now I feel myself one of those exiles from time. The past is a foreign country, but so is old age, and as you enter it you feel you are treading unknown territory, leaving your own land behind. You’ve never been here before. The clothes people wear, the idioms they use, their pronunciation, their assumptions, tastes, humours, loyalties all become the more alien the older you get. The countryside changes. The policemen are children. Even hypochondria, the Trieste disease, is not what it was, for that interesting pain in the ear-lobe may not now be imaginary at all, but some obscure senile reality. This kind of exile can mean a new freedom, too, because most things don’t matter as they used to. They way I look doesn’t matter. The opinions I cherish are my business. The books I have written are no more than smudged graffiti on a wall, and I shall write no more of them. Money? Enough to live on. Critics? To hell with ‘em. Kindness is what matters, all along, at any age — kindness, the ruling principle of nowhere! — Jan Morris

keep reading

Take a virtual trip to Italy with a love letter to Trieste, a history of Venice told through food, a fresh look at Galileo's life, a novel infused with sunshine and Gothic vibes, and two dreamy literary classics.
On our show, we tell you about books we love. But some stories are so powerful, we want to put them into every reader's hands so they can experience the magic, too. Here are the books that made that impact on Dave.
Oh, Italy! We see your snow-capped mountains and sunny beaches, your fresh pasta and sweet gelato, your Renaissance artists, iconic cities, and the soft, magical quality of your light. We love all of it. Grazie.
Oh, Italy! We see your snow-capped mountains and sunny beaches, your fresh pasta and sweet gelato, your Renaissance artists, iconic cities, and the soft, magical quality of your light. We love all of it. Grazie.

sharing is caring!

Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter

Join our Substack to get our FREE newsletter with podcast updates and behind-the-scenes info join in fun chats about books and travel.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
Sign up for our free Substack!
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.