On my second morning in Trieste, it was a relief to see the sun finally beginning to peek out from an otherwise cloud-covered sky. I still had the sniffles but was feeling a little more energetic after getting close to nine hours of sleep. Since I would be spending about three and a half weeks in Friuli–Venezia Giulia’s capital city, it was a welcome change not to feel pressured to spend every waking moment in a ceaseless cycle of sightseeing. My new leisurely approach left plenty of time to sleep in, to wander aimlessly, to relax and enjoy myself without feeling hurried. In advance, I had laid out a general plan for my stay, with no more than one destination each day and lots of open-ended time to hang out with my friends at Pasticceria Penso across the street.
I set out midmorning to catch a bus to the Risiera di San Sabba, located in the industrial outskirts just south of Trieste. This former rice-husking plant was taken over by the Nazis during World War II and served as a prison for hostages, political prisoners, and Jews, as well as a transit camp for deportees on their way to Auschwitz. When the Germans fitted the building with a giant gas oven, the Risiera became Italy’s only concentration camp to be used for mass exterminations. At least five thousand prisoners are believed to have been executed here between the 1943 German invasion and the liberation of Trieste in 1945.
In 1965, the Risiera di San Sabba was declared a national monument. Inside the austere brick and concrete structure, visitors can view actual prison cells, the death chamber, and a permanent exhibit of photographs and documents. The crematorium was destroyed by the Nazis during their retreat, but some of its remains are still visible along one wall of the stark courtyard. Today, the space where the oven once stood is memorialized with a large steel pavement and serves as a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Feeling rather somber afterward, I slowly made my way to the bus stop and rode back into Trieste’s city center. There, I had lunch at one of the city’s traditional buffets, Siora Rosa. Not a buffet in the American “all-you-can-eat” sense, but more of an old-world fast-food counter providing quick bites for dockworkers and shopkeepers, this particular establishment had been in business since before WWII.
I ordered the parsuto in crosta, a traditional Triestine dish in which a leg of prosciutto is wrapped in a layer of dough and baked to form a crust. The thick, pink slices of ham were served with another local specialty, chifeleti di patate. These were prepared with potato dough similar to gnocchi, formed into U-shapes, and deep-fried. I was expecting them to have a nice, crispy outside and a soft interior, but these had been reheated in the microwave and came out dismally soggy and limp. To wash it all down, I ordered a glass of local, red Terrano wine.
After lunch, I stopped at a bakery on Via di Cavana and bought a mini version of each of Trieste’s three native desserts: presnitz, putizza, and pinza. While I had previously sampled these at Pasticceria Bomboniera—and would soon have a chance to try them again at Pasticceria Penso—I wanted to taste yet another bakery’s recipes for the sake of comparison. In addition, I bought a small bag of fave dei morti, the tiny pink, brown, and white almond cookies that were popular during the months of October and November.
I had plenty of questions for my baker friends, about these desserts and much more, so next I paid a visit to Pasticceria Penso. Brothers Antonello and Lorenzo Stoppar were both there, and as usual, they invited me into the kitchen to watch them work. I would have many such days in the coming weeks, perched on a stool with a front-row view, the life cycle of desserts passing before my eyes in a calm flurry.
When the shop closed at 1:00pm for the family’s afternoon break, I took a long walk through the winding streets around Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia and found both a bookshop and an Internet café still open. After checking my email—I had brought along my laptop for writing, but there was no available Internet service at Residence Liberty—I headed back to my apartment.
My thrown-together dinner was much the same as the previous evening: a salad of greens and tomato slices, bread, cheese, a scrambled egg, and leftover string beans and potatoes. I also sautéed some eggplant with onion and garlic.
Getting used to my new kitchen was requiring a great deal of adaptability and patience. When I first arrived, the fridge was not cold, so I had turned down the temperature—apparently much too low, for this morning all my food was frozen. The microwave was so tiny that the only dish that would fit was a small saucer, and even that needed to be tilted awkwardly sideways—not ideal for reheating food. And without the luxury of a drying rack or sufficient counter space on which to set my dishes, I had to dry each piece immediately after washing, using a hand towel from the bathroom—the same towel that was doing double duty as a potholder.
Even though I had become very accustomed to traveling alone, evenings on this trip would prove to be a rather lonely time of day for me. During dinner, and for several hours afterward, I would usually watch television, endeavoring to improve my Italian language skills. Sometimes my fiancé and I would talk briefly on the phone. Sometimes I would organize my notes and make plans for the next day. More often than I’d like to admit, however, I found myself turning to repeated, mindless games of Solitaire to pass the time until I was ready to hit the sack.