Saturday, February 25, 2017

Carnevale's Fancy Dress, and Stench: Tonight

A pair of fancy dress revelers in Caffe Florian

Before tonight's fancy dress balls some revelers gather at Caffè Florian, where the best-dressed of them are seated near the windows and never fail to draw crowds (myself among them)--our camera lenses, if not actual noses, pressed against the glass.

But though the finery on display among Florian's interior makes for some of the most picturesque scenes of Carnevale, it's hardly representative of the actual experience of Carnevale in Venice. Indeed, the center of the "action" tonight--and most nights of Carnevale, which, to be honest, can't end soon enough for most residents--is not at Piazza San Marco, but around the Rialto Market area.

There are no less than three different musical stages jammed into this small area; two of them quite literally side-by-side beneath the two pescheria structures.* As I type these words the ceaseless muddy beat of at least one of these stages fills the room in which I sit, easily penetrating the sound-proofing of the doubled pair of french doors, whose glass it rattles for the third straight night.

These festivities are supposed to start at 5 pm and end by 10 pm. They usually start earlier, and inevitably end later. It's nearly 11:30 pm now and there's no hint of a conclusion.

I seem to recall reading in prior years that the Arsenale was supposed to become the site of all the marvelous Carnevale events of this sort--the favorite events of what in Manhattan are called the "Bridge and Tunnel" crowd. That is, the young people who come from the mainland to get really drunk and trash the historic city.

But now that we live around the Rialto I find that this is the area which the city's authorities in all their wisdom have designated the central party zone. Perhaps because the same city authorities have so successfully pursued policies that drive residents out of the city they figure no one lives here anyway? Or is this their plan to drive out the last of us remaining residents?

In any case, as you can see below in the third image from the bottom, revelers come to the Rialto area, enjoy some "traditional dishes of the Venetian Carnevale" (french fries and hot dogs), then drink nearly to bursting in the vicinity of the Grand Canal. At which point they treat all of the area's small quaint ancient calli as toilets. Indeed, the whole area is turned into an open air outhouse.

No calle is safe from the assault, not even the narrow ones leading to our apartment, which usually seem so easily overlooked and out-of-the-way as to be safe from the worst degradations of mass tourism. But not in this case. A steady, er, stream of drunks staggers into these calli. Our nine-year-old son, Sandro, one of whose bedroom windows has a slightly distant view of one such calle, is so outraged by the behavior that he's been yelling out the window in his strongest Venetian-accented Italian at the trespassers (or trespissers, as the case may be).

And, in fact, much to his approval, an older woman who lives on the calle he can see from his window has been forced to come outside her door armed with a water hose--both to try to wash away the urine (and, alas, not only urine) already on the pavement and walls and to threaten any newly-arriving revelers looking to empty their bladder and/or bowels. 

Luckily, the courtyard of our own building is protected by a locked gate--which I had naively thought to be a completely superfluous precaution before tonight.

So, even as I post images of the more picturesque aspects of Carnevale, it seems important to insert a bit of the reality of it.** At least the reality of it for residents, for many of whom Carnevale is yet another form of invasion, in which the historical city is quite literally pissed on--after being metaphorically served thus by those city officials whose fondest wish for Venice seems to be to turn it into Fort Lauderdale, Florida during spring break. They've certainly succeeded tonight. Except that I think Fort Lauderdale at least tries to provide enough public restrooms for the partiers it courts. While Venice consistently treats both visitors and residents alike with contempt.

*There's an argument to be made that the well-being of the city depends on its officials figuring out how to get buying customers to the Rialto pescheria during the hours when it's open, instead of revelers to it after hours when it's closed. For as La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre reported at the end of September, the ongoing exodus of residents from the city and the dominance of a tourism monoculture has left the Rialto pescheria--"the heart of the city"--with an ever-diminishing customer base and resulted in a marked decrease in the number of fish stalls. 

**The reality of living in Venice might also be of interest to those out-of-towners and foreigners whom city officials are quite content to have buy second and third homes here. A real estate agent I know who works for a large international agency here tells me that the home sales market is booming in Venice, with very nearly 100% of the purchases at their agency being made by foreigners, who are likely to use the property only sparingly themselves, and even more likely to use it as a tourist rental. At what point in the transmogrification of Venice into Fort Lauderdale do the property value of such second and third homes and tourist accomodations begin to be negatively affected? At what point in the transmogrification process do the high end properties start to go unsold? The assumption among city officials seems to be that they can abuse the historic center, the lagoon, visitors, residents, and property owners forever and suffer no ill economic effects.

A big Carnevale crowd waits to buy "traditional Venetian dishes"
Fort Lauderdale? Cabo San Lucas? Venice? Carnevale? Halloween? New Year's Eve? Who can tell the difference?
"Don't touch the Rialto" says the banner--but it's okay to quite literally piss all over it


  1. It's been my experience that Officials rarely see the long term effects of what they are doing. When it is too late and they have turned Venezia into Disneyland and no one actually lives there anymore these same Officials will stand about wondering why this is. To be honest I know of no solution. I return there in May and I am sure that I will find it changed ... and not necessarily for the best. Bravo to your son ... he is doing great things by taking charge in such a way. You should be proud of him.

    1. Thanks, Meg, he thinks of Venice as his home, he's been here since just before he turned three, and is very protective of it. I fear the officials know very well what they're doing and people like the mayor, who lives on the mainland anyway, will be quite content to have (ideally) a profitable little theme park in the lagoon, devoid of costly residents. I also suspect there are any number of solutions, but to even consider them would require people with power to actually make the idea of a living Venice a priority. This is exactly what they have no absolutely no interest in doing. Residents, to such people--greedy as they, utterly devoid of imagination, and incapable of innovation--are merely impediments to profit.

  2. The situation seems to get worse and worse. Lord knows how it will all end.

    Meg, you will find it so changed, and you will cherish having seen it in better days.

    1. When the mayor of the city is someone who made his fortune with a temporary employment agency--a parasitical endeavor if ever there was one: supplying cheap disposable labor to maintain the status quo--there's little hope for innovation or improvement. But he is and will continue to feel the heat from residents who do actually care about a living city.

  3. Fòrsa Sandro é brava ła vècia sióra!

    1. Thanks, Andreas. I think most of Sandro's own Venetian vocabulary consists--of course--of profanities and insults. But I suppose that's where most people start.

  4. As someone who loves Venice, it is quite maddening to read this. I can only imagine what it must be like for you and your family as residents. It's incredible to think about how these people in power are so corrupt. I hope the residents continue to fight for their beloved city and put as much heat as they can on these greedy inept officials. And great job Sandro!!

    1. It doesn't seem that those with power here are doing either the residents or the city's many many visitors any favors, Bridget. Perhaps because they're so busy doing favors for themselves and their friends. Alas, Venice is not alone in this....