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This report is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

Letter from Trieste Mark Thompson

Among the minor items in the exhibition 'Karl Friedrich Schinkel: A Universal Man', given at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1991, was an ink drawing of a Gothic cathedral profiled on a hilltop above a curving bay. The caption named no location, but the vista of roofs and shore is unmistakably Triestine. One supposes that young Schinkel, the future genius of neoclassical Berlin, had been captivated by the prospect from the hill of San Giusto, where Trieste's castle and cathedral stand back to back; and later, or right then and there, spurred by disappointment at the modest proportions and mongrel style of the actual cathedral, he imagined a structure more appropriate to the natural potential of the site: something like Milan cathedral, immense and unified, a forest of soaring pinnacles.

Schinkel's drawing came to mind last August, as I sat in the San Marco, Trieste's favourite and most Mittel-european cafe, complete with gilt wallmirrors, newspapers on sticks, and a scattering of academic and literary regulars. I was listening to the best known of the literati, Claudio Magris, digress upon the city's air of decay, its pungent and beguiling atmosphere of entropy.

Cities which were more important in the past always tend to reflect upon themselves too much, and the cities of Mitteleuropa have this complex. In Vienna and Prague as well as here, one senses something unrealized. Arriving not from Yugoslavia but from Italy, seeing this magnificent bay, it is as if Trieste possesses ...

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