Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Watch Your Legs, Here Comes the Shopping Cart!": Venetian Residents Assert Themselves


With varying degrees of accuracy nearly every tour company or guide here promises a rare, authentic experience of Venice. But yesterday tourists in certain parts of the historic center experienced a truly rare occurrence that hasn't been typical of the city for many years, though it was once (and for many centuries) the norm: For about an hour yesterday morning, along a route running from Rio Terà San Leonardo (near the church of San Marcuola) to the Rialto Mercato, some lucky tourists got to find out what it's like to be outnumbered by actual Venetian residents.

The occasion was a march organized by a group of twenty-something activists called Generazione 90 to assert the simple but all-too-often-ignored fact that, yes, indeed, Venetian residents do still in fact exist. And that, moreover, a good many of them are determined to resist the various forces in the city which, for the sake of profit, would prefer to scrub the calli and campi and even the canals themselves clean of everything except tourist accommodations, restaurants, shops, and transportation.

This was the message of the banner carried at the head of the procession, which read "R-ESISTIAMO": that is, both "we resist" and "we exist."


The official theme of the event was shopping. But as the title of the event--Ocio ae gambe, che go el careo!--made clear, it wasn't about the kind of shopping done by tourists at one of the "poles of luxury" the current mayor loves to talk about and is intent on developing more of, or at one of the city's ubiquitous cheap mask shops. Rather, the title means, in Venetian, "Watch your legs, here comes the [shopping] cart!" and was meant to evoke the kind of quotidian shopping that locals here do for produce, fish and meat--and which has long been symbolized in this pedestrian city by the careo (carrello, in Italian), or shopping cart. Everyone was encouraged to bring such a cart--or one of those other wheeled symbols of resident domesticity, a baby stroller--and process en masse from the western end of Strada Nova to the Rialto Mercato, which for all its picturesque charm, still functions as an important part of daily life for many residents.


The turnout for the event was, as you can see in the images, substantial--and enthusiastic. In fact, it really was a strange experience to see the usual ratio of tourists to residents in Venice inverted. 
 
In a good many other cities one might visit as a tourist it's common to find oneself not only puzzled by local customs or language, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of residents. In Venice, however, you may as a tourist be puzzled by something you see, but it's a good bet that, looking around you in most cases and most places, you'll find yourself among a good number of other tourists, perhaps equally puzzled.

And as a resident here, used to having your path to your child's school or some other appointment clogged with great masses of tourists, it was funny to observe how tourists reacted to finding their own free movement through calli or across bridges impeded by great masses of residents.


Not that the point of the procession was in any way to discomfit tourists, nor to be anti-tourism, nor anti-big ships, nor anti-anything. There were no particular policies or people opposed, nor positions taken, beyond the simple, positive assertion that Venetian residents are here and have no plans to clear out.

I know of one Venetian who stayed away from the event because of his concern that such pro-Venetian fervor might in part manifest itself, at least among some people, as what might be called a worrisome kind of insularity, of the sort that appeals in equal measure to nationalistic nostalgia and racism (a dismayingly popular combination these days in many places around the world, including my native country). But I got no impression that the young organizers of the event intended it to be anything other than as inclusive as possible, and I saw no signs of such troubling sentiments or behavior.

After all, the greatness of Venetian culture, and commerce, originated in the city's position as a meeting place of East and West, North and South. And as moronic as Lega Nord-style fantasies about cultural or ethnic/racial purity are in general, they stand out as even more so (if that's possible) in a place like Venice. 




"Come together citizens or they'll cook us up"

16 comments:

  1. It was so good to see this. As you point out, a demonstration which isn't anti anything is rare. I hope the authorities made note.

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    1. Hard to tell what the authorities pay attention to lately, Andrew. Unfortunately, our commuter mayor seems to fervently believe he was elected not to govern for the public good but to "develop" for private enrichment (not least of all his own). The other night we happened upon him holding forth on a local tv station about the virtues of private enterprise and the great risks it takes to benefit Venice... Of course the consortium of private interests that has had the greatest effect on life in Venice is the one that's constructing the MOSE floodgates: which was given a no-bid contract, guaranteed at least a 12% profit margin, flooded with more than 4 billion euros in public funds, and aside from impoverishing all of the city's social services and siphoning off an estimated quarter of the funds for corruption, still hasn't managed to produce a gate that actually works.

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    1. I was going to say that it's a start, but actually it's a continuation of efforts that some people and groups have been making for some time--so perhaps it signals a new flowering of those efforts.

