Sunday, April 8, 2018

A View of "The Real Venice"

Whether you're a travel company, a tour operator, a marketer, photographer, or travel writer, there's no more profitable experience to offer your customers than that of the elusive and ever-more-endangered REAL Venice.

A Venice which, I think it's safe to say, looks nothing like the Venice in the image above.

But this too is Venice. I snapped it a couple of days ago after taking a vaporetto to the island of Tronchetto beyond the western end of the city to turn in our application for a docking place for our small boat (one of 60 spots in the newly-expanded harbor in the Sacca della Misericordia to be selected by lottery).

The Pullman parking lot you see above is where a huge number of day-tripping tourists--and remember that 75% of Venice's visitors are only here for about 4 hours--first set foot on the magical soil (or cement) of the famous lagoon city.

Is it everything they imagined it would be? Probably not. At least not yet. But the shanty town of cheap souvenir vendors they must walk through on their way to the lancioni granturismo (large private water buses) that will take them to the historic center gives them a better preview of what awaits them than they might expect.

For the cheap crap and junk food of those shanties is the same cheap crap and junk food they will spend most of their time in Venice being led through by their tour guides, as these are exactly the kinds of businesses that line the old arteries of the historic center like plaque lines--and clogs--the arteries of a diseased heart.

But beyond this, what struck me as I looked at the scene above is that in terms of political power, and in terms of the sheer number of people "processed" on a daily basis, the scene above could probably lay a far more valid claim to being the "REAL Venice" of today than any of the dreamy, romantic, luxurious, nostalgic, or picturesque visions offered up by the all the people who earn their bread by supplying them.

As far as I can tell, the most powerful voices in the formation of city policy belong to those who make their money getting people in and out of Venice--from the airport and cruise ship port, to the train and bus lines, all the way down to the associations of taxi drivers and the lancioni granturismo, which, after collecting tourists en masse from places like Tronchetto, disgorge them ever further down the Riva from Piazza San Marco. (The daily passage of these invading armies of tourists toward the Piazza is akin to a steady stream of poison that inevitably kills any trace of local life along their path, transmogrifying produce sellers or bakeries into ever more plastic mask shops and junk food vendors as residents flee the crowds. Which is why those who propose new docks for the lancioni in Sant' Elena and Canareggio might more aptly be called plague sowers than "developers.")

In 1882 Henry James famously declared that the "Venice of to-day is a vast museum where the little wicket that admits you is perpetually turning and creaking, and you march through the institution with a herd of fellow-gazers."

These days James's quaint little wicket is a swiftly-spinning revolving door, and you find yourself not so much "marching through an institution" as fighting your way through jam-packed calli that bear far more resemblance to the trashiest county far midway you've ever seen--all candy shops and walk-away chip shops and junk souvenir vendors--than the "museum" some claim it's become (usually in the interest, as per the city's mayor, of more plague sowing "development"), or even the "Disneyland" others claim it is. For, whatever its faults, the management of Disneyland (as has been noted by others before), would never allow its facilities to be so trashed, its souvenirs to be of such low quality, or its customers to be treated with such blatant disregard, if not outright contempt.

The problem, in other words, is not that the commercial shanty town above is the first thing that visitors see when they arrive in the lagoon. The problem is that so much of the city itself, at least at street level, has become indistinguishable from it--and just as barren of resident life.


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