Thursday, June 13, 2013

Impressions of Venice

I’ve been here four times in the last fifteen years, and I’ve gathered some impression that I’d like to share.

Venice is a grand, albeit aging, city unlike any other in the world. No cars, fabulous cathedrals, boats traveling the canals, church bells ringing to mark the passing of time, and some of the most wonderful restaurants in Italy. It is exciting, lush, picturesque and unique.

The down side is that it is crawling with tourists, many of which have made rude an art form. Much of this incredible city has lost its charm because it is overrun with hoards of sightseers, and the locals have cheapened the city by selling crap everywhere you look. Of course, the epicenter of tourism is Piazza San Marco and the area around the Rialto Bridge. It doesn’t, however, take much walking to get away from these tourist traps and find a charming neighborhood with a quaint piazza that boasts a few sidewalk cafes. The further you travel from San Marco, the more lovely this city becomes.

I’ve seen a dozen churches and cathedrals in the last few days. Their grandeur is second to none.  They are dripping in opulence, to the point of being obscene.  The Catholic Church has wrapped its riches around itself like a dazzling cloak, making it clear that the thing Christians worship most is wealth. That’s what draws the ‘faithful’ into the churches, to get their piece of the golden pie.

Speaking for myself, while in Venice, I find that I spend an inordinate amount of time eating. Meals can last three hours—which is partly due to slow service and mostly to do with nothing here is rushed, especially eating. I see a lot of tourists wolfing down pizza, but the seafood and pasta are the best dishes by far. I don’t see how the locals can stay so slim. I’m gaining pounds by the day.

Venice is sinking, and can’t last forever, but she is still a wondrous old gal, always ready to surprise and delight. 

1 comment:

Kaka'ako Mike said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for sharing the pictures and your observations on Venice, a city the writer Evelyn Waugh described as "the greatest surviving work of art in the world."

My visits to Venice number three over the last 40+ years. I'm always drawn back. However, like you, I've seen the distressing changes that the crush of modern tourism has wrought on Venice. Of course, the major Venetian property owners and politicians have been more than willing to facilitate the process that brings the city to its current state.

What's happening in Venice is a major focus of a book I recently read: "Overbooked" by Elizabeth Becker. Major problems she describes: the sheer volume of tourists brought in by the huge cruise ships, the pollution emitted by those docked ships, and their wake undermining the city's very foundations; and the exploding property values that are forcing out the neighborhood businesses (green grocers, bakeries, butchers, etc.) that serve the declining number of residents (now are 60,00, down form a peak of about 160,000). Imagine the toll of 20+ million tourists per year on a community of 60,000.

Of course, all these are just numbers, but repeat visitors I've spoken with remark on the way Venice is now simply overwhelmed by the its very lifeblood, tourism. I'm afraid that Venice as a normal city where people make their lives will die long before it will sink into the sea.

As I reflected on your comment about the wealth on display in Venice's churches it occurred to me that all the major religions of the world use the marketing strategy of wowing the unwitting with their gold/art/jewels while claiming to have the knowledge or means to spare them from eternal damnation or repetitive cycles of suffering, and so forth --an historically irresistible one-two punch. I believe the tide is turning against the cynical peddlers of religion, but progress plots an uneven course and much suffering lies ahead at their hands.

We may not always have Venice, but we'll always have her memories.