Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Big Ships Won't Go Away

photo credit: Elisabetta Favaretti
Aside from being busy with other things, I've been reluctant to put up a post about last Sunday's rally against the big ships. Jen and I attended it but, because of baby-sitting limitations, we had to leave before the big ships finally ventured out of their berths like timid Goliaths to brave the opposition.

I've also been reluctant to post about it because I'm sure you can find much better coverage of it elsewhere--and because I've already posted about the topic and it's one I find myself too disgusted by to go into again. All I can say at this point is that Venice has long devoted itself wholeheartedly to making money--the history of Venice is the history of such enterprise. But while the old Republic's rapaciousness could lead it to commit such reprehensible acts as the sack of Constantinople, it drew the line at money-making ventures that could lead to the literal collapse of its own beloved city, constructed against such great odds and with such great effort amid the wastes of the lagoon, preserved through waves of plagues and would-be invaders.

Perhaps too many years of fleecing tourists rather than laboring with their hands have made many Venetians forget how perilous their old city's position is amid the indifferent lagoon. Or perhaps they fatalistically see what has been called "Casino Capitalism" as the only hope their city has for survival, risking its quite literal collapse because they can imagine no other option.  

But it seems to me, and to many others, that "Casino Capitalism" has given way to "Nihilistic Capitalism," and last Sunday's protest, like so many others around the world, seemed aimed at trying to reassert a value besides reckless unsustainable methods of making money.

In any case, it succeeded in delaying the departure of the three big ships for three hours after their appointed times, imperiling the indolent passive early evening view of the once-great Republic that their passengers had been promised. I mean, after all, what better way to take in one of the world's great human wonders than lounging in your deck chair on your own private balcony while the ship's loudspeakers blare some suitably sentimental opera-lite?

When the big ships did leave their berths, they were met by an assortment of small craft, whose biggest threat (as you can see above) was simply their expression of noisy anger.

I wonder what the cruise passengers made of those small fry down below? I wonder what they were told by the ship's speakers?

Could they still hear the Broadway show tune on the loudspeakers?

In any case, the police responded aggressively. A helicopter hovered low over the boaters, a friend who was in a boat there told me, creating high winds and waves that were particularly perilous for those protesters in traditional oar-powered boats, while police boats circled around other groups of boaters also stirring up as many waves as possible. Other police boats moved among the protesters with video cameras, letting everyone know that--as could only be expected in these days of the rampant surveillance state--they were being filmed.  

The always informative Living Venice blog ( provided a link to video of the big ships, which I reproduce here:
(But of course, you'll find much more at than just protest video. Such as news about what shows are going on around Venice right now, and tips on how to see the city.)

And so it went.

And so it goes.

Boy in a box: François Pinault's piece of private art is kept safe from the rabble
Bikes in Venice are actually not just illegal but a really bad idea--unless they're on the water, as you can see in the background
As Tristram Shandy makes clear, we all have our hobby horses--and in Venice they're on the water


  1. I've said before, on other blogs, big ships in the lagoon is wrong, wrong, wrong. Another answer has to be found.
    Erla, on her blog 'I am not making this up' has a good insight in her post, 'The latest big fat idea for the big fat ships.'

    1. I will have to look at Erla's blog, Andrew.

      Of course it wouldn't be such an intractable problem if someone--whether regional or national or some combination--wasn't making money off of it. But as someone is, what's actually best for the city and the lagoon will continue to take second place.

      I don't know what to do about the big ships... Though, actually, simply prohibiting their access to the vicinity of the city proper and initiating a series of small specially-designated water bus launches to & from the big ships' berths seems an obvious and already-proffered solution. This would also create jobs for people who operated such transportation.

      True, the cruise ship passengers wouldn't have the "once-in-a-lifetime" "bucket list" experience of sitting on their behinds while one of the world's great cities slides past, but they might find that there's actually more pleasure in seeing the city from a closer more intimate perspective.

      After all, if Dante, Petrarch, Galileo, Mozart, et al were all willing to use much more modest-sized vessels for getting around the city, I would hope that today's tourists might also resign themselves to, say, a vaporetto. (Which is truly one of the world's great forms of public transportation.)

  2. Perhaps too many years of fleecing tourists rather than laboring with their hands have made many Venetians forget how perilous their old city's position is amid the indifferent lagoon.///

    "We are victims of the state," Orsoni adds. "The San Marco basin is state property … The big cruise ships deal with the port authorities who report to central government. [The ships] pay €40,000 ($49,000) each time they moor, with 3,500 calls a year, but Venice gets nothing out of it. The 2 million passengers who disembark spend very little, maybe just buying a drink."

