Thursday, December 12, 2019

Piazza San Marco 1972; or, Pigeons, Painters and the Question of What Constitutes a Pest?

photo credit: Larry Castek

Today we're lucky to get a striking glimpse of the Venice of 47 years ago, courtesy of Larry Castek, during the era when pigeons still ruled Piazza San Marco.

John Berendt describes the city administration's unsuccessful and often clandestine attempts to control (and sometimes poison) its pigeon population in his best-selling book The City of Falling Angels, published in 2005.  In May of 2008 a law was finally passed which banned their feeding and put the 19 licensed vendors of feed out of business.

At the left of the photo you can see one such vendor in the act of filling a small paper bag of seed from a podium-sized green stand.

And just to the left of him, further in the background, you can see what looks to be a sizable canvas on an easel, with more canvases leaning against its legs. Was this someone licensed to sell his or her works in the piazza, or someone simply painting?

The unlicensed sales of paintings in the piazza has long been banned, but in the last couple of years so, too, has the mere painting of pictures. Artists long used to working there have been chased out by the police. There is no actual law against painting in the piazza, but local authorities have adopted a "zero tolerance" policy toward even the smallest of easels set up in the city's most famously picturesque space.

But though police now keep a watchful eye out for artists, on most sunny days it's not hard to find an illegal vendor or two of pigeon food....


  1. But look how stylish everyone is dressed, definitely no riffraff here.

    1. I think of it in terms of a very different time from today with a very different sense of public space, and of what it means to be in public space: how one not only should dress but how one should act in such space. Of course since that time the whole idea of public space has been under assault--eg, one of the central places people have congregated since the time this pic was taken are malls, which are by definition private space. And, not coincidentally, also under attack have been traditional notions of public life, and the notion of a citizen within a society. We are now consumers rather then citizens, and old notions of the purpose of public spaces have been displaced by the extremely limited act of shopping. At least that's how I think of it.

  2. Yes, the elegance and poses struck me. I;m heartily fed up of seeing adults dressed in overgrown romper suits in lurid colours. Oh, for elegant tailoring...

    1. A photographer once told me about a photo shoot he did for a fine watch collector publication with one of the richest moguls in the entertainment industry and how it was delayed for an extended period of time while the mogul's assistant was sent to the mogul's NYC apartment to get the particular baby blue baseball cap that properly matched the baby blue track suit the mogul was wearing.... Notions of what counts as elegant tailoring change, I guess.