Tuesday, February 4, 2020

People Are Already Wearing Masks in Venice--But Not for Carnival

Well, the good news is at least they haven't yet taken to wearing the beak-like plague doctor masks of the old Venetian Republic. But I did see one young employee wearing a heavier-duty mask of the above type, complete with a built-in circular charcoal filter. (Photos in this post were taken: January 30, 2020)

A full week ahead of the official opening of Venice's carnevale on February 8 people were already wearing masks.

But, as you can see in the image above, they were the kind of masks that raise questions about whether the threat of the coronavirus will diminish the turnout for carnival festivities this year.

Local papers reported that the world-wide coverage of last November's exceptionally high tides resulted in the cancellation of about 50% of Christmas season lodging reservations. Will the specter of a pandemic do the same? 

Those who work at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, however, may have particular reason to be concerned about their susceptibility to the virus, as the Fondaco exists specifically (I'm tempted to say almost solely) to cater to Chinese tourists.

Shortly after the opening of the Fondaco I read an interview with the German CEO of DFS, the Hong-Kong-based company which occupies the Fondaco, in which he said that in opening this store in Venice they were simply "following our market." That is, the explicit aim was not to create a new market for their goods in Venice, but to cater to their already-existing Asian market in a European site of mass Asian tourism. The Fondaco was created to receive mass tourism from the East (and might be considered a kind of post-modern version of the commercial quarters occupied by Venetians at the height of the old Venetian republic in eastern locales such as Constantinople and Alexandria).

And while locals work in the Fondaco, and deliver goods to it, I don't know of any who actually shop there. For, in spite of what it calls itself, it's not really a department store (as Coin used to be for many years, just 10 or so meters away from the Fondaco). You can't, for example, find a pair of socks there if you need one.

No, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is merely a "luxury" duty free shop (which is the specialty of the DFS corporation, and the meaning of its acronym) plopped down in the historic center of Venice, featuring the usual reduced selection of designer goods one sees in international terminals of airports around the world.

In Venice, however, this curtailed selection is rather odd, as every luxury brand on display in the Fondaco has a flagship boutique just a short walking distance away (most of them clustered together on Calle Larga XXII Marzo). So that I feel bad for those large Chinese tour groups of eager shoppers who are led by their guides into the relatively meager offerings of the Fondaco when full-sized boutiques filled with complete product lines lie hardly more than a few minutes off.

In any case, China's curb on outbound travel is expected to have a major impact of tourism-based businesses worldwide, so a duty-free-shop like the Fondaco dei Tedeschi geared toward Chinese tourists has reason to be concerned about a precipitous drop in its clientele--as does the tourism-based city of Venice itself.

Across a narrow calle from the Fondaco Tedeschi a clothing store window features vintage photos of Carnevale from the Archivio Camera Photo Epoche of Vittorio Pavan (above), which stand in ironic contrast to the masked door keepers directly opposite (see below)

Nothing says "Welcome!" like a door person wearing a black surgical mask to protect herself from a possible pandemic. (Which might be why today, February 4, I no longer saw any Fondaco staff in masks, as some had been when I took these images on the first day of this month.)


  1. Every time I've been to Venice over the past few years there seem to have been loads of Japanese / Chinese tourists wearing masks all the time.

    1. Turns out to be have been pretty good practice for what was to come!