|A visitor to Venice stands proudly beside her own small contribution to the city's culture|
They all looked at me, as if not quite sure I was talking to them--as I had, after all, just interrupted their conversation out of nowhere--so I basically repeated what I'd just said, with a little additional elaboration on the fact that Venetians really didn't appreciate all these locks.
The two dark-haired standing women didn't respond in any way, but the blond woman squatting beside the railing turned to look up at me and said with an expression of obvious annoyance, "You know, I'm just trying to have a nice experience here and you're really ruining it for me."
I was a bit stunned, almost pleasantly stunned, though not surprised. On the contrary, the odd sense of what I'd call something like pleasure, along with a certain disgust, came precisely because of her honesty in admitting to exactly the kind of self-absorption I always imagined motivated those who attached locks to the bridge. In that moment I was filled with a certain perverse admiration for this woman for being so forthright. In fact, I could write a post simply about the astonishing level of entitled self-absorption that characterizes the worst visitors to Venice--or any other place--but Robert C Davis and Garry R Marshall examine this tendency and its socio-historical background so well in their book The Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World's Most Touristed City that I'd only be repeating (dully) what they've already done much better and with well-documented support.
As they write on the first pages of their book:
"...it is enough to remember that for most of the world Venice is not a real city, with a real city's inhabitants and contraints, but a backdrop and a stage for one's gaze, emotions, and passions. Moreover, it is a place seemingly made for intrigue and romance, a labyrinth of narrow streets and waterways that positively invites transgression on the assumption that nobody is watching, or at least nobody that matters."Indeed, whether I "mattered" or not was the next topic that came up in this little discussion between the blond woman with the lock and myself. For after I said something along the lines that while I might be "ruining her experience" she was ruining the bridge for Venetians, she asked, "Are you a Venetian?"
Now, if someone had asked me this question after I'd lived for 3 years in New York City I would have had no trouble simply replying "Yes." But it's different here, and so I said, "I'm an Italian citizen and I've lived in Venice for three years but, no, my grandparents came from other parts of Italy."
She looked like she'd just proved an important point, so I added, "But what does that matter? What you're doing is against the law, it's ugly, not to mention tacky and unoriginal, and it's something that everyone who lives here hates. It's a stupid act of vandalism. It costs money to remove all these locks, which the city doesn't have, so private individuals have to come along and cut them off. Which they will do, you know, probably in about a month. Your lock will be gone in a month."
"That's okay," she said, "I don't care if it's cut off. But I might have listened to you if you were really a Venetian, but since you're not..."
"I've lived here for three years," I replied. "What difference does that make?" But she, still squatting with the open lock in her hand, still itching to have her marvelous "Venetian experience" documented by her friend with the camera, had hit upon what she considered irrefutable justification for doing what she would have done anyway.
"Okay," I said, "next time I'll be sure to bring a Count along with me."
"Yes," she replied, "you do that."
I walked off, but I'd barely started my descent down the Campo San Vio side of the bridge when I realized I had to take photograph of this woman, if she'd allow me.
I returned and said, "Sorry to interrupt again, but I have a blog and I've done a couple of posts about the problem of all the locks on this bridge, and wondered about what kind of person does it, so I'd love to take a photo of you for my blog, as an example of a person who commits this kind of vandalism."
She agreed readily, heartily. Part of me wondered if she didn't dare do otherwise, so as not to ruin the effect she was trying to make upon her two observing and (ideally) admiring friends, who hadn't opened their mouths during the whole discussion. Perhaps it was her role to be the "wild one" of the trio, to wow her two silent dark-haired friends with her verve and brashness. But I was probably over-psychologizing, and it wasn't my business to figure her out anyway. I just wanted to be sure she knew that I would post this photo online as an illustration of someone who did something that no Venetian, nor most lovers of Venice, admired. I repeated this to her.
"Fine," she replied, "go ahead," and struck the pose you see above, making the V sign with her fingers, not as a sign of peace (certainly not that), but to signify--as she laughed with her friends--"vandal."
I took the photo, then displayed it on the camera's screen to show her. "Look at it," I told her, "make sure you like it, 'cause I really am going to use it. Is it acceptable?"
Yes, yes, it was just fine, she said, laughing, seemingly happy with the prospect of potentially broader exposure--or amused by the ridiculousness of being hassled in Venice by, as Davis and Marshall write above, "nobody that matters."
"Great," I said. "You should be very proud. You make a great vandal. Next time don't forget your can of spray paint."
"I won't!" she cheerily replied, that flower of tourism.
For previous posts on this same topic:
And for the solution to this problem, instituted in November 2104: http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2014/11/the-end-of-romance-on-accademia-bridge.html