Writing in 1807, a French travel writer claimed Trieste reminded him most of Philadelphia, PA. Maybe it was the cholera epidemics every summer, or that the streets of both doubled as sewer systems. I’m not sure. I would imagine just about any sizable city in the world in 1807 would be comparable to each other in terms of pestilence, sanitation and starvation.
But then I thought, there are some comparisons that are valid down to today between the City of Brotherly Love and the City of Nowhere. For one, Philadelphia has always labored insecurely in the shadow of New York City. For Trieste that has been Venice. Trieste has eastern Europe’s Slovenia on its eastern border: Philadelphia has New Jersey. (And I mean no slight to Slovenia here.) And finally, there’s ]ames Joyce’s pronouncement on Trieste (“Ah, Trieste, ate I my liver.”), and W.C. Field’s own epitaph on his gravestone (“On the whole, I’d rather be here than in Philadelphia.”)
I’ve lived in and around Philadeplhia for more than twenty years, and I find there is much to commend it, as I do Trieste where I’ve spent a whole week. First, the pizzas are outstanding in both. That goes for the gelatto as well. In both cities, the streets are very confusing in that they seem to be overlays of ancient circuitous native paths, Lenape indians in the case of Philly, gypsies designing clever escape routes in Trieste. I also found the approach to public transportation among their respective citizens to be the same, namely, pushing onto the *&^%$ conveyance without giving the disembarking passengers a *&^%$ chance to get off!
Both cities lie hard near bodies of water that industry has claimed as its own septic system, industrial chemical waste into the the Delaware, and the steel industry’s slag heaps into the Adriatic.
And as you may have forgotten by now with its spread to other communities, Philadeplhia was ground zero for the appearance of Legionaires Disease, a malady so new an unknown, it was thought to be caused by the hygienic behavior of conventioners. When an outbreak of the black plague occurred in Trieste in the 16th century, it was thought to be spread by gypsies celebrating the invention of the pants pocket. (Don’t look this up.)
And there was a time when no country or empire wanted to claim Trieste as its own that it became an “international city,” putting it under the aupices of the UN, which coincidentally, didn’t exist at the time. And the feelings in the fledgling United States against setting its national capital in Philadedelphia ran so high, that the Founders settled on a miasmic swamp outside Baltimore that was as poorly drained then, as it remains today.
But all these positive attributes of public health and commercial attributes, aside, I still find both cities as very pleasant places to visit. There’s really nothing to see and do in either, so a man can saunter into and out of both with a very relaxed and unhurried itinerary, grab a cheese steak in one, and a kebab in another, and then push your way onto the #29 bus, leaving a trail of ketchup and salad dressing across the backs of everyone you’re pushing to get on before anyone else can get off.