Thursday, May 31, 2018

Striking a Pose on the Grand Canal

Three ages of girls and boys (two couples posing, one couple running)

When roughly 980 of every 1,000 people you encounter in the historic center of Venice is a tourist I must admit that it's sometimes tempting as a resident to try to simply stop seeing them at all: to let your eyes pass over them, or through them, as if they were (to use a phrase that Jack Nicholson claimed the director Michelangelo Antonioni used to describe his vision of actors) "moving space." It's a desperate defensive strategy for residents, employed in the interest of trying to preserve the illusion that, in fact, we are not living in a theme park--in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

But, of course, it's a strategy that's doomed to fail, as people, regardless of what Antonioni may have wished, are not "moving space." On the contrary, they're quite solid, and in the numbers in which they now teem over the city they impede your progress at nearly every turn.

Besides, even among the overwhelming multitude a few will always manage to distinguish themselves: kids with their liveliness, for example, or the very few among the crowds who express interest in something--anything!--other than the endless array of junk souvenirs, candy, gelato, "Italian delicacies" in convenient travel-sized jars, and take-away fast food that now line the city's calli, and which can easily monopolize a visitor's attention in spite of their best efforts or desire to see something of actual Venice.

Among the most eye-catching and diverting of things that tourists do--at least for me--is when they pose for photos, either alone (for a selfie) or before others. As much as one might imagine that there is a narrow range of conventional poses to choose among, and even when visitors strike the most familiar of poses, there's always a refreshing degree of self-revelation otherwise lost among the crush of humanity stumping through the city.

Paradoxically, it's in these moments of performing for the camera that visitors seem to show something of their truer selves: their sense of humor, or bravado, or romantic ardor, or maybe just their shyness. And at such moments I'm reminded of one of the things I've loved most about living in cities: these seeming glimpses into the lives of others--glimpses that are usually among the first and most human of experiences obliterated by the sheer numbers of mass tourism. But, fortunately, not entirely.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Boating Party: from Today's 44th Vogalonga

I didn't manage to photograph the start of this year's Vogalonga, as I've done in prior years, nor the end, which I've never done (but have often thought of doing).

But I did happen to see among the many kinds of boats making their way up the Grand Canal after completing the long course through the north lagoon the particular boat you see above and below.

The rest of the boats I saw were of the sort one always sees during a Vogalonga (though I suspect that each year the number of Venetian-style boats suited to the lagoon and the city's canals is ever more swamped by sculls and sweeps, dragon boats, canoes, kayaks, Lago Como-style river boats, and ever more paddle boards).

Previous years, and bit about the Vogalonga, can be seen here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

But I've never seen anything like the boat pictured here. I don't know if they actually completed the whole 30 km course in this boat, or if it would be very pleasant as a rower to do so, but I certainly wouldn't mind a place at the table.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bucket List Alert! Now YOU Can Tube Down the Grand Canal!

Enjoy the splendors of Venice as their creators always intended them to be seen: from the water in a large inflatable rubber ring!

See Venice as the great Titian did!*

(*Or at least hypothetically could have, had vulcanized rubber of the sort used in the manufacture of large truck inner tubes been invented during his lifetime, and had the use of such tubes for the purposes of amusement been common in the 16th century.)

All tubes are outfitted with--at no extra charge!--cup holders. And each Venezia Blog Amusements LLC tuber receives a complementary plastic cup of bubbly liquid (which DOC regulations prohibit us from calling "Prosecco," or even "Brut," but which you can call whatever you want)!

For the low low cost of just 150 euros per person, you'll get one full hour of unfettered water-borne freedom, a waterproof map of the city's canals (which will make no sense to you), and a good strong shove out into the Grand Canal by one of the well-trained staff of Venezia Blog Amusements LLC.

Sure, there are other ways for a person with absolutely no knowledge of Venice’s crowded waterways to help clog them up—kayaks, paddle boards, even water bikes. But do you really want to look like a schmuck, paddling or peddling, huffing and puffing? Wouldn’t you rather luxuriate doge-like** (**see note * above) in your own singular experience?

Or explore the city's quiet canals in our galvanized steel group tubs!

Yes, during the scorching hot days of the Venetian summer, while the mass of tourists get footsore pounding the pavement, you'll be kicking back in a refreshing bath of organic and inorganic matter, with a distinctive fragrance somewhat reminiscent of the sulfur springs that wealthy Europeans have frequented since ancient times!

