Monday, July 24, 2017

Disneyland on the Adriatic

Disneyland on parade, yesterday

Okay, I might as well admit it up front: in my opinion there's nothing more unsightly to be seen floating on the small canals (or rii) of the historic center of Venice than some moron on a standup paddle board.

I'm sure that on some beautiful Hawaiian beach at the right time of day a paddle board can appear picturesque, that in some upscale Caribbean resort they're absolutely adorable as a vehicle for family frolics on pricey private waters, and that they're just the thing for drunken sunburned Spring Break celebrants in Fort Lauderdale or Lake Havasu. 

But in Venice they strike me as just plain ugly. An impression not helped by the fact that any adult atop them is almost invariably dressed as if he's a young child outfitted by his mother for an afternoon at some water park just off the interstate in Orlando, Florida. Not that there's anything wrong with such water parks, but Venice--as a fairly surprising number of visitors seem hardly to notice--ain't merely a water park.

Moreover, if the paddle boarder in Venice is unprepossessing at rest, he or she becomes even more so in action. At his or her most adept a paddling paddle boarder appears to be sweeping out a kitchen. But more typically the best that many of them can do is to hack at the water as they struggle to keep their footing--a series of short, clumsy, seemingly random strokes, like an ungainly gardener taxed with hoeing an impossibly overgrown plot.

Even on a Sunday there's no shortage of water traffic on the Grand Canal, its usual path narrowed by the paddlers

In a city whose lissome rowing style has been quite literally admired for centuries, paddle boarders appear especially out of place. It's not just that the paddle board itself is foreign to the culture of the lagoon, even the movement needed to propel it appears distinctly alien in this context.

Aside from how it looks, though, the paddle board is ill-suited to what are still the working--as opposed to leisure or theme park--canals of Venice.

Paddlers drop to their knees to deal with the wake of a slowly passing taxi
Unwieldy, unresponsive, and slow moving, it's far more likely to create dangerous situations both for its paddler and others than it is able to avoid or elude them. In contrast to the long stroke of a skilled Venetian rower which shoots his or her boat out of harm's way, or to such a rower's ability to pivot his or her boat almost in place, the paddle boarder can only hack and splash.

Even the growing numbers of inept, vacationing kayakers in Venice's waterways can do more than that.

So, given all of the above, what do the venerable leaders of Venice do? Why, they sanction the private event you see pictured above. As I've no interest in publicizing this event, I won't name it, but I can tell you that yesterday's mass outing was, according to its organizer's Facebook page, it's 7th edition, in which 100 lucky registrants were able--for the price of 50 euro (60 for later entrants)--to participate in "a unique experience, a huge media happening, [and] the most popular SUP [standup paddle board] event ever."

I suppose it's the second phrase within that last quotation that bothers me. Should the city be encouraging more standup paddle boarders to come and flounder in its canals?

But who can object to a local club putting on a big event? you might ask.

Smile and say "Marketing!"

The aim of this event, however, is not local. Its goal is to draw more paddle boarders to Venice, to publicize paddle boarding here to a world-wide audience, so that you needn't do much searching on the web to find devoted standup paddle boarders from all over already enthusing about what a great personal experience it will be (or already has been) to paddle in Venice--where, invariably, they haven't the least knowledge of the rules governing water traffic.

But, like the kayakers before them, why should standup paddle boarders worry about that?

The commonly-held opinion--rarely undercut by the actions of the city's venerable leaders--is that Venice is not a real city, so its canals aren't real functioning arteries of commerce and transportation. It's a theme park, a setting for one's own personal "peak experiences", a great backdrop for selfies, and a stellar addition to one's personal "bucket list" (ie, shopping list of experiences to be consumed).

And it's the job of a theme park's personnel--in this case, the residents of Venice--to watch out for the well-being of its customers (though the city's venerable policy-makers rarely seem to do this themselves: witness the wretched overcrowding of vaporetti). If a standup paddle boarder doesn't know the rules of the waterways, work boat drivers, vaporetto drivers, taxi drivers, all the people who depend on the waterways for their living will simply adapt to them.

What could go possibly go wrong?

