It might well be that the department stores back home were already loading their windows with back-to-school clothes, but to any American abroad in the flossier reaches of the Adriatic, a sea that provides a balm to Communists and capitalists alike, it was clear last week that the season was just reaching its heady height. If, in the small resorts from Rimini (capitalistic), clear around the hairpin curve of the Adriatic to Dubrovnik (Communist), there was a traveler (fellow or pleasure) who countenanced a thought about turning at last for home, nobody was mentioning it with much enthusiasm.
In Venice, at the head of the historic sea, looking down the long watery alley bordered by eastern Italy, Dalmatian Yugoslavia and the forbidden half acre of Albania, the bars bubbled like Babel, the beach bristled with the haut monde like some Maxwellian salon that Elsa suddenly unroofed, and each arriving gondola fetched another astral body to help illuminate the annual film festival of Venice, soon to begin.
While Venice creaked under the tread of the tourists down from Germany with their knapsacks, over from France in their khaki shorts, across from Britain in their blue blazers, the international set was sequestered out on the Lido, a sequined sand bar some 15 minutes by speedboat from the ancient quays downtown. By all odds one of Europe's most elegant watering places, the Lido is a narrow shoal some five miles long and a mile wide. About half of the island is beach, a vast flatland of sand anywhere from a hundred to 300 yards wide, planted with over a thousand cabanas.
High society's hive is the Excelsior Lido, a Moorish extravaganza built in 1908, many times modernized and operated now with crisp efficiency and exquisite service by the Compagnia Italiano dei Grandi Alberghi, an association that also owns the Excelsiors in Rome and Naples, the Royal Danieli and the Gritti Palace in Venice, among a long list of other Italian inns. The Excelsior offers 400 rooms, all with bath, and guests pay about $15 a day, with multicourse Italian meals included.
August 25, 1957
The Lido, which gave the world the word lido, meaning beach, and first introduced beach pajamas (at a fashion show in 1925), also claims the origin of the film festival, a celluloid clambake said to have been begun by one Count Volpi, Mussolini's minister of finance, in 1934. Venice had sponsored art shows since the '90s, but Volpi (and Venice) claim to have been the first to consider films as an art form. After all, it was a daring, pioneering idea, considering that the artful era of Jayne Mansfield and Tab Hunter was still more than 20 years away. At any rate, the annual festival, which is held in a theater on the Lido that is dark for the rest of the year, brought such glamorous beachcombers as Dietrich, Doug Fairbanks I and Mary Pickford. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were here during part of their 1937 honeymoon, and once the war was over and the film festival on again in full force, the Lido ran a Hollywood gamut that stretched from Ameche to Zanuck.
A much quieter edition of a seaside spa, the Grand Hotel des Bains, under the same management, is in business just down the beach, catering mostly to vacationing Italian families. An avenue of lavender-hued brillanteni leads to the sea, and there are moscone, or rowboats with pontoons, in which the adventurous can row out to the Tódaro, a floating fish restaurant that anchors off the hotel's beach. Antique victorias pulled by straw-hatted horses take Lido lollers on exploring tours of the tiny island village, a settlement of shade trees, flower boxes and small cafes. And tucked away between the villas are trattorias where dinner is a dollar and the roof is an awning of honeysuckle and wisteria. In the afternoon, lovers woo on the benches under the acacias in the Excelsior's gardens. Sportsmen play golf at the Venice Golf Club built on top of the Alberoni Fortress, a bastion for the defense of Venice, first constructed in 1648. Luncheon is served in the powder magazine in the scented shadow of a trellis where grapevines grow. The first tee adjoins a fortress lookout post and the view stretches out to Malamucco harbor.
Across the top of the Adriatic there is a good beach at the Lido di Iesolo, popular with the Swedes and the Swiss; and another at Grado, a favorite with the Swiss and the Germans and also with the Austrians, whose waterworks it once was. Iesolo is 20 miles eastward of Venice and its white beach dips so gently into the sea that there is a good 100 yards for shallow bathing. Grado, tucked up in the corner, two hours by boat from Trieste, sits in the sea on a long arm that reaches out from Cervignano. A mere 75 miles from the Austrian frontier, Grado does business in a variety of languages, but its shopkeepers advertise on the sails of boats moored offshore with nautical signs that say, "Alles f√ºr den Strand." The strange mixtures of visiting clientele and changing nationality have produced such triple-tongued gems as the Hotel des Bains e Zipser.