    It seems regionalism vs. nationalism is also at play here. The overall picture is more complex than that of Venetian suicidal greed blinding the city's residents.

    1. You make an excellent point, Sasha, and remind me of another reason why I didn't want to post anything more about it: because the whole thing is such a big complicated mess. Though I have met Venetians who are fine with the big ships coming here--though the person I'm think of in particular runs a traslochi company that makes money from transporting luggage on and off the ships.

      In any case, according to THE VENICE REPORT (Cambridge U Pr, 2009), those tourists who stay in the city only a few hours--which would apply to cruise ship passengers and day-trippers--spend on average only 19 euro each while here.

      Moreover, according to the same report, only 60 per cent of cruise ship passengers bother to disembark at all. In other words, 4 out of 10 cruise ship passengers don't directly spend a centesime in the city--not even buying the drink to which Orsoni refers.

  3. It happens all over Italy, wherever the masses delivered by giant ships or shuttles - like in Capri. I stayed in Anacapri, the topmost part of the island, but whenever I ventured nearer the sea level I saw the streets congested with crowds of "cheap" tourists that arrived there for a few hours to take some photos. Local business owners are infuriated by these thousands whose spending limit per capita is 5 Euros or less. The locals there feel raped too.

    In Taormina, in Sorrento I saw groups that just disembarked from a cruise ship marching through the main throughfares led by a leader with upraised stick topped by some vulgar insignia which has to stay visible to all 10 000 all the time, I wondered if they allow themselves to see anything besides it.

    1. Yes, that's a very good point, Sasha: it must be hard to notice anything else of your surroundings when you must be so intent upon the flag of your tour guide. Though I suppose they do stop and then tell their followers what it is they are supposed to be seeing at that particular point. I just can't imagine arriving in Venice in the morning and leaving in late afternoon or early evening and feeling that you've seen anything much more than you could have seen on a well-produced travel program on the city. In fact, you'd actually see more on the travel program.

    2. My son wanted us to take an organized tour and we were traveling with a group, everyone staying in a shabby hotel in Lido. Had a city tour, then were given a "free time" and informed we have to gather at St.Mark's at 6 p.m. for departure.
      - Why? We won't see evening in Venice? -
      - The dinner is at 7.30 p.m. Everyone should be in the hotel by that time. -

      I booked a room at Campo S.Provolo and we had a great evening, walking the streets and squares till late at night, dined in a Chinese restaurant. The rest of the group was in Lido, in their hotel rooms watching TV.

    3. The horrors of group tours. But perhaps those in the hotel were able to at least find a show about Venice on their televisions.... Late night Venice is one of the few times one can walk anywhere in the city and actually enjoy it.

  4. It's not "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", it's "The Great Big Fat Complex Mass Tourism Mess." It seems that Venice (and many other tourist destinations in Italy), have a Big Fat Tiger by the tail.

    I don't think I'll see a solution to this in my lifetime, somehow.

    1. It is a big mess--but, on the bright side, at least they haven't yet started selling billboard space on the Roman Colosseum as was threatened in the early days of the financial crisis. Not yet.

      Nor, last I heard, is Michelangelo's David sporting a Burger King T-shirt.

      But give them time...

  5. The only positive I can see in this entire mess is that the protests are continuing - and getting bigger. I attended one of the first protests back in January and there were maybe 100 people there. Since then it seems that the anger and determination to stop these ships is growing, despite the interference of the police.

    Certainly there is more coverage of the issue around the world - and hopefully that will help as well.

    I salute all who are trying to find a better solution to a difficult problem.

    1. Yes, the protests are getting bigger, that's a good point. I wonder if anyone in a decision-making position is listening...

      And if such protests receive coverage around the world might it possibly make some people decide that visiting Venice on a cruise ship is a bad idea? I like to imagine the answer might be yes, but I have my doubts...

  6. Somehow I allowed myself a privilege, Jackie, to greet you here on behalf of the journal's author.

    According to Pietro Aretino there is a special pocket in one of the Inferno's circles reserved for these who are peddling their services invading the other people's space and making a mockery of the very concept of the human contact.

    The imagery this satirist employs is very scatological and I wouldn't want to display it before a fine and decent lady you certainly are.

    It seems you got so close to becoming a candidate for the hellish procedures of that fiery and pungent hole solely by accident, straying from your route to Turin and succumbing to confusion, which took it's toll on you and resulted in this mental meandering.

    I hope you'll resume your journey to the Piedmontese capital and it's beauty will be a medicine for your delusions.

    1. Sasha, you kill me--you actually made me laugh out loud (in contrast to that annoying acronym--LOL--in common [over]use that's typically applied to things that might at best inspire a chuckle). Let's hope your kind warning is of some help to poor Jackie.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.