Nov 1, 2013

History of the world --- Venice (3)

When yours truly arrived in Venice 25 years ago for a brief sojourn at the Business School, Massimo, his correspondent, picked him up at the airport and took him to a down-town café stuffed with pastries, liqueur bottles, and high tables inviting patrons to stand and drink sprits, small glasses of white wine with a schuss, a few drops of Cinzano, say. The spritz then was the stuff of true Venetians, tourists wouldn't know and drink Chianti or Campari instead---if they would drink in the morning, that is, because true Venetians had two spritzes at breakfast. Habits have changes in the meantime; the spritzes have tripled in size and been taken over by tourism, so true Venetians refrain from the stuff and drink lager instead.

"I'll spritz you."

I spent two weeks in Venice as a non-tourist and learned a lot, especially about tourism. Already then, Venice was almost completely touristicated---cool, folks, what an ugly word, "touristicated," but the spell checker doesn't recognize it so it's possibly a neologism1---, and the locals behaved like a dying breed. They would avoid tourists like the plague, would only patronize their own restaurants (hidden away in secret alleys where the food was three times better), would not speak English, would not know about directions, would not make appointments because you only had to step into the street to meet friends, would sit on roof-top terraces and enjoy life, would spend week-end afternoons in secluded gardens (not having sex, by the way, just dozing off jointly for a few hours), would recognize the voices of the passing gondoliers at night (while still enjoying life on the roof-top terraces)...



Gondoliers at day

...and would be late for appointments when such appointments imposed themselves (I spent a whole hour in a conference room together with a few Nobel-material scientists waiting for our delayed Venetian correspondent; the window was open, we enjoyed a splendid view of the Grande Canale, including the Rialto Bridge, but still).

Rialto bridge

Twenty-five years later, touristication (idem) has leveled off, it simply can't get worse. The few functional shops left then have been replaced by galleries, Vuitton boutiques, and gift shops. Except for tourism itself, the only employers left are the university and the municipality (and the foundations, of course, the art foundations).


Define in-laws

Is it worse? No, actually, no. You're treated better now, lots of young women run restaurants and sun-glass boutiques and speak comprehensible English and don't over-smile or under-smile, no, they just smile like decent humans smile at other decent humans. Billing is done per computer which narrows the range of rip-offs. Prices are down, at least compared to the French Riviera. Waiters are nice, at least compared to the French Riviera. And Venice is still there, the magic, the lightness of light and air, the maze of alleys and canals and sottoporteggios, the interaction between civilization and water, the confusion, the sounds and sights of churches and sea gulls and vaporettos (waterborne public transport), the best thing about Venice, the vaporettos, then and now.

Vaporetto on the Grande Canale
1. No it's not, Tripadvisor speaks of a "Hotel as a great find in touristicated Venice."

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