Group packages also available!!!

Imagine forming your own eco-friendly George-Clooney-esque armada of truck tire inner tubes down the Grand Canal to celebrate your wedding in the world's most romantic city!

And nothing creates a stronger esprit de corps among a tourist, family, or corporate group than the shared experience of trying to elude motor traffic, human waste, and the occasional swimming rat in the world's most celebrated "main street"!

Lose yourself in the legendary mystery and allure of Venice!

So what are you waiting for! Reserve your place now to do what even Venetians have never done!

(And know better than to do.)


DISCLAIMER: All once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventures involve a degree of risk for which Venezia Blog Amusements LLC explicitly, fully, and unequivocally renounces all responsibility.

Venezia Blog Amusements LLC recommends clients have a full and updated battery of vaccinations (including but not limited to tetanus; hepatitis a, b, and c; diptheria; bubonic plague; etc) prior to undertaking this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It advises against this once-in-a-lifetime experience for pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.

Venezia Blog Amusements LLC further bears no responsibility for adverse health effects--whether of short or chronic duration, immediate or delayed onset--including but definitely not limited to: sunburn, dizziness, fainting, nausea, vomiting, poisoning, toxic shock, skin rashes (incurable or otherwise and regardless of percentage of body affected), blindness, intestinal parasites, stomach worms, flesh-eating-antibiotic-resistant infections, paralysis, hearing loss (up to and including stone deafness), or loss of digits, toes, limbs or life.

Don't learn about history, MAKE IT!
Experience the ultimate Venice with Venezia Blog Amusements, LLC

[NOTE: This is a satire.]

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Welcome to Brugnaroland, "An Amusement Park for Cretins"

Barriers at the Ponte della Costituzione (see the full slideshow of images by the Corriere del Veneto)

Okay, I've put this off as long as I can, let's get it over with.

The quotation in the title of this post is from art critic, gallerist, and tv presenter Philippe Daverio, and was among the remarks he recently made on RAI about Venice and its mayor Luigi Brugnaro.

If you've ever watched Italian television you've probably come across Daverio talking about art. I've had very little access to television since we moved here and even I've caught glimpses of his programs on art history.

In response to Brugnaro's decision to reroute tourist traffic in Venice over the May 1 holiday weekend by installing manned turnstiles on the Piazzale Roma side of the Calatrava Bridge and at the entrance to the Lista di Spagna near the train station, Daverio issued a broad condemnation of the city's non-resident mayor, saying "Il sindaco ha deciso definitivamente di assassinare la Serenissima Repubblica."

That is, "The mayor has definitely decided to murder the Serene Republic."

For as much as Brugnaro tried to frame these manned barriers as just part of an experimental approach to crowd control that would only be employed on those weekends when crowds were expected to be overwhelming, critics of his plan saw them as the perfect symbol of his continued efforts to turn Venice into a theme park. 

As Daverio put it, Brugnaro's barricades are just a small part of the Treviso-based mayor's larger project, in the implementation of which, given the choice of trying to design policy aimed at reinventing Venice as a real city or reducing it in every detail to nothing but a tourist trap, Brugnaro has consistently chosen the latter:
Il sindaco cosa deve fare? Esagerare la trappola per turisti o trasformare di nuovo Venezia in una città? E’ più importante che Venezia torni ad essere di nuovo una città.
Il sindaco inventi non un tornello per enetrare, ma un progetto per il futuro della città. Lo stato provvede alla cultura della propria società o no? Non provvede ai maccheroni o alle feste. La cultura fa parte dell’istruzione o dei maccheroni? Per il sindaco di Venezia la cultura fa parte dei maccheroni. Ha deciso che la città non avrà più un’importanza politica, Venezia è un turistodromo, un luna park per cretini, è una scelta fatta dal sindaco.
"For the mayor of Venice," he says, in the final sentences above, "culture is nothing more than a cheap diversion. He's decided that the city will have no more political importance, Venice is a tourist park, an amusement park for cretins, that's what the mayor has chosen."

The second part of Brugnaro's new two-pronged approach to managing tourist flow--note, not reducing tourist flow, as has been long recommended by those concerned with the survival of Venice, but simply rerouting it, so as to pack in even more tourists--the second part was to have the large boats (lancioni granturismo) that transport tourists from places like Punta Sabbioni dock not at the over-crowded Riva degli Schiavoni near Piazza San Marco but at one end of the Fondamente Nove in Cannaregio.

