Because of the narrowness of most Venetian streets a good many people believe there should be a limit to the number of tourists in any single guided group, as 40 or 50 people--or even 10--plodding raggedly behind a guide's raised umbrella or flag really clogs up traffic. I understand that such mass tours are a good way to see the city for those with limited time here, but I doubt whether the passivity that such tours engender in pretty much every large tour group I've observed is actually a good way to see anything at all. It's not all that unusual to come up behind such a large group and overhear conversations more appropriate to a bored group of 10-year-old students on a forced field trip than adults who, I assume, willingly signed up for (and are paying for) their guided walk.
I thought it was bad enough that one day near the columns of the Piazzetta I overheard a guide pleading for the attention of his two dozen adult charges with, "Now I promise I'm only going to keep you a few more minutes, but I really must show you..." At this point, wouldn't it be better to simply end the tour immediately? What, I wondered, could the guide possibly be able to force-feed those followers whose attention he already knew he'd lost?
But recently I heard and saw something that struck me as worse. The sound came first, as I approached the flag poles in front of the church of San Marco: a loud insistent rapid-fire clacking like nothing I'd ever heard in the city. I stopped, looked around, and spotted a man about 20 yards from me standing and turning slowly in place, one arm above his head and feverishly working what almost appeared to be a kid's paddle ball toy, as that was the kind of short brisk motion he made. But there was no ball I could see.
About 20 yards in another direction from me a second barrage of clacking kicked up. A woman this time with what you can see in the above photo was not a paddle at all, but a plastic three-handed clapper. So now there were two of them filling one end of the piazza with their racket, each turning in his or her place, and soon what looked like nothing so much as so many stray ducklings returning from all directions in response to sharp maternal admonitions began to gather around one or the other of the clackers. And the two clackers, still wordlessly working the clappers above their heads to keep the already-returned duckings in line behind them while gathering late-comers into the brood, headed toward each other--until the entire tour group of adults (for, after all, they were indeed respectable fully-grown adults and not ducklings) and their two guides were reunited just a few feet from me and the plastic noise ceased.
Certainly, I thought, there must be a better way for a group of adults to reconvene in a certain place at a certain time. Then I imagined this group clacking its way across Italy like this, all the major stops. Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack!, this way to the Doge's Palace! Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack!, this way to Michelangelo's David! Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack!, this way through St Francis' lovely Assisi! When you returned home, would you be able to separate your guided experiences from the clacking? I don't think any tour guide should subject his or her customers to such treatment. I don't think any tourists should submit to it.