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