While a few Americans explore resorts like Grado, a room with private bath in the Grand Hotel Esplanade would come to about $6.25 a day, all meals included, about $5 without bath. An establishment of some 40 rooms, the Grand bestrides the sand bar between the Adriatic and a lagoon. Meals are served on the open terrace looking out to the sea. And on the islands in the lagoon there are thatched-roof huts of fishermen who venture forth with the dark to coax calamari and branzin from the blue basins of the Adriatic.
From here to Trieste and beyond into Yugoslavia, the shoreline is dotted with tiny spas to be explored by yacht or by car. Duino, first of them in the narrow neck that was the Free Territory of Trieste, has just two hotels which, together, have room for 40. One is the Cavaluccio Marino, or Hotel of the Small Seahorses; the other is called the Dama Bianca, the Hotel of the White Lady, because it refers to an involved legend about a haunted castle that lies in crumpled white splendor on the hilltop.
Sistiana is owned by the Prince Torre e Tasso, and during the occupation of Trieste, the British commanding general lived in the prince's castle and American forces occupied the Parco Hotel by the sea. Under the sheer rock cliffs that rise above the bay, campers pitch their tents now. Great horse chestnut trees sit at the very edge of the water like green umbrellas waiting to shade a bather. Cafe tables are cool under the pines. Sailboats dawdle under the indolent breeze, dahlias grow to giant size in the yellow sun, cacti are green stoics in earthenware jugs steeping in the heat, and out in the water there are kayak paddlers to tickle the surface of the Adriatic, and the churning boats that come twice a day from Trieste.
Having been embroiled in a lengthy argument as to whether they would live henceforth under Italian rule or Yugoslavian, the people of Trieste, after nine years of Allied occupation, give every indication that what they would like to be is American. "Americans were here so long," a Trieste citizen explained to me, "now when people get married we tie things to the back of the car."
Not only that. Trieste youths wear bright-colored shirts that would ordinarily horrify a European. They chew gum and stroll about in T-shirts and blue jeans known there as calzoni alla cowboy, or cowboy pants. Barbershops give crew-cuts, and there are four baseball teams in town—the Giants, the Wolves, the Piraty and the CUS (for Cicolo Universit√† Studente).
Trieste is hardly a pleasure city, since its harbor has long been the gateway for goods shuttling between India, the Orient and Central Europe. With the departure of the troops several good hotels have once more become available, among them the Excelsior, the de Ville, the new Jolly and the impeccable Grand. Prices everywhere are at least 10% less than in Venice, and dinner on the terrace of the Grand facing the marina, complete with tip and bottle of wine, comes to an even $2.
After 6 each evening the traffic is shut off on the Viale Venti Settémbre, and with the cafes on either side of the street it becomes one long, tree-shaded coffeehouse that stretches for two kilometers and ends, somewhat inelegantly, at a beer factory.
Trieste grew first along the sides of San Giusto Hill, the top of which later became a fortress against the Turks. It was a part of the Venetian Republic when Napoleon torpedoed that nautical nation. Trieste was awarded to Austria, which lost it in 1918 to the Italians. The Germans occupied it from 1943 until 1945, when it lived for 40 days under Tito. Six thousand five hundred U.S. and British troops maintained it as the Free Territory of Trieste, thereafter, and in October 1954 it returned at last to Italy. With the Turks now quiet, the Germans vanquished, the Austrians docile and nobody except the Yugoslavs aggrieved, the Trieste citizens, who speak both Italian and a brand of Venetian dialect, have turned the fortress into a park. They course up the San Giusto Hill to have coffee in the coffeehouse of the Bastone Rotundo and to dance in the elegance of the Bastone Fiorito. Ten thousand strong they storm the bastion to hear opera sung on the ancient ramparts.
Twice a week the boat comes over from Venice. Three times a week it invades Yugoslav waters, arriving at Pula in three hours and at Rijeka in six. Once a week it goes on to Split and Dubrovnik. Yugoslavia begins on the opposite side of the Trieste bulge, an enclave shouldered by the sea and the border, five miles wide at its widest and in the north squeezed into a scant 200-yard passageway that links it with the rest of Italy.
Tito's touristland, once the only Communist country on western view, is a collection of magnificent, rugged scenes, ragtag resorts, 8% tips, $4-a-day vacations, large western-style dance bands that play pretty good jazz and a western-style pop called Jugo-Kokta, a beverage invented in paradise and bottled by the state soda works.
