The menu tonight has pasta. And goulash. And even goulash on pasta. A typical menu at a typical restaurant here.
Gorizia Italy is a true border town. It also lies in the heart of one of the most contested areas of Europe over the last century. The result is a cultural blend of Italian meets Austrian meets Balkan meets Slavic.
Gorizia was the front lines of some of the bloodiest trench warfare of World War I – still called the Great War here unlike other countries when the atrocities of WWI were overshadowed by the horrors of WWII. This is where Earnest Hemingway drove the ambulance for Italy and was wounded, and wrote A Farewell to Arms about that bloody experience.
It was here in Gorizia that the Italians managed to push the Austrian-Hungarian Empire back after years of trench warfare and successful invasion that almost reached Venice. And the town of Gorizia was the tipping point on the Italian front for victory near the end of the war. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI rewarded Italy with this former Austrian town that had been part of the Hapsburg empire … along with other chunks of territory that reduced Austria to a relatively small, landlocked country.
Italy lost over one million in that war. Slovenia was a subject state of the Austria and part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and many of the men who lived in this area were sent to the Eastern Front to fight Russia for Austria.
The turmoil continued when the new State of Yugoslavia – including the country now known as Slovenia – was created and eventually became Communist under Tito, establishing a tense cold war border. The new communist government built a new city on the Communist side of Gorica at the edge of town called Nova Gorica eastern edge – a new City for new Socialism and then built a wall that divided the two cities and stretched right through the middle of the piazza in front of the train station, which fell to the Yugoslav side of the line.
And that wall stood in place until just a few years ago, perhaps testament to the memories of invasion and war that plagued the past … And continued in the neighboring Balkans with the genocide and atrocities at the hands of the Serbs – testament to a bloody legacy that continued.
Today as we cycled through the hills and vineyards to the northwest of Gorizia, we crossed the borders of Slovenia and Italy multiple times. The European Union has eliminated checkpoints and guards and walls and passports. The only indicators were discrete blue signs on the rural roads with the name of the country we were entering. Yet the names of the wineries changed from the familiar Italian to the less familiar Southern Slavic language spoken in Slovenia. And the greetings changed from Italy’s “Ciao” to “Dan” in Slovenian. But both sides were madly harvesting ripe grapes and hauling them by the trailer load to small wineries. And both would make the coveted wines and drink them around their family table … Just like wine has been made here since the Romans.
It would be easy to forget riding through beautiful wine country and crossing borders with a pedal stroke that this peace is relatively new in the long-view of history.
“War is not won by victory.” A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway