Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Holiday Traffic

A resident in a sandolo pauses at an intersection of canals in the historic center to let tourist traffic pass

Here's a selection of figures reported by local newspapers in the first 10 days of this new year:

1) A representative of Venice's hotel says that the number of visitors in town for New Year's Eve and the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) was nearly double that of last year.

2) Attendance at the 2015 Venice Biennale totaled more than 500,000: a 5.45% increase over the 2103 Biennale.

3) Figures for the first 8 months of 2015 show that on average five stores close every week in the greater Venice area (including Mestre), while half that number of new ones open. The figures are actually worse on the mainland than for Venice proper, but in the historical center the type of stores most often lost are the traditional smaller markets (delis, fruit and vegetable dealers, as well as things like hardware and ordinary clothing and shoe stores--as opposed to designer flagship boutiques), which are hit hard by the combination of a dwindling local population and newly opened supermarkets.

4) The number of residents in Venice is now estimated to have dropped below 55,000. When it dropped below 60,000 in 2009 mock funerals were held for the city. What should be done now?

In other words, the traffic in (or passing through) Venice continues to increase, while local life just as continuously decreases. Tourist traffic and cruise ship traffic have hugely increased in the last 15 years. This, according to ruling business interests, was the only way to keep the city alive. And yet actual residential life continues to dwindle. Big business interests have profited, Venetians have vanished from the city, and this, we are told, is development.

And, indeed, we are promised even more of it!

(Though, in fact, I believe that the usual name applied to reckless, unbounded development that first debilitates then kills its host is cancer.)

None of which I really planned to go into today, but the scene above that I saw and photographed just before the New Year struck me not just as picturesque but somewhat emblematic of the crossroads at which Venice is stalled.

But not only Venice. One of the uncomfortable facts here is that more than a few residents who lament the closure of one or another neighborhood store are the very same ones who go to the mainland or online to buy, say, a computer printer rather than pay perhaps very slightly more to some neighborhood shop. Or who do all their shopping at a chain supermarket rather than "bother with" a fruit and vegetable stall, a butcher, a bakery, etc.

In most of America (and elsewhere)--including now, alas, even New York City--shopping in large chains and online is the homogeneous norm. When you come to Venice, therefore, stay over a night or two (or more) and take the opportunity, while it lasts, to shop in local markets.   


  1. "Chain supermarkets"? Not in Venice proper, right? Do you mean the Coops perhaps?

    1. Yes, in Venice proper, and the Coop is among them, Helen; but I can think of two other grocery chains that can also be found around the city. One of these three chains is often the place that visitors to the city go to buy, say, picnic supplies. But residents also go to them as well.

  2. I am about to come for a month and am trying to learn enough Italian to be able to shop in the markets. Exciting! (Your film of Sandro was charming and I linked to it on my blog.)

    1. I suspect one can get by in even the smallest fruit/veggie stand or bakery with "buon giorno" or "buona sera", "per favore," "grazie", "basta così" ("I don't want anything else/That's everything I want"--when you have exhausted your list) and the universal sign language of pointing at things. For Americans it's important to remember that a kilo is just a little over two pounds (which is easy to forget) and that an "etto" is one/tenth of a kilo. I myself don't always know exactly how much an etto of a given cheese will be when I'm in a small place (where they slice your selection off of a larger cheese) and just have to wing it. Though one can indicate dimensions with one's fingers, or in other cases, say whether the thing desired is "per una persona", or "due, tre, quattro persone." Attempts at speaking Italian are always appreciated in any case! (Just don't touch the items yourself!)
      And I'm happy to hear you liked the little video and thanks for sharing it.