25% of Venice's population is over the age of 65 years of age, making it, in terms of percentage of population, the oldest city in Italy (which, as a whole, has one of the oldest populations in Europe). Only since moving to Venice have I realized how restricted was the age-range of people I saw on a regular basis while living in Brooklyn, NY, or Asheville, NC, or while visiting anywhere else in America. In contrast, the older population of Venice is, if you'll pardon the expression, "free range." That is, not confined, either by their own or someone else's choice, to particular buildings or neighborhoods (which can sometimes give the impression that Western society has come to believe that aging is a disease against which quarantining might be required). Of course, in my experience in America it's economic necessity that dictates who lives where, and it's not much different in Venice. Except that in Venice it's the older residents, who have owned their homes for years, who have been able to afford to stay in the city, while younger residents, looking to buy, have been driven out by real estate prices inflated by absentee second home owners and the economics of tourism.
On vaporetti it's often the older residents of Venice who will make their trip without the usual form of distraction: a newspaper, a book or, often, one (or more) of the electronic gadgets to which so many of us have wedded (and practically welded) ourselves, cyborg-like. Though iPhones and other such things aren't quite as common among young Venetians and Venetian children as they are in the States (where, according to a school teacher friend who lives in Missouri, a school bus of second graders is a busload of streaming videos and video games on hand-held devices), I still marvel at those who spend their time on the vaporetto with their heads down and eyes locked on digital simulcra while one of the truly legendary cities of the world and all of history slides past unseen just outside the window.
Perhaps it's becoming rather rare to see a person who can do the most elemental of things: simply sit with themselves, as many of the older Venetians do on the vaporetto. Which far from being boring, or monotonous--as we are told it must be by all those with something to sell--may very well be to sit with a vast multitude of things: memories and plans and the bits of present experience that can squeeze their way in between them.
It's particularly the memories of these older Venetians on the vaporetti that I find myself wondering about, as they are, it seems to me, the last generation of residents who lived as adults in this city when it was truly a city: 150,000 strong. When tourism was actually seasonal, so that gondolieri, as Jan Morris wrote in 1960, actually held second jobs for much of the year. When cattle trains made regular runs into town, their doomed freight driven to the slaughterhouse nearby in the northwestern corner of Cannaregio (now, aptly enough from what I've heard about Italian education, part of the university of Ca' Foscari). When there was a cotton factory whirring away beside the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli (now part of the IUAV campus), and clothing manufacturing and shipyards on Giudecca.
Hard to imagine.
Etruscans, I sometimes find myself thinking when I look at these older Venetians, wondering about all the things they remember, and don't remember: the last living witnesses to have fully lived in a vanishing culture.