Trieste’s famous melancholy reaches its zenith in the nearby village of Duino. Dominated by its 14th-century castle – the historic home of the Austro-Hungarian Thurn und Taxis family – the whole town feels in thrall to its aristocratic past.
At the Mickey Mouse Café – one of only two along the town's single thoroughfare, the walls are covered with Thurn und Taxis paraphernalia: crest after crest advertising family's beer label. Across the street, the clifftop castle – flanked by a ruined church and an international school, casts a shadow over the Adriatic sea. Under it a promontory, jutting out onto the water: there, the castello vecchio, 200 years older: ruined stone.
The Princess – that’s all anyone knows her by – is rumored to live in a modest apartment in town, but everything here belongs to her. The school is on Thurn und Taxis land. The “Princess’s Beach” – reached by a hidden path behind the local school – is where locals linger on summer afternoons.
But nowhere is that feeling of vanished glory more evident than on the two-kilometer Rilke Path, winding from the Duino Palace to the village of Sistiana, which commemorates where poet Rainer Maria Rilke himself once composed his Duino Elegies in 1923 while staying at the Duino Castle: then-home of the Princess Marie.
Here the paths are overtaken by wildflowers. The cliffs fall at wild and vertiginous angles into the sea. Waves crash up towards the ruins.
In the hour of my walking, on this rainy day, I see no other walkers. I hear nothing but birds, and I think of Rilke’s First Elegy.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
In the silence, I even speak the words out loud. There is no one there to hear me.
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