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  3. As a three time visitor to Venice, I'm all for the push to reduce some of the tourist insanity. We stayed nearly a week this time (3-4 days prior visits), and got a very different view of the city. We worked hard to be good visitors, and stayed in an apartment, bought food from the store etc. You could see the flood of day visitors during the end of the week. It was amazing and crazy the difference from Friday to Monday.

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    1. It shouldn't be so hard, Clara, to be, as you say, "good visitors." Visiting Venice shouldn't be like a harrowing kind of job for those, such as yourself, who care for it and would like to enjoy it, no more than it should be a harrowing ordeal for those residents trying to live in it. The absence of an intelligent approach to the issue of mass tourism is what makes it so for both groups of people--and the absence of a plan, beyond that of putting sheer greed above all other concerns, won't just deplete the city of residents, it will also at some point start to affect the number of people willing to visit Venice.

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  4. The predominance of a tourist-oriented monoculture in Venice today is cogently set out in IF VENICE DIES, a book by art historian Salvatore Settis. http://newvesselpress.com/books/if-venice-dies/ I'd be happy to send you a review copy if you'll let me know your email address.

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    1. I look forward to reading it, Michael.

      And for anyone who hasn't yet heard of the book, here's a link to a NY Times piece written by the author of that book, Salvatore Settis, which indicates the direction he takes in the book--and why it looks like a must-read for those who care not only about the future of Venice but a good many other cities as well:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/opinion/can-we-save-venice-before-its-too-late.html?_r=0

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  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Saturday's wonderful event. For those of us who live far away but are concerned about the fate of the city it was a beautiful assertion of residents to claim their city. Enjoying all the photographs, it seemed clear that the organizers were making a positive declaration of existence. I was especially impressed by the non-partisan nature and inclusion of everyone who wanted to participate. I wonder what will happen next...

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    1. Thanks for reading it, JoAnn, and commenting. I think this was intended to begin a renewed and expanded push for a functioning policy toward mass tourism and other pressures on the city.

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  6. I'm a multi-time visitor to Venice and am going again for Christmas. Whilst I applaude the sentiment behind the demonstration I think the locals need to be careful when biting the hands that feeds them.
    If it wasn't for the tourists and places like Pizza Express which raise 30p for every Veneziana pizza purchase since 1969 there wouldn't be a vaporetto service 24/7 365 and most of Venice would be underwater. Tolerance is a virtue, I live and work in Central London so see it from both sides daily, here we don't get 90% of our tube fares as locals :-)

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    1. I think it might be useful, Rob to distinguish, as I've heard others in Venice suggest, between tourists and tourism. There are sometimes a few troublesome members of the former who get an excessive amount of attention in the press, but I don't know that most Venetians consider tourists, per se, an enemy.

      Tourism is the issue, and specifically the need to develop an intelligent multi-prong approach to addressing the issue of mass tourism--which would be a big change from the complete absence of any plan at present.

      Such a plan would benefit both residents and tourists, as mass tourism in its present form benefits neither very well.

      Except insofar as there have always (infamously) been locals who rip off tourists, I don't know that Venetians are trying to bite the tourist hands which feed them.

      Rather, I think they're clamoring for some plan of defense from the hands of mass tourism that are strangling the remaining life from the city.

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  7. Steve,I think you need a better council with a better Mayor.
    The one you have now seems not to have the best interests of all Venitians at heart.
    Personally, I'd look to stop the huge number of 'tat' shops, often Chinese run souvenir and luggage stores. The whole scandal of hundreds of empty apartments left to rot needs to be investigated, but, Insuspect no one wants to be the one that say's 'no you can't sell your apartment to an overseas owner for €2m, unlike all your neighbours' . Venice needs love, and I don't think all of it's residents love it.

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    1. The issues here, Rob, make one's head spin. At least mine. You raise issues that need to be addressed. I think there are a lot of ways to show love for Venice, by visitors and residents alike. For example, I see no evidence of any regard for Venice as I watch the countless Venetians in their motorboats tearing past fragile barene in shallow water, ignoring the posted speed limit signs of 5 km. And yet when it comes to making whatever argument here on behalf of any measure it's always put forth as the only one indicative of a "true love" of the city--even if, in fact, there's good evidence it will destroy or bankrupt it. Of course it's not only here: look at the most violently destructive American presidential candidate I've ever seen declaring himself a symbol of stability and unity.... Sigh.

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  8. http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/vancouver-empty-homes-tax-to-include-secondary-units-that-are-used-for-airbnb-1.3080675

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    1. Very interesting piece, Mary, and very relevant. Shows that there are attempts being made all around the world to address the kinds of issues that Venice is dealing with on a much smaller scale. (And it seems the Center-Right Councilman in the piece has more than a little in common with Venice's own mayor.)

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