A traveler in Titoland is known as a putnik, which is also the name given to travel agencies all over Yugoslavia. A visa is still needed to enter, but these are obtainable at Yugoslav consulates after paying $1 and filling out a questionnaire, called an upitnik. From there on one becomes a putnik and the Putniks take over.
Yugoslavia's coastline, from Trieste down to the edge of Albania, a skinny satellite known in the local tongue as Shqiperija, is advertised by Putnik as the Coast of 1,000 Islands. There being no natural ports on the west shore from Venice to Brindisi with the exception, perhaps, of Ancona, the Coast of 1,000 Islands has long been bandied about between such authorities as Venice, Croatia, Hungary and Napoleon. Under Napoleonic dictates the shore passed to Austria and stayed that way for a century. There was a scramble for a reassessment of ownership again in the first World War with claims from Italy and strident independent voices from Serbians whose aim was to liberate and unite "our beloved brothers, the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes." In the end, what was Austrian passed to Italy for the period between the two world wars, and the Serbian aim, voiced in 1914, won out with the final peace after World War II.
Names that had been Austrian and then Italian were changed to fit the new nationalism. Unfortunately, Slovenian suffers from a queer economy of vowels, and western tourists have been somewhat confounded to be directed from Trst (Trieste) to the island of Krk or the village of Knin, which lies on the south bank of the Krka, not very far from Drvar. The seaside place the Italians remember as Abbazia has become Opatija, the hot spot which history will recall as Fiume is now Rijeka, Spalato is Split, and far to the south, that storied medieval stronghold, Ragusa, flourishes under the name of Dubrovnik.
The Yugoslavs did not change the name of Italy's best resort, the islands of Brioni, when this subtropical archipelago, with the rest of the east Adriatic coastline, passed to Tito's control after World War II. A prewar Baedeker listed five hotels on Brioni with 370 rooms, 20 of them with private bath, and available in that era at anywhere from $2.50 to $7 a day, meals included. From May to November there was bathing on a sandy beach seven minutes from the hotel, golf on an 18-hole course, six tennis courts, two polo fields and 100 bicycles to rent for excursions amid the palm and bamboo groves. Today, the existence of these prewar amenities is neither confirmed nor denied by Putnik. One thing is sure, putniks are prohibited. Brioni has been adopted, beach, bicycles and bamboo groves, as the private domain of J. Broz Tito.
What is left for the tourist and the traveling Titoist are the coastal resorts of the Istrian peninsula, that arrowhead growing between Trieste and Rijeka. Portoroz (alias Portorose) is advertised as "the gem of Slovene Istria," but I fear that it is no gem, nor its Palace Hotel a palace. There is a garden of cedar trees and a terrace by the sea, and there are schooners to hire for trips down the coast, and motorboats that make regular excursions to Koper, nine miles away, which may be remembered as Capo d'Istria.
Nostalgic Austrians, a few Scandinavians and a smattering of English come to Porec down the coast, where the Riviera Hotel offers 76 rooms, 12 of them with private bath, at $4 a day with full board. There is an outdoor cafe shaped by palms, where you can pause and refresh with a Jugo-Kokta. The ruins of a Roman temple of Jupiter look to the bay, there is a small beach behind the Riviera, where the landlocked Austrians find the sea, and out in the harbor is the unpeopled island of St. Nicholas, where the Riviera runs two annexes with room for 80 visitors who like the simple life.
It is somewhat startling to come at last to Opatija and find Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzes pulled up in front of the hotels. In the hotel dining rooms tail-coated waiters pop open bottles of Traminec (Traminer) and Rizling (Riesling), all home-grown. The Yugoslavs make their own bottled water, too, known as Tri Srca, or Three Hearts, but it is no more palatable than it is pronounceable, and I would advise the vulnerable to bring their own from Italy or brush their teeth with Rizling.