But of course it's always the newcomers to a place that are most protective of its "traditions" or "traditional culture." And by Venetian standards, even after 6 1/2 years here, I'm well aware that I'm still very much a newcomer. After all, it took at least 10 years of residence to be eligible for citizenship in the old Republic, and I think it's safe to say that to be considered a Venetian by the dwindling number of native Venetians today takes far longer than that (if ever). 

I'm also aware that with my whole "get off my lawn" stick-in-the-mud attitude I may, as they say, be missing the boat.

Which is why, after careful consideration, I've decided to start my own new water-going venture in Venice. Like kayaks and standup paddle boards my enterprise will devote itself to a
"green" environmentally-friendly mode of getting around, which uses no fossil fuels and creates no pollution, nor any damaging moto ondoso.
I'm still working out the details, but I think I've already found my supplier for my fleet of craft, one of which you can see in the image below:

With these inflatable human hamster wheels Venice's ancient tradition of rowing will be updated for the ultimate 21st-century tourist experience of this magical city! No skill or knowledge required!

Just imagine scores of these on the Grand Canal!

What a unique and beautiful experience that will be!


  1. I'm sick to my stomach when I read this. And after several paragraphs of getting sicker, I reacted with outward relief when you said it was only a "special event" (not that that's anything to be happy about)...only to get sick again by the thought that there might be more such special events. Heaven help us all, and heaven help Venice.

    1. Well, in the list of things threatening Venice, the paddle boards are near the bottom, so we shouldn't get too upset. It's just that if the challenge is to convey to visitors that this is a functioning city and not a recreation park, then allowing mass water sport events of this sort with an intended international audience seems counterproductive. But, yes, Venice could use all the help it can get--and not of the so-vague-as-to-be-utterly-meaningless "support" which the giant hands on the Grand Canal are supposed to represent, but concrete approaches to actual problems.

  2. You are so RIGHT.
    And though being but a bloody tourist and appassionata visiting Venice 4-8 times a year I am so fed up of the bigot maudlin cant about Venice's disneyfication when I clearly see who is disneyficating the place. Even the patriarch doesn't renounce the disneyprofit - have you seen "Viva Vivaldi"? You don't need to know more to be sure there is no saving grace any more.

    1. I hadn't known anything about the Vivaldi "extravaganza" till you mentioned it. It looks, um, let's say "curious" at first glance. It seems, however, to be part of an increasing number of what might be called packaged "culture-lite tourist shows" in Venice. Another is the Giotto show in the Scuola di Misericordia, which is managed by one of Brugnaro's private companies and is being advertised to look as if it is a museum show (and the 18 euro entrance fee also suggests this) when in fact it doesn't include a single actual work by Giotto. It seems to be entirely electronic or "interactive" and could really be held anywhere in the world. This seems absurd when one can see one of Giotto's greatest works just 30 minutes away in Padova. Anyway, probably a blog post in this....

  3. Oh dear! Don't joke about it! I'm sure we'll see the d*mn things there in time. We love Venice, and have gone there every year for ages, usually for about a fortnight each time, but hope that we are respectful of a most fragile and beautiful place. It seems that "them as runs the place" are not.

    1. Well, to be fair, Ella, I suspect there will be peddle boats in the Grand Canal before I can get my inflatable human hamster wheels there. But, seriously, those with power in Venice seem to consistently show themselves to be short-sighted and greedy, and this standup paddle board parade pales compared to the real damage being done.

  4. Does any other major city in the world have a mayor who seems dedicated to the ruination of the city of which he is the nominal head? What next? Perhaps he'll invite the even more disastrous US president to turn one of the Canal Grande palaces into a Trump hotel. Gold-plated facade, the whole works. Like the Ca' d'Oro, but better, of course.

    1. Though in an interview Brugnaro expressed some slight reservations about the jackal currently occupying the Oval Office, he also made it clear he felt a real kinship with him as two "uomini d'affari" (businessmen) with (bogus) pretensions to being "above" politics. They'd get along well.

  5. Shhhh...! Don't inspire any ideas please...!

    1. No kidding, Brigitte; Brugnaro would jump at the chance to have a big vulgar gold "luxury" (our good mayor's favorite word) Trump property somewhere in what Brugnaro fantasizes of making the "next Dubai". (Because, you know, Venice itself, a city upon which countless cities all around the world have modeled themselves, must now look to model itself on Dubai.) Maybe Brugnaro should simply look into running for mayor of Dubai.