Tuesday, April 24, 2018

(Tourist) Hell on Two Wheels

                                                                                                                                            photo credit: Stefano Varponi
If water bikes can completely overturn in the calm waters of a small canal (as above), imagine how they will fare in the heavy, wavy traffic on the Grand Canal
                




It is illegal to ride bicycles in the historic center of Venice. A Venetian child caught doing so is subject to a substantial multa (ticket and fine)

But apparently, as you can see from the images of this post, it's perfectly fine to ride bicycles in the canals of the historic center.

In fact, any moronic tourist willing to pay 100 euro for an hour-long guided "tour" to the shameless proprietors of this newest degradation of the city's historic waterways can do it!

Even as I type these words, even as I look at the images taken by Stefano Varponi, I feel certain that I'm indulging in one of the satires I sometimes post on this blog.

But this is no satire, these photos are not doctored or fake. The city administration really has licensed a water bike rental business in the very center of Venice.

Disneyland?

No, this is Brugnaroland!

Where no money-grubbing enterprise is considered too demeaning of Venice's long history and its traditions, too antithetical to the proper functioning of the city's waterways, too hazardous for the rubes and "thrill-seekers" who apparently cannot discern the slightest difference between the seat of the ancient Republic of Venice and any backwater port-of-call on the sleaziest cruise line.

After all, mass tourism ain't about history or culture, it's about ticking something off your "bucket list;" about the adrenaline or ego rush of having your own "special," "personalized," "individualized," "unique" experience purchased from businesses who provide them in bulk: about finding the best selfie backdrops.

Why should only celebs be allowed to do this?
How long until the first ziplines are strung across the Grand Canal?

And why should only two celebrities during Carnevale experience the thrill of descending from the Campanile of San Marco to the stones to the Piazza? Why it's positively anti-democratic! A zipline from the campanile could become a major tourist draw--and a good "populist" businessman/politician is just the type needed to rectify this great inequality (and put a nice bit of change into his own or some crony's pocket in doing so).

Four years ago I was foolish enough to think that the very last thing that Venice's waterways needed was to be turned into yet another tourist play-space for private profit. After all, not only are these waterways the arteries of the city's commerce, they were (and are) already so jammed with traffic as to be dangerous (and deadly) even to those who actually know the rules and regulations that are supposed to govern them, and those who actually know where they're going on them.

The solution devised by the city administration, however, was not to ban all manner of tourist craft on the city's waterways, but to require that tourists no longer be shoved out into them alone and utterly ignorant. As long as the tourists followed like ducklings in the wake of a tour guide all would be well.

This started with kayaks. It has continued with paddle boards, which not only look ridiculous in the city's rii, but seem ill-suited to managing the wakes created by water traffic. And now it has metastasized into the even more ill-suited water bikes. Which, as you can see above, overturn in even a quiet rio.

The legendary beauty of Venice (photo: Stefano Varponi)
But, I can hear the proprietors of such rental services objecting, we are the good guys, we give ECO tours!

Ah, yes, "eco", the magic word of what's known as "green-washing" when it's used, for example, by oil companies in their marketing campaigns. The latest in that long string of magic marketing words, each evoking its particular era and the (feigned) principles of their panderers: "all-natural," "low-tar," "low-fat," "hypo-allergenic," etc.

True, kayaks and paddle boards and, now, water bikes do not use petrol. And yet when introduced into the waterways of the historic center their effects upon them can ultimately be as deleterious to that unique setting as algal blooms are to marine ecosystems. And I doubt that dead sea birds and fish take much consolation from the fact that a human-induced algal bloom killed them instead of an oil spill.

Moreover, the particular "eco" proprietors of this new water bike venture, progressive as they almost certainly consider themselves to be, don't take too kindly to open discourse. After I posted my thoughts on the damage their new business does to Venice and the hazards it present to its customers in the "Reviews" section of their Facebook page--and after my review began to receive "likes"--not only did my review disappear from the page, but so did the entire "Reviews" tab.

Like Venice's non-resident "first citizen" himself, it seems the last thing that the fine proprietors of this new tourist business want to hear are the thoughts of Venice residents on their little venture.

(And, by the way, who are the proprietors of this new venture? They don't identify themselves in the "About" tab of their Facebook page. Are they Venetians exploiting their own city or outside "entrepreneurs"?) 

Last summer I sarcastically wrote that I was planning to start my own "eco" guided tourist experience on Venice's historic waterways with inflatable human hamster wheels, as below.


But given the way in which the mis-administration and exploitation of Venice continually outruns even the most bitterly sarcastic gallows humor, I wouldn't be surprised to find them available for rent on the Grand Canal by next summer at the latest.


