The Trieste of Magris

An invitation to discover the city of Trieste initiates a journey through time with an exceptional guide, writer Claudio Magris and his books.

"Not being from anywhere: having no frontiers, no prejudices, no enemies: remaining suspended in this nowhere (Jan Morris), in this non luogo (Claudio Magris), in this limbo where everything was possible." This is how you feel when visiting the exhibition The Trieste of Magris at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. As part of the series Cities and their Writers which began a few years ago, this exhibition is a time travel to the city of Trieste, guided by the Trieste-born writer Claudio Magris and his books. La Bora seems to be a windy place, or at least this is your first thought once you enter the exhibition space. Then, you suddenly realize that it's not a place. The Bora is a wind, a natural phenomenon unique to Trieste, and from this starting point, visitors discover that they will need all their five senses to enjoy the exhibition.

You enter the exhibition space as if you arrive to Trieste by the sea: after the sensitive experience of the Bora, you go into a space filled with stones from the Triestine karst. Stones that are hewn, perforated by the water in the original lime soil and in the dolomite soil of this place. Suddenly, everything becomes a lunar landscape, where rough textures surround you and it's easy to understand why so many writers—such as Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba, Rainer Maria Rilke, Scipio Slataper, and James Joyce, among others—have been inspired by this place.
Piazza Unità. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
Piazza Unità. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
Trieste is a city and seaport in northeastern Italy. It is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of land lying between the Adriatic Sea and Italy's border with Slovenia. As a border city, the mix of languages and cultures: Italian, Germanic and Slavic is present in the everyday life. Its unique geopolitical location has marked its character throughout its history. This fact can be can experienced in the space called Nowhere, where a mix of audio files almost drive you crazy while listening to Germanic, Latin, Austro-Hungarian and Slavic languages. In this exhibition, Magris is the leading thread and point of connection with his city. Magris's extraordinary and complex texts often refer to Trieste, its personages (both anonymous and famous), the history of the city, and to the writer's own memories.
Claudio Magris at work.
Claudio Magris at work.
A good example of how the history of the city is reflected in the exhibition, is the narrative that can be traced from "the house" of Magris, through the psychiatric hospital of San Giovanni, where it can be found "and exhibition within the exhibition" with drawings by Vito Timmel. The drawings were made while he was in hospital. The play by Claudio Magris, La mostra, is based on the life of this artist, though it is also about Trieste and Magris himself. Marking a difference between patients and doctors, the visitor is obliged to pass through a white room (a controlled environment for patients with psychological disorders) before entering to the space Marco Cavallo, a symbol of the action that took place in 1973, when a blue horse (named Marco Cavallo,) thought up by the patients at San Giovanni Hospital, walked out of the psychiatric centre and entered the city of Trieste. By means of this action, encouraged by the Mayor of Trieste, Michele Zanetti, the writer Giuliano Scabia and Basaglia's collaborators, the patients regained a place in society.
In this exhibition, Magris is the leading thread and point of connection with his city, its personages (both anonymous and famous), the history of the city and to the writer's own memories.
Antiquarian Bookshop. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
Antiquarian Bookshop. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
It's important to note, that the history of the city, guided by Magris and his books, cannot be completely understood without mentioning some other writers that have lived here before Magris and the places that all of them used to visit daily. Magris perhaps (who knows?) sat down in the same chairs of the Caffè San Marco where once stood Italo Svevo and James Joyce, as Joyce lived in Trieste for 14 years and became good friends with Svevo.

This famous place, the Caffè San Marco is the most well-known café in Trieste, the place where some of Magris's best-known books were thought out and written. The space recreates the Caffè San Marco, the décor of which remains practically unchanged since it opened in 1914. Here you can take a break and browse through Magris's books before going to The Antiquaria bookshop, a reproduction of writer Umberto Saba's bookshop in Trieste. There is a complete space dedicated to Claudio Magris's master work, The Danube. The book follows the history and culture of Mitteleuropa, along the twists and turns of the river. Once you enter here, you feel yourself sailing in the river that flows through cities, regions and countries. A space for everyone who wants to learn about the history of Europe, it's religions, immigrants and cultural landscapes.
Caffè San Marco. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
Caffè San Marco. Photograph by Alessandro Paderni.
The show includes a wide range of materials, from audiovisual installations, original objects and paintings to readings of literary passages and even a film, Dietro il buio [Behind the Darkness], specially produced on the basis of Magris's text, Lei dunque capirà. The exhibition closes with an allusion to contemporary Trieste, a real cosmopolitan mix that manages not to lose its own particular identity.
Ethel Baraona Pohl
<i>Workshop P: Marco Cavallo</i> (1973). Department of Mental Health of Trieste.
Workshop P: Marco Cavallo (1973). Department of Mental Health of Trieste.
Still from the film <i>Behind the Dark,</i> based on the Magris book, <i>So you'll Understand.</i>
Still from the film Behind the Dark, based on the Magris book, So you'll Understand.

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