I passed by the Buffet da Pepi the night before as I was on a fascist watch along the grand piazzas of modern Trieste. What a pocket of freaks I thought as I stared at tall Italians who only 75 years before were average-sized Austrians.
I don’t get this fucking place and at the same time what an amazing setting as the city bleeds upwards from the sea and two great lighthouses call to weary sailors to stop. I think that is where the buffet came from; sailors with big appetites and sickness of sea foods. These were men of work, not thinkers, not ponderers of the human condition but hungry motherfuckers and pigs were cheap and plentiful.
The next day I went straight to BdP around Noon (way too early to eat in Southern Italy) and the head server said to me in Italian. Did you pass by here last night looking in the window? Yes, I said. I see you, I look (he said in English). This ought to be interesting I thought as my cohorts and I were crammed into a space only large enough for 3 small people and we were 4.
Snout to tail or some such nonsense that the foodie likes to hail as another triumph is what the buffet in Trieste is all about, at least the pig parts and not the foodies. The locals rock in the door, hand over some euro change, and then get a small and dense little roll filled with all kinds of porky goodness. I wanted every little sandwich, all the little thimbles of wine, and to be able to rap the local funky dialect.
However, I was here for a day so it had to be the platter. Yes, a platter of pork from the hoofs to the hot dog, this was what it was about. The Italian call sauerkraut, Krauti. Now that is what I will always call it and also what I will call the locals of Trieste.
The platter arrived and it was stocked. I forgot to ask for the fucking horseradish they shave over the meat until I saw some Krauti being served the spicy root and and I looked down and the platter was near empty save for a few pork knuckles and unwieldy cubes of fat. Shame for the radish but the mustard was intense, the krauti creamy and better than any I had eaten before, the beer cold, and the service as fast as any in Italy. These seafarers knew how to rock land food better than most landlocked lords of libation. This was a German grandma’s pork with an Italian flair and eastern European melancholy. It was lively, but there was a grim specter of flux over the room.
The potato salad was weak, the prosciutto di San Daniele exceptional. Both were extraneous and not part of the altar of savory and warm comforting sprawl on the table.
I crossed the canal, if you can call it that and made my way to the bridge to meet James Joyce. I stood next to him and thought my own mind almost as incomprehensible as his books. I knew that better men than me sat with James here and spoke Italian and I wondered if Joyce spoke it with a bit of brogue. I thought of Hemingway’s description of Joyce and his family dining in Paris and only speaking in Italian, and now I consider the fantastic Irish couple I met in Sicily. What is it with Ireland and Italy? Why do I continue to believe they are both part of where I am going and have been?
I was flying away from Trieste that day and hated myself for it. Not because I needed more pork but because I was flying in general and that turns my stomach. Now, in Trieste, is good Peter B and he is running down his linguistic dreams amidst Fascist revolutionaries stirring the depths of their own stupidity but what can you expect when men are isolated by the sea, the mountains, and have plenty of pork?
Fascism should be much uglier and in the south of Italy it is. Here in the north it simply offers grand views and bad sculpture. Tourists seem old here and the people seem very young in the night and very sad in the day. It was grey and it should have been.
I really thought there could be a fight or two but that was reserved for a late night in Rome and somehow the wines of the Collio only a few kilometers from us seemed so Italian. While Trieste served wonderful coffee, and copious grappa it was far from the Italy I knew and I am sure Joyce was there with me. I always feel myself to be a portrait of an artist as a not quite so young man, but an artist to be certain. The fact is, I think Joyce liked sailors and their pork.