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The Piazza


By Elizabeth Griffin

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The Piazzathe piazza in Trebiciano or Trebče in Slovene is the only open space in town.  It’s not covered with cobblestones, or bricks.  It does not sit within handsome buildings and make up a pedestrian zone as in many elegant Italian cities.  Rather, this is an asphalted area to the side of the main drag that heads straight across the plateau, called the Carso, outside of Trieste, passing one village (or paese as small towns are referred to in Italian meaning country) after another. 

The rest of the little town is covered with stone houses (some even with stone roofs) side by side with small courtyards or entryways out front. Most of the homes have back yard gardens that connect with the backsides of the houses on the next street over.   Three or four backyards can connect forming a protected interior space with at least one driveway leading out to the road.  This is a slight inversion on the traditional piazza theme of front facing front but an ingenious idea nevertheless.  PiazzaThe streets that weave in and out are so small I think twice before bringing the big family car when I need to go into the neighbourhood. 

The piazza has the town church and elementary school at one end.   Next to the church, is the kindergarten and on the other side of the piazza past the garbage bins, recycling containers, plexi-glass covered bus stop, and post box, sit a few historic houses.  The old town well is at the far end, long since covered with a steel netting to prevent anyone from falling in.  And the old pump is still there, recently painted forest green.  These objects now seem terribly outdated like the phone booths to their right.  But it doesn’t take much imagination to contemplate what life must have been like to come to the piazza, the center of town, for water each day.   

What is most notable, though, about this open space is just that.  There’s a lot of space.  Even 50 cars could park there.  Well, ok not 50 but 20.  It’s the only space within miles that large trucks can park or turn around.  Often the piazza is filled with utilities vehicles meeting up before or after a big job.  Or there are often tour buses on their stop of “a typical carsic village.”  Smack dab in the middle of the parking lot, no the piazza, is an….um…. memorial made with carsic rock in a more or less standard memorial shape.  That is, erect and tall.  It is in memory of those who died in WWII, a very bitter, bloody, and confusing period for this part of the world.  Often the first thing people say when they see the Carsic terrain for the first time is how stark it seems.  After listening to stories of the wars, I have a new understanding of the meaning of melancholy.  The land here breathes it.     

Back to the rock, I mean the memorial.  It sits on a cement star that used to be bright red and now greyish red marking loyalty to communism and Yugoslavia.  Around the star base is a garden area always filled with bright red flowers of the season.  My favourite is early spring when the red tulips pop up.  Then around the garden is a chain partition, and then finally a marble walkway.  It sounds enormous but it is modest in size.  It acts like a traffic cone in the middle of the piazza for cars and trucks to use for u-turns.  When someone in town dies, bouquets of flowers are placed in his memory at the base of the star.   

I come to Trebiciano from out of town.  That is, I live 10 minutes down the way and come to drop off our sons for school or pick them up in the afternoon on weekdays.  In the mornings, the Piazza is a flash news report:

  • Elena must have had her second boy because she’s pushing a baby carriage as she escorts her 7 year old to second grade.  And she’s finally able to zip up her ski parka over her belly.
  • Marco, a town leader, is still estranged with his brother and wife who live down the way.   Both brothers drop off their children, ignoring eye contact with one another.  No one knows how relations got so bad but the two brothers and wives never talk.  Thing is, they both had children at the very same time – same month, same year – and now they frequently find themselves in the same classroom for parent conferences.  The first time I saw the two older girls from the two families, I thought they were twins, only to find out they were cousins with only grandparents in common. 
  • Flavia now has three children.  She drops off one son at the elementary school then drives 50 feet to the entrance of the kindergarten to drop off the second.  From there she drives down the way to her mother’s house to leave the baby before heading off for work at the bank down the way. 
  • Alessia must be at work today.  Her sister is escorting all the children to school.  Alessia and her sister live side by side with their respective husbands and children in a duplex they built together.  They are both hair dressers in the same salon downtown and try not to work on the same day so that at all times one is working and one is taking care of the children. 

Cars drive up, scenes open themselves to whomever’s watching at the moment, and cars drive off again.  We know who has the flu, who is on vacation, who is late, who is in a bad mood.  The list goes on and one, all in the course of about 20 minutes.

When my son started the third grade, his class was moved to the second floor of the two story school.  “Mamma,” he said, eyes lit up with excitement, “I can see everything from our classroom window!”  I thought he was going to say something like I can see to the horizon, or I can see the doline, rolling hills in the Carsic landscape, on the back side of town.  But instead he said “I can see all of the piazza!”



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