Caught Ovgard: It's a small world when you're microfishing
TRIESTE, Italy — Six city-states populate the European map today: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. Asia has several of its own, too, all of which were past European colonies. Hong Kong (British) and Macao (Portuguese) have since been absorbed into semi-autonomous control in a new China, but Singapore, formerly a British colony, remains truly sovereign and a model for the modern city-state.
Though Europe's city-states collectively house less than 1 million people of vastly different backgrounds while Asian city-states are massive, sprawling metropolises in their own right, all city-states share one thing in common: wealth.
Every modern city-state, both sovereign and dependent, boasts extremely high GDP per capita, according to the World Bank. As of 2021, Luxembourg was first in the world. Singapore was second, while San Marino (10th) and Macao (12th) sandwiched the 11th-ranked United States. The others were not listed.
Though these throwbacks to another time persist as anomalies on the world map, historically, city-states were much more common. All of Europe's geography combined is just a hair larger than the United States, but 700 years ago Europe's map was populated with no fewer than 200 countries, independent municipalities and city-states. For perspective, today's Europe has 44 countries recognized by the United Nations.
Many modern city-states persisted because of highly diverse populations without a single, dominant ethnic, religious or linguistic group. One such city-state that at times existed as part of Italy, Habsburg Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia and others was the city of Trieste.
Following World War II, the Free Territory of Trieste was established between then Italy and Yugoslavia where it remained free for seven years before being formally split between the two powers.
Urban Trieste is Italian today, though its population is one of the most mixed in the world, described by one author as "culturally amorphous" and containing substantial populations of ethnic Italian, Slovenian and Croatian citizens with significant variety in linguistic and religious practices.
Though I couldn't find any confirmation online, the name Trieste could derive from the Latin prefix "tri" meaning three, and representing the major ethnic groups present there.
There has been a fairly popular independence movement in Trieste for the past decade, and when I visited the city for a night late in 2018, I was struck by just how unique it was. The town square was decorated with the trees and ribbons you'd expect in traditional Western Catholic and Protestant Christmas celebrations, as well as lots of cut oak branches — a traditional decoration in the Serbian Orthodox Church — and even the odd menorah representing the significant Jewish minority in the city.
Passing the beautiful town square en route to the harbor, I managed to stall my rental car on a hill in heavy traffic. Sure, it was the first manual I'd driven since college, but it was still embarrassing. The car behind me was so close, I couldn't easily shift into gear, but after learning Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Greek, German and Albanian curses on the fly, I got going again.
This was my first trip to Italy, and I was determined to catch a new species of fish here despite the frigid temps. I grabbed an ultralight rod, found a fish market near the harbor and bought a can of shrimp preserved in spices and vinegar. It was the best I could do for bait, and I honestly thought it was hopeless.
It was well below freezing, and I figured there wouldn't be anything of size that close to the urban center, so I opted to microfish. It proved the right call, and I quickly caught a few ubiquitous black gobies and one fish I would later identify as the Bucchich's goby, my new species in Italy.
My hands stopped working, and, eventually, I figured fishing through the quarter-inch oil slick on the surface probably wasn't going to get any better, so I called it.
I grabbed some food and made my way back to Slovenia, where I planned to stay the night, realizing that if Trieste ever does become Europe's next city-state, I'd already checked it off my list. Of course, that also meant I'd have to return to Italy once again.
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