I like to call them “Venetian moments” — those instants of recognition, typically when you run into somebody you only met yesterday, in some unexpected place.
Today we experienced a tiny but less blithesome Venetian moment. Its Venetianness was based on money.
Experience, and occasional articles in the newspaper, have shown that there are sometimes two price scales here: one for tourists (high) and one for Venetians (low. Or less high, anyway).
We haven’t had much experience with this, except for one strange moment on the Lido some years back. I wasn’t there, but I can picture it. Lino was with someone he has now forgotten, and they stopped in a slightly fancy bar/cafe on the main street to have a spritz. After they’d drained their glasses, Lino, on a sprightly impulse, said to the barista in English, “How much?”
The little cash-register receipt was produced and Lino glanced at the total. “What’s all this?” he asked the barista. “You charged me double the price for a spritz? I’m Venetian!”
To which the hapless young man responded, “Well, you could have told me you were Venetian.”
But an even stranger moment occurred today.
We were walking toward the Piazza San Marco around 9:30 this morning. Lino was thirsty, so we stopped in a bar/cafe on a corner. For the record, it’s called Snack Bar da Piero. (Sounds like a TripAdvisor warning.)
There was no one in the bar except for the dark-haired young woman behind the counter. Lino said, “May I have a glass of water with bubbles?” Sounds better in Italian: frizzante.
She pulled out one of those little half-liter bottles of water, opened it, and poured half of it into a glass. “That’ll be one euro,” she said.
Lino and I stared at each other, and at her.
“One euro, for that glass of water?” Lino asked? (Note: I would have expected 50 euro-cents.)
“What? We’re not Americans!” Translation: Do you think we’re rich and dumb?
“No,” she replied. “I give the Americans the whole bottle.”
Lino said, “Excuse me? You charge the Americans one euro for the whole bottle, but you’re charging me one euro for half a bottle?”
She just looked at him.
“You can keep the water,” he said, and turned to leave.
“Suit yourself,” was her answer, or some equivalent thereof.
So we walked out, leaving her with an open bottle and full glass which — one can hope — she won’t be able to sell to anyone else.
Lino was a mixture of stunned, offended, and just plain mad. I could hear another nail being driven into the proverbial Venetian coffin, the coffin which contains the few precious fragments of genuine Venetian-ness blown there by the winds of avarice across the vast Kalahari desert which is touristic Venice.
We walked over the next bridge into the Piazza San Marco. At the corner was a small gelateria, and an older gentleman — clearly the owner — was standing just outside it. Lino said to him, “Could I have a glass of tap water? I need to take a pill.”
The man said, “Sure thing.”
I asked Lino, “Was he Venetian?”
“And the girl?”
I can’t explain it, I can only describe it. But by the way, a euro for a half-liter bottle is still too much, no matter who’s paying. I can get six of them in the supermarket for 1.20.