Here, on the Kvarner Riviera, Kvarner shrimps, or skampi, are the speciality, as well as oysters, mussels, lobsters and Adriatic eels. After dinner, the huge terrace of the Kvarner Hotel fills with a mélange of Swedes, Belgians, Germans and Austrians, who sip sweet Yugoslav maraschino with a glass of soda on the side, local Benedictine made without the help of a monk, and slivovica, a high explosive distilled from plums. An American-style dance band plays All of Me and Bye Bye Baby in the Glenn Miller style, while the conglomerate confrérie pushes about on the crowded floor. Toward the sea are the lights of Rijeka, nee Fiume, which Gabriele d'Annunzio captured for Italy in an outburst of patriotic outrage in 1921. I Can't Give You Anything But Love wail the Yugoslav saxophones playing American jazz so the Germans can shuffle, and out on the sea the night fishermen, dazzling the mackerel, make a highway of lights across the black Adriatic.
In the morning, coffee is served with blobs of whipped cream, a holdover from the Austrians. The artificial beach, screened from the sea's sharks by a steel net, fills quickly. Umbrellas bloom on the shelves of sand built above the boulders. Some hotels offer baths with warmed sea water. Ten kilometers down the road, past Tito's Villa Istranka, which he can use if a Brionic boredom sets in, is the long, curving rock beach of Medveja. Cars and tents are pulled up by the strand and bathers change behind the doubtful privacy of hanging fish nets. Beer-barreled Teutons float in the water, ladies under parasols sit offshore in rowboats, the steamboat to Rijeka puffs black smoke on the horizon, passing the wide-prow, sloped-masted sailing freighter that plies the Istrian trade.
But the real gem of the Yugoslav Adriatic is not in Istria at all, but in Dalmatia, far to the south. It is Dubrovnik, the ancient, walled city by the sea that lived for 1,000 years as an independent republic, guaranteeing civil rights in the 13th century, abolishing slavery in the 15th century, building public schools and turning out astronomers, doctors and writers whose plays are still given, often on the very castle walls on which their scenes were laid long ago. In the 1500s its ships were a hundred score, ranging far from the Adriatic up into the North Sea, carrying textiles, bells and cannon, and locks made by those Ragusans who stayed home.
Aside from renaming Ragusa Dubrovnik, the Yugoslavs have left the place untampered, and visitors who fly from Rome or take the 24-hour boat trip down from Venice still find a medieval city stopped in time. If orange blossoms now bloom in the moat once designed to keep out the Turks and the Venetians, the Placa, the ancient shopping street, seems quite the same as it must have been in its salad days, even though the local citizenry apologizes for the fact that it had to be rebuilt after the earthquake—in 1520. A Gothic arch frames every plate-glass window and not a sign hangs outside. The state-owned stores sell Serbian cigaret boxes of inlaid cherrywood, filigree silver jewelry and flutes edged with gingerbread trimmings; but their cigaret holders, long, slender, carved and colorful, will not take an American-sized cigaret. Europe's oldest drugstore is still operated by the Franciscans who first opened it in 1317, but the monk is now an employee of the new social democracy.
The state's hotels, especially the Argentina and the Imperial, are the best I have seen in Yugoslavia, and the Excelsior would be a delight anywhere. Diners in summer sit on a canopy-covered, oleander-decked terrace looking across the Adriatic to Lokrum Island, where Richard the Lionhearted, homeward bound from the Third Crusade, was supposed to have piled up his ship on the rocks. There is dancing in the garden at night, swimming in the sea by day, skin-diving for lobster across on Lokrum's rocks, and for anyone who wants lunch on the beach, the Excelsior maintains a seaside restaurant.
All summer long on the city's 17 natural stages, the Belgrade Opera has been filling the open air with Borodin, Mussorgsky, Verdi and Britten. Serbs, Croats and Macedonians have been exercising their folk dances and songs, and the dramatic presentations have included not only the works of the local talent, but those two popular performances, Kraljevic Danski and San Letnje Noci, otherwise known respectively as Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Soon the midsummer dream would end in medieval Dubrovnik. The Austrians would retreat again, homeward bound from Porec and Portoroz. Across the Adriatic it would end, too, along the Romagnese Riviera where the beach at Rimini stretches wide and flat for 15 miles and strange oblong sails flapping on sand-anchored masts are the local umbrella. And the Romagnese would spend the winter waiting for the tourists and eating pappardelle, which is a macaroni pie with giblets, and big Comacchio eels broiled with sage and laurel. Only in Venice would the party go on from now until mid-September. Then the astral bodies, the titled bodies and the bodies that were merely tan would at last depart and the hotel would play out the season at rates 40% reduced until the month was done. Then the battalions of waiters, the red-shirted lifeguards and Ricardo Zucchi himself would pack it all in until the sun came up again on the Adriatic.