18 comments:

  1. I could simply not agree with you more. Just back from Venice myself, the fussy little kayakers seemed like a pesky infestation. The traffic on the Grand Canal can be really heavy, and tourists "playing" on it - totally inappropriate. I love Venice, and have done for several years, but even tourists such as myself can feel guilty, even though we stay in Venice, and spend in Venice ourselves, and never ever use a cruise ship, for the thoughtless behaviour of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this sort of second-hand guilt/embarrassment. Venice is my favorite city in the world, and I've spent years studying its history and learning italian so I can chat more easily with people when I visit. Since graduating uni, I dedicate all of my vacation time to going to Venice every year for two to three weeks, and even volunteer my time as a graphic designer to several activist organizations in the city, am extremely careful about accommodations, etc., and I swear I still feel guilty for being there and being another tourist like these morons. I can only hope that people are able to differentiate me from those who are far less considerate...I'd gladly live there, but there's no way for me to obtain a visa so being a permanent visitor is the best I can do. I'd never dream of being such a pest.

      Delete
    2. I feel quite secure in saying that neither of you are likely to be mistaken for the kind of tourists Venetians hate, Ella and AJ.

      But more generally, the percentage of really awful individual tourists--the kinds who make headlines--is very small.

      Sure, people can talk about "quality" tourism vs "quantity" and risk sliding into all kinds of ugly notions, but the real problem is the sheer number of people coming into the city, as well as things like the uncontrolled shift of residential use buildings to tourist-oriented ones. It's great to be a "good" tourist, just as it's great to be a "good" recycler, but in each case our individual efforts will come to nothing if there are not, as Amitov Ghosh points out in relation to climate change, major policy shifts in the city and region (in the case of Venice), and on the national and international stages in terms of climate issues.

      Alas, in both cases, the reality has been to pursue immediate profits regardless of long-term effects.

      Delete
  2. Bravo for saying it like it is. We're dinosaurs, you and I, because we're not afraid to speak our mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose I don't mind being a dinosaur, but given the kind of criminal things that have been said (in the US, for example) by people who are supposedly just "speaking their minds," doing so no longer seems like the benign, much less admirable act, it was once reputed to be!

      Delete
  3. A terrible development. It will stop when someone inevitably gets hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or, alas, maybe not even then... The death of the German tourist in the gondola a couple of years back resulted in a flurry of new regulations, but their actual effect on the problem of traffic in the Grand Canal is debatable.

      Delete
  4. It bad enough the B***** cruise ships. Gawd knows what damage they are doing underneath the Canals etc., !!!! Instead of doing the best to preserve Wonderful Beautiful Venice ..mankind seems hellbent on destroying this Beauty all for greed of money. Grrrrrr.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And, unfortunately, Janet, not only Venice.... Venice, as people have suggested, could be a laboratory to address problems that affect other places and larger cities. But that would require the kind of intelligence, conscience, and imagination that those who control Venice have shown absolutely no sign of possessing.

      Delete
  5. Ella I totally agree with you, just returned from Venice myself & having visited for 16years somehow this visit was not the same!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think you're the only one, Anne, who feels that the city has entered a new stage of degradation (under the mis-administration of the Brugnaro administration). For one thing, entire stretches of the historic center are now literally indistinguishable from a shopping mall, lined with candy shop chains and other junk food or junk merchandise shops. It's noticeably worse than when we moved here 7 1/2 year ago.

      Delete
  6. Thank goodness I'm not alone.
    I feel guilty for going there, but - oh, I stay there as often as I can, at least a couple of times a year, never in May June July August, most often Nov Dec Jan, but I really worry am I adding to the problem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're not adding to the problem, Ella, and if you stopped coming to Venice, you wouldn't be helping it either. The best reason not to come to Venice now is if it is simply no longer a place you enjoy visiting. And I must admit I can understand quite easily how some people who have come to Venice for a long time might feel that way. There are a good many times when I no longer enjoy living here.

      Delete
  7. I think, or rather hope that there are tourists and then there are tourists. Yes, some are obnoxious and completely indifferent to their cultural surroundings and then there are some who haven’t (yet?) taken leave of their common sense. I, for one, can’t wait to get back to Venice this summer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you still enjoy Venice, Andreas, there's no reason not to come! As I mentioned above, if your absence alone would improve things I'm sure that your affection for the city might even lead you to selflessly renounce returning again, so that city might recover its equilibrium. But, alas, things aren't so simple and neither the city nor you gain anything by you staying away.

      Delete
  8. you may enjoy this post of a dolphin whacking a paddleboarder in Sydney. (I did!)
    https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dolphin?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dolphins have been known to enter the lagoon, Mary! I don't know if they ever make it into the rii of the historic center, though.

      Delete
  9. Honest question: With the ever dwindling population in Venice, what happens to the houses they were once living in? Do they just lie empty or is Venices' housing stock now 80% (or more) occupied by short-stay tourists, AirBnB etc?

    ReplyDelete