Friday, February 14, 2020

Venetian Interior, Afternoon Sun

18th-century fresco by unidentified artist in private residence; wrought iron work circa 1930

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

People Are Already Wearing Masks in Venice--But Not for Carnival

Well, the good news is at least they haven't yet taken to wearing the beak-like plague doctor masks of the old Venetian Republic. But I did see one young employee wearing a heavier-duty mask of the above type, complete with a built-in circular charcoal filter.

A full week ahead of the official opening of Venice's carnevale on February 8 people were already wearing masks.

But, as you can see in the image above, they were the kind of masks that raise questions about whether the threat of the coronavirus will diminish the turnout for carnival festivities this year.

Local papers reported that the world-wide coverage of last November's exceptionally high tides resulted in the cancellation of about 50% of Christmas season lodging reservations. Will the specter of a pandemic do the same? 

Those who work at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, however, may have particular reason to be concerned about their susceptibility to the virus, as the Fondaco exists specifically (I'm tempted to say almost solely) to cater to Chinese tourists.

Shortly after the opening of the Fondaco I read an interview with the German CEO of DFS, the Hong-Kong-based company which occupies the Fondaco, in which he said that in opening this store in Venice they were simply "following our market." That is, the explicit aim was not to create a new market for their goods in Venice, but to cater to their already-existing Asian market in a European site of mass Asian tourism. The Fondaco was created to receive mass tourism from the East (and might be considered a kind of post-modern version of the commercial quarters occupied by Venetians at the height of the old Venetian republic in eastern locales such as Constantinople and Alexandria).

And while locals work in the Fondaco, and deliver goods to it, I don't know of any who actually shop there. For, in spite of what it calls itself, it's not really a department store (as Coin used to be for many years, just 10 or so meters away from the Fondaco). You can't, for example, find a pair of socks there if you need one.

No, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is merely a "luxury" duty free shop (which is the specialty of the DFS corporation, and the meaning of its acronym) plopped down in the historic center of Venice, featuring the usual reduced selection of designer goods one sees in international terminals of airports around the world.

In Venice, however, this curtailed selection is rather odd, as every luxury brand on display in the Fondaco has a flagship boutique just a short walking distance away (most of them clustered together on Calle Larga XXII Marzo). So that I feel bad for those large Chinese tour groups of eager shoppers who are led by their guides into the relatively meager offerings of the Fondaco when full-sized boutiques filled with complete product lines lie hardly more than a few minutes off.

In any case, China's curb on outbound travel is expected to have a major impact of tourism-based businesses worldwide, so a duty-free-shop like the Fondaco dei Tedeschi geared toward Chinese tourists has reason to be concerned about a precipitous drop in its clientele--as does the tourism-based city of Venice itself.

Across a narrow calle from the Fondaco Tedeschi a clothing store window features vintage photos of Carnevale from the Archivio Camera Photo Epoche of Vittorio Pavan (above), which stand in ironic contrast to the masked door keepers directly opposite (see below)

Nothing says "Welcome!" like a door person wearing a black surgical mask to protect herself from a possible pandemic. (Which might be why today, February 4, I no longer saw any Fondaco staff in masks, as some had been when I took these images on the first day of this month.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Rare Sight on the Rio del Malcanton, This Evening

It's rare that you see a gondola with a felz on it anymore--but this one is always parked in this spot, and on a foggy night like tonight it easily becomes the stuff of romance and breathless assignations. I've yet to see it put to any sort of use though--illicit or otherwise. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Around Castello, 6 Views

I can never pass this corte without being reminded of the work of Ellsworth Kelly

Beneath the plaster of this chimney flue: wattle


Not looking particularly pleased to find someone spying on his bath

An American-influenced exchange

Nothing special

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Waves of Concern

That awkward moment when the "colorful" local event you are capturing on your smart phone is directed partly toward the excessive number of people just like yourself taking excessive numbers of high-speed pleasure rides in the very vehicle in which you're standing.

Unlike the protests against cruise ships, which I think it's safe to say are piloted exclusively by non-Venetians, last Sunday's nautical demonstration in the Bacino of San Marco by the association of rowing clubs against moto ondoso (motorboat-created waves) and air pollution was aimed at local boat owners who in either their professional or personal capacity damage the architectural foundations of the city and the natural environment of the lagoon, spew extremely dangerous levels of particulate matter, and render large swaths of the city innavigable by traditional rowed boats.

Of course cruise ships are major polluters not just of Venice, but everywhere they go, but heavy traffic on the Rio Novo canal, which serves as a short cut between Piazzale Roma and the Grand Canal and is used by both work boats and taxis, creates air pollution well in excess of legal limits. Pollution levels so high, in fact, that last November the city council finally instituted some restrictions on traffic in that area.

Excessive and dangerous levels of air pollution have also been recorded on the Grand Canal, but as Fabio Mozzato notes in the article linked to above, as the traffic there consists not just of taxis and work boats but of vaporetti and Alilaguna airport shuttles as well, any attempt by the city council to establish some regulations would be met with intense resistance.

And Mozzato's suggestion that GPS be used to monitor  and regulate both the amount of traffic and speed of each boat shows little promise at this point of being accepted--and perhaps raises other kinds of questions.

From my own completely unscientific observation it seems to me that water traffic both on the Grand Canal and even in the further reaches of the lagoon has increased substantially in just the 9 years we have lived here.

On the Grand Canal the main problem seems to be taxis, which ply its waters crammed with a dozen sightseers  at a time (I've taken to calling them "cartons of eggs"), fairly often in groups of 3 or four boats (their combined wave action becoming exponentially greater than each individually), and almost inevitably at speeds in excess of the posted 5 kmh.

In the wider lagoon speeding taxis make certain canals resemble the Autobahn, while some locals tear through the last remaining mudflats at deleterious speeds four or five times greater than the maximum posted, and large tourist boats--and even river cruise ships--venture into environmentally fragile areas for which they are ill suited (and sometimes even explicitly prohibited).

I've sometimes read cruise ship passengers (or those who profit from the cruise ship industry) claim that the damage done to the city's fabric and air quality are nothing compared to that done by locals roaring around in their work or private boats, and I suspect that now, in turn, pilots of the smaller craft will point to the massive ones and declare that they are the real problems.

But it is not an either/or matter, and "whataboutism" (popular though it may be these days in politics) can't diminish the fact that the survival of the city and lagoon depends on at least trying in good faith to attend to the many complex forces at play in this unique place. The demonstration in the bacino last Sunday was an attempt to keep these vital issues foregrounded.

The banner at center suggests that those who make waves should know of their ultimately dire (or deadly) effects

"Together for Venice"

A sarcastic sign addressed to politicians and others with authority which might be loosely translated as "Thank you, your honors, this is quite big enough" (as a huge wave crashes upon a boat, a church, and a person).

Music to keep up the spirits

"Respect the lagoon": such a simple and necessary idea and yet so difficult to get those with and without power to heed

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Where Reflections Outnumber Objects

In his book Tiepolo Pink, Roberto Calasso claims that Venice "is the only place where reflections are more numerous than things themselves."

I'm not so sure this is true, but it lends itself easily to a title for a post. Though in fact there are two places represented in these images, Venice and Burano--a distinction which I'm pretty sure that Buranese would want me to emphasize.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Holiday Colors (3 Views)

Lights over Murano's Rio dei Vetrai

Stability in a moving boat is always difficult--when it's so dark that a long shutter speed is necessary, it's impossible