Below me crawl two shiny black beetle-backs, marched slowly forward by a squadron of winged ants. The pavements in front of our building are scattered with the white buttons of sailors’ caps, of ivory boaters. I stretch my hand out over the balustrade to scoop up these trinkets and am lifted, scolded, and dropped back into the soft pastel exile of the nursery.
On July 2nd 1914 the bodies of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie arrived in Trieste aboard the battleship SMS Viribus Unitis. Five days had passed since the assassination in Sarajevo. The coffins came ashore at the Molo Audace and were led by funeral procession through the streets of the city as far as the station, where a train to Vienna awaited them.
These are the facts as I know them. Also: I was born in Trieste, of Austrian stock, a family from Graz. And: that I was there, just turned four, straining to peer down into this tiny, hushed world of the adults laid out like a tank at the aquarium. Now, decades later, the grown mind scans the memory for traces of sorrow: Did I feel anything of the infectious gravity, of pomp and of foreboding, a world standing on the edge of ruin? Did I really hear the unstoppable creaking of the coach wheels? Or was there only silence, white on black, black on white, beetles and buttons?