When the great world of non-English-speaking science fiction fans began to flex their young muscles and develop their own brand-new sorts of clubs and cons there was o way to slow them down. So it was no surprise to us Americans that, when there sprang into life an annual science fiction film festival, it was on the other side of an ocean, in a city called Trieste.

When some fan asked what country it was in, some wise guy — it may have been me — asked, “What country was it in when?” Because in the memory of living people — -that is, of people who were living in the 1960s — Trieste had alternately been Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian or Italian. And that doesn’t count those periods when the wars that changed things were over, but the old men with the chalk in their hands hadn’t quite finished drawing those map lines that dictated who would live where, and what they. would call themselves.

By the time Trieste hosted Il Festivale di Fantascienza, though, it was irrevocably (they said) Italian, and that’s what got us there. We were sitting on our porch in Red Bank, New Jersey, my then wife Carol and I, me reading the final pages of my latest collaboration with Jack Williamson, the Old Master himself, and Carol studying a map of eastern Europe.

I had just finished the final pages, having made only a handful of penciled improvements, none that required retyping whole pages, which meant all I had to do just then was put it in the mail for a final lookover by Jack. Unless he found something he wanted me to do over, which he almost never did, the next thing I would have to do with that one would be to deposit the check for the on-delivery half of my part of the advance when it turned up in the day’s mail.

That’s when Carol said, “√źubrovnik” pronouncing the name as though enjoying the flavor of it.

What I said then was. “What?” I don’t know exactly what thoughts had been floating around my easily distracted mind at that time, but I was sure that they had nothing to do with towns with funny names..

She filled me in. “I said, ‘Dubrovnik,’ because I always said I wanted to visit some place that had a name I couldn’t pronounce.”

I reminded her that she had just pronounced it, and she shook her head at me. “How do I know I pronounced it right? Anyway, that’s not the important part. Look on the map here. Here’s this Dubrovnik place, and it’s right down the coast from that sci-fi film thing you said you wanted to go to, the one in Treesty.”

“There isn’t any such place as Treesty,” I informed, “The Film Festival is in Tree-esty. And all I said was maybe one of these years we might take a look — ”

“Well, what’s wrong with this year? You said you wanted to go there.. And just the other day, Mother was asking if we were going to want her to mind the kids while we went somewhere. I told her I’d ask you, so now I’m asking.”

I said, “Hum.” That was my coded expression for meaning, Let me mull this over in my mind, because Carol had a point. Back in those wartime days when my personal travel agent had been the U.S. Air Force, they had shipped me all over the map of Italy, except for two areas they somehow missed. One of them was Sicily, way down at the farthest south. The other, in the farthest north, was that spur of land at the top of the Adriatic Sea that held Trieste. The opportunity to see more of a country I had come to love simply couldn’t be passed up. So we made our plans, Carol and I, and we checked to see that our passports were up to date and that Carol’s mother, Carolie Ulf, was still cheerful about supervising the youngest children for two or three weeks, the two older ones being off at school,.

And next thing you know, our Alitalia jet was touching down at Milan’s airport and we were shifting our not inconsiderable baggage into the trunk of a Hertz car and heading east.

That was when I first cursed our folly in having allowed ourselves only a couple of weeks to drive around Italy, because, in order to ease the burden of child-caring on my mother-in-law, we had to drive straight across the root of the Italian peninsula, passing without a glance, for instance, the wonderful Lake Garda. That was where, at the very end of World War II, I had spent most of a warm Italian night on the peninsula that juts out into the lake. The place where I was sitting was the ruin of the summer home of the ancient Roman poet, Catullus, and the things I was gazing at were — over my head — the riot of stars and constellations an Italian summer night can sometimes give. And, all around the shores of the lake at my own level were the giant bonfires and fireworks displays of the defeated Germans, burning up their ammunition dumps as they prepared to surrender.

Missing another look at Lake Garda was bad enough. But just a couple of hours later we drove straight by the docks where the water taxis were waiting to whisk the more fortunate travelers to the semi-aquatic marvel of wonderful Venice, where neither Carol nor I had ever been at all..

But that was the last of the Tempter’s snares to beguile us that evening, because next thing we knew the landscape had turned hilly, and then we saw the lights of a small city beginning to blossom around us, and then Carol squinted at something just ahead and read, “‘Jolly Hotel.’ Is that where we’ll be living?”

It was, and as we were checking in a young man appeared who was wearing a tee-shirt that spelled out “Sempre Fantascienza!” and then the name of the city, and the date. Which, I am embarrassed to confess, I don’t.at the moment remember. See, among the many other confessions I feel obliged to offer on a regular basis, one involves the fact thatIsaac Asimov was in several ways a lot smarter than I was. Isaac was, for instance, intelligent and disciplined enough to keep a daily diary, from which, at need, he could pluck any desired quantity of names, dates and verbatim offhand jokes and comments.

I wasn’t.

So I have to work with just what I remember.

To be continued.

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4 Comments

  1. JJ Brannon says:

    You do have a photo, though Fred, in my copy of your autobiography of your stay in Italy during WWII.

    JJB

  2. Jeff B. says:

    This is a fascinating glimpse not just into science fiction fandom history, but history in general. I was particularly enthralled by your description of that night at Lake Garda with the German military burning off ammo. There is something at once lovely, chilling, and haunting about that imagery.

  3. Michael Black says:

    I thought “Trieste” was the name of the bathyscape that went into the Challenger Deep, and then was used to look for the submarine Thresher.
    I remember well the article in National Geograpic about that later search.

    Michael

  4. Stefan Jones says:

    I’m looking forward to more of this entry, and more like it!