Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Venetians to Striking Taxi Drivers Today: "Don't Hurry Back!"

An extremely rare sight: the whole length of the Riva with not a single supply or work boat moored alongside it this morning
The typical kind of sciopero or strike in Venice--by vaporetti crews--leaves most Venetians frustrated and muttering, struggling to find ways to get where they need to go. Today's strike by taxi drivers and mototopi (the large work boats that carry supplies of every kind around the city) left most ordinary Venetians with a sense of well-being and peace that they'd forgotten was even possible.

The taxi drivers and mototopi drivers went on strike to protest the new 26-point plan of the city to increase water safety on the Grand Canal after the death of a German tourist riding in a gondola last August. The striking drivers believe that the new regulations come down particularly hard on them, reducing their freedom of movement on the Grand Canal (you can read the entire plan, in Italian, here:

Though a green garbage boat is on the job, the grocery supply boats usually occupying this stretch of the Riva are absent
Now, the prospect of a city in which no mototopi are running is not especially pleasant, as that means no grocery deliveries to stores, no laundry pick-up from the hotels, no beverages or other supplies for bars and restaurants and so on. The taxis, on the other hand... Taxi drivers don't seem to be especially popular with Venetians who don't happen to be related to them. Aside from a certain arrogance by which many of them can be identified even far from their boats, aside from their reputation for shirking taxes beyond even what the typically-tax-shirking Italian finds acceptable, they are basically of no use to the average Venetian, who never takes a taxi.

The Riva in its entirety belonged to fishermen today
In fact, to paraphrase a remark that was first said about the infamously exasperating actress Tallulah Bankhead, the "threat" of a day without taxis on the lagoon couldn't help but sound to most residents of Venice like the sweet promise of a month in the country. (And, happily for us, there was little chance of any renegade strike-breaking taxis, as the drivers had warned that any such behavior would result in the driver's boat being burned.) No, it was the specter of deprivation conjured up by the absence of supply boats that was supposed to fill us all with fear and ruin our day today.

But I have to tell you, it really didn't. On the contrary, though no one would hope that the supplies to the city might be cut off for an extended period of time, the absence of all those boats tearing or plowing though the city reminded everyone just how beautiful this place can be. It was a reminder of the Venice that existed into the 1960s, the decade during which motorized supply boats finally replaced craft that, until that time, were still rowed, as they had been for centuries. A reminder of the Venice that existed even more recently than that, before the new economy of mass tourism immensely increased not only the number of big ships coming into the lagoon, but the number of work boats required to supply and clean up after tourists, as well as the lancioni granturismi (those large boats that shuttle 50-, 100- or 150-person tourist groups from their tour buses or cruise liners into the city for a few hours then back out). And a reminder, as a Venetian (René Seindal) noted on Facebook, of the primary sources of the damaging moto ondoso: the unrelenting wakes that wear away the city's canals and foundations. (Seindal wrote: "Grazie allo sciopero dei trasportatori ed i tassisti sappiamo ora chi fa la stragrande parte del moto ondoso in canale grande.")

This afternoon Sandro and I caught a ride home from his school in a friend's motorized topa and I can tell you first-hand that the Grand Canal, as well as the small canals all over town, were calmer than I've ever seen them--even on a Sunday or holiday, when, after all, taxis still ply the waters. But you don't need to take my word for it, I attach three short clips from the online version of a local newspaper, La Nuova Venezia (the first one entitled "How Beautiful Venice Is 'Liberated' from Taxis":

So, though I'm not sure whether today's strike will make anyone think twice about the supposed hardships that the city's 26-point safety plan imposes on the drivers of taxis and mototopi, I do think it's reminded more than a few Venetians of the deleterious effects that such craft tend to have on the city itself.

The strike, alas, did not affect the lancioni granturismi, who spewed day-tripper as usual


  1. So that's what happening? But I saw some of the huge boats yesterday, so the strike is not total, I think.

    Aqua alta today! I'm living just a few steps from Liberia Marco Polo, hope the area won't be flooded too high, not like San Marco. For the levels up to the knee I've brought stivali di gomma.

    1. I seem to recall Libreria Marco Polo can become quite flooded, but only at the highest tide levels--and never flooded so high as low-lying San Marco. I hope you're enjoying your visit so far. Did you like the relatively empty Grand Canal?

    2. Oh, no, I prefer my photos of GC to have more objects:) What I like empty are the streets. Now they are so crowded and congested, specially during weekends, that I think perhaps winter is the better time to visit the city. Just outside of the Carnival period, of course.

    3. If only there were actually an off-season anymore, Sasha! There are a few weeks during the whole year that are better, but very few, and only relatively.