|A glimpse of the water parade
"I live in Venice, it's not only for tourism!" an older woman with a shopping trolley in tow announced angrily (in Italian) to no one in particular as she squeezed past us along the wall of a narrow calle, struggling upstream against the traffic flow. Or, well, flow isn't quite the right word, as this occurred during one of the many times tonight when we found ourselves packed in tight with countless others at a dead standstill.
Though she deserves points for her defiance, I doubt the woman herself believed what she was saying. She was whistling into the face of a hurricane and she, like every other resident here, couldn't help but know it: Venice is all about, and almost only about, tourism.
In any case, the Russians and Germans and Americans and French crammed in around us had no idea what she was saying.
My main take-way from this evening's opening water parade--which was both far more crowded and considerably less inspired than the one I attended three years ago--was that city authorities can surround the area where it was held (Rio di Cannaregio) with all the security personnel and barriers and signage, doing their utmost to regulate traffic flow, and still end up providing attendees with a pretty poor experience. Or at least poor if your goal as an attendee was to actually see anything on the water.
I suppose my other take-away from the water parade (or any similar Carnevale event) is that if you're planning to go you should arrive very early. Perhaps this is obvious, but it bears a mention. The parade is performed twice on opening night--at 6 and 8 pm--and it seems the 6 pm performance was no less packed than the 8 pm one we attended, according to a new post by Gregory Dowling (a novelist, literary scholar, Ca' Foscari professor, and long-time Venice resident, whose two Venice-based historical mysteries deserve a place on the reading list of anyone interested in the city: http://gregorydowling.com/books/):
It had been decided beforehand that no more than 20,000 would be allowed access to the area, with everyone required to show photo-ID. The show was due to start at 6pm; by 5.20pm that number had already been exceeded. There were far more people outside the privileged zone than there were inside and the narrow street between the station and the Canal was soon jammed solid. (Please click here to read his full account.)But the overcrowding of tonight's parade is just another example of the overcrowding to which much of the historic center is subject during Carnevale. An owner of one of the few shops on the Ruga Rialto that sells anything residents might actually need, told me last year that on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as special days like Fat Tuesday, the calle was so crowded as to make it hard to pass from one side to the other. (Though, alas, all that foot traffic didn't translate into increased sales for him.)
Tonight was the first attempt by city authorities to regulate traffic during Carnevale--they are also talking of closing off Piazza San Marco, for example, after a certain number of people arrive there (an idea which is long overdue). But the dangerous overcrowding, and the potential for a real disaster in the event of any kind of mass panic, is not limited to just Piazza San Marco. A danger to which (as tonight showed) authorities have yet to find an solution--even as they've consistently resisted various strategies for limiting crowds pouring into the city.
City officials have shown little concern (actually, no concern) over the problems such overcrowding causes residents like the woman with the shopping cart tonight. But it's not only residents like her who have noticed the problem, as can be seen by the publication just a few days ago of a CNN piece entitled 12 Destinations Travelers Might Want to Avoid in 2018.* And for a city that's all about tourism, this is the kind of bad press that should concern them.
|If you're a people person--specifically of the sort who loves to find yourself trapped blindly in densely-packed crowds--you would have loved tonight's festivities.
*Like nearly every English-language publication I've seen, this CNN article propagates the false claim that "in fact, there are now plans to prevent cruise liners sailing up the Giudecca canal."
The new plans would allow cruise ships of 55,000 tons or less to continue to pass through the basin of San Marco past the Palazzo Ducale--which is a very different thing from "preventing cruise liners" from taking that route.
As a visual guide to what an approximately 55,000 ton ship looks like, consider the image below of the 55,820 gross-ton Pacific Aria.