And there goes another neighborhood... (from Corriere del Veneto)
I haven't the heart right now to belabor yet again the dangers to resident life presented by this plan (see my blog post of April 8), but as you can see in the article at right, even the boat operators, tour guides, and tourists themselves don't seem too pleased to find that a 45 minute walk now lies between their new point of disembarkation and Piazza San Marco. 

I must say at this point, though, that if anyone still thinks Brugnaro is concerned about the quality of the tourist experience in Venice they really haven't been paying attention. Attention to the quality of the tourist experience would require, as noted already above, the reduction of tourist numbers. Brugnaro has shown that this is the last thing he is willing to consider. Better, he thinks, to increase the influx and find better ways of forcing them into relatively open spaces.

You say you're dying to see Piazza San Marco?

Well, how about the Scuola Grande di Misericordia instead?*

Indeed, one of the things that forcing large masses of tourists to disembark at Fondamente Nove does is put them within very easy reach of a large exhibition space to which it just so happens that our non-resident mayor himself holds the concession until 2051.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence. Perhaps our non-resident mayor doesn't actually profit from his 35-year concession. I don't know the details of the arrangement. But it does strike me as a curiosity worth noting.

In all fairness, though, I must point out that Daverio's description of Burgnaro's project as being that of simply turning Venice into "an amusement park for morons" is not entirely accurate.

That is only one part of what clearly is a two tiered plan of development.

Venice proper as a kind of Coney Island for the masses, into which they'll be stuffed as grain is forced down the throat of a goose being readied to become fois gras, is what might be called the lower tier of the plan.

The upper tier, the luxury tier--a word our non-resident mayor loves so much that it was, to the embarrassment of most Venetians, the actual theme of the Venice Pavilion at the last art Biennale**--is to be developed on the publicly-owned islands which the cash-strapped state is auctioning off at bargain prices to private interests. Public islands like that of Poveglia which--and by now this should come as no surprise--Brugnaro himself once tried to purchase.

Poveglia, Fort Sant'Andrea, the old military compound on Vignole, the old hospital on Lido... these will become the site of luxury private resorts, accessible only by private means, and closed to the public to which they had once belonged.

In tandem with development plans in Mestre, Marghera, and around the airport promoted by Brugnaro (and likely to financially benefit Brugnaro, as well), the mayor's grand project for Venice and the lagoon is nothing less than an inversion of the old relationship between the watery seat of the mighty Republic and the terraferma to its west, in which the former becomes nothing more than a "brand name" possession of the latter to be exploited to the fullest--even unto death.

Call it the campagnolo's revenge.


*In addition to being rented out for lavish private events, since being renovated by Brugnaro's company the Scuola Grande di Misericordia has hosted a heavily publicized exhibition of Giotto (complete with a hefty entrance fee) which included no actual works by Giotto, but rather a multi-media extravaganza instead. Given that you can see some of Giotto's greatest works in situ at the Scrovegni Chapel just a 30 minute train ride away, and that one of the main reasons to come to (or live in) Italy is to be able to see the actual works of Italian masters in person, I couldn't bring myself to pay 18 euro to watch and hear something I could just as easily watch and hear in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Buenos Aires, or Tokyo.

Forthcoming multi-media extravaganzas already announced for the Scuola Grand di Misericordia will focus on Raphael and Canova. At least Canova has some relation to Venice, but this show will put a private enterprise in direct competition with the city's Museo Correr in Piazza San Marco. And given the nature (and limited time) of mass tourism, it may very well turn out that more people will be interested in seeing multi-media depictions of Canova's work (and being told through narration and music what to think of them) than in seeing the works themselves in person at the Correr. 

**Never has a pavilion at the Biennale ever bore such a non-ironic resemblance to a duty-free airport shop. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Romance and Reality (2)

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm not quite up to recalling, let alone recounting, the ugly turn that mass tourism in Venice took last weekend (the Venice author and resident Gregory Dowling succinctly presents one part of it here). I'd prefer to remain in denial about the whole thing for a couple of more days. So, for the time being I'll post this more benign jigsaw image of one of the city's canals thick with commerce.