Head over to the Riva degli Schiavoni on any morning of the week and you can watch wave after wave of an invading army come ashore.
Actually, what you'll be seeing is boatload after boatload of tourists arriving on lancioni granturismo, the large boats that ferry 60, 70 or 100 passengers from various points around the edges of the lagoon to the historic center. But the number of boats and the hundreds or even thousands(?) of passengers they disgorge over the course of the morning give it the air of a military operation.
|The statue of Vittorio Emanuele II on the Riva degli Schiavoni|
Such groups are considered a royal nuisance by residents, whose paths to work or school or appointments--to all the destinations of an ordinary life--are inevitably blocked. But I can't imagine that the visitors themselves are well-served by such large groups either.
I don't know the economics of such tours, how putting a limit on the number of tourists behind any single guide would impact the pocketbook of either the guide or the tourist. But given the number of independent studies that have been done on tourism and the economy in Venice, I suspect the information has long been available to the city's decision makers. Just as so much other information regarding the well-being of the city and the quality of the tourist experience has long been available to decision makers, who have, for the most part, diligently ignored it.
A growing frustration among the city's residents about their ever-more harried and circumscribed lives, and the no less substantial frustration among many tourists about the quality of their tourist experience are the results of this inaction.
When Venetian residents complain about the "bite-and-run" tourists who come only for a few hours and cost the city more to clean up after and protect than the visitors contribute to the local economy it's easy enough to warn them not to "bite the hands that feed them." But one point is that a majority of these hands are not actually feeding residents--though some would argue they are feeding off the residents.
The other point is that, however much some individual residents may complain about such mass tourism, it is the city's decision makers who are biting the hands of their tourist "feeders," by treating visitors as simply the indistinguishable and insignificant elements of what they haughtily assume will be an endless revenue stream passing through the city. One that will never diminish, nor dry up, regardless of how bad or degraded the tourist experience becomes. As bad as the experience may be or get for the tourist, such decision makers trust in the infinite appeal of the Venice "brand."
In any case, things are getting rather ugly. Just a couple of days ago, my wife, Jen, was walking home from school along the Riva with our eight-year-old son, talking to another parent, when she noticed that our son and his two friends, who were some yards ahead of her, were actually insulting groups of tourists as they passed.
The kids were doing so in Italian, which the tourists didn't seem to understand--fortunately--but Jen caught up with them and told them to stop. She began talking to the other parent again, the three boys appeared chastened, the walk home continued. Then the boys, as they usually do, ran off ahead again to walk by themselves.
And a few minutes later, Jen noticed they were back at it, calling tourists names--in Italian, and not at all quietly. They wanted to be heard by their targets. Jen called to our son, he came back with his two friends to where she waited, all of them in high spirits, and unrepentant.
"What did we just talk about?" she asked.
"But a signora heard what we were saying to the tourists and she said we were right!" they exclaimed. "She said we should be mayor!"
At this point the three boys had to be reminded that regardless of what the Venetian signora might have said, all of them were in fact "foreigners" themselves: one was half-Swiss, the second was half-German, and Sandro, of course, is an immigrant from America, even if he is also an Italian citizen.
This reminder dampened their animosity toward tourists a bit, but didn't entirely dispel it. Indulging it was too much fun to immediately let it go, and for the rest of the walk home it was just barely contained.
And so the conflict between residents and mass tourism is played out, too, among elementary school students. And not at all helped, I suspect, by the legions of visitors trooping in great masses into the city each day behind tour guides bearing, as you can see, more than a passing resemblance to the idealized militaristic ardor of Vittorio Emanuele II atop his horse on the Riva.
|Between the basin of San Marco, crowded with boat traffic, and the crowded Riva, this trio finds a bit of peace|