Giro d’Italia takes Lido hostage, part one


I don’t follow bicycle racing that much (polite way of saying “at all”) but I do know that there is a hugely important annual Italian event which corresponds roughly to the Tour de France: The Giro d’Italia.   It has to start somewhere, and this year, its centennial, it will start on the Lido of Venice.

 The oddness of that fact may not strike you immediately, but I have no doubt that it was a major PR coup for Venice, even though I’m not clear on exactly what the benefits might be.   But never mind.   Perhaps the TV stations covering it are paying for the privilege.  

(The view from Venice: The long dark strip  on the horizon is  the  Lido.)

 Why is it odd?   Because you can’t get anywhere from the Lido.   Your choices are to go forward till you hit water, then turn around and go forward till you hit water.   However, it does have the advantage of being very flat.   Also, to be fair, one could hardly be expected to race around Venice itself, and Mestre would be just as weird.   And Venice, as the Most Beautiful Stage Set in the World, inevitably lends itself to big events which want to benefit in some way from the backdrop.  

So how is this supposed to work?   The racers will be divided into squads, and they  will do a team time trial  by the chronometer.   Then they’ll eat and drink and get their vitamin injections and take the ferry and leave the Lido and pick up the race the next day on the mainland, where the terrain has some verticality and they can really get their teeth into each other.

(The Lido is the long narrow island on the right.   Detail from the EuroCart map LAGUNA VENETA, Studio F.M.B. Bologna.)

The city has been working dangerously hard to get the island spruced up and ready for the onslaught.   The positive side:   Banks of flowers have been installed (usually when plants are put out to beautify a public event, such as the film festival, people begin to  liberate them.   We’ll see how long these last).   Even better,  every bump, pothole, crack, fissure, bubble, or other anomaly in the road pavement for the 20.8 km (12.7 miles) course has been filled, smoothed, buffed.   The residents are thrilled about that.

 The downside: The Lido is being taken hostage by this event.   Residents have long since been notified that they are forbidden to use their cars tomorrow.   Period.   (This would be obvious, but it needs to be stated because there aren’t so many roads on  the Lido which would offer other options to residents wanting to drive half a mile to do something.)   Not being able to drive anywhere means that life will have completely stopped.   Forced to take the bus?    There will be no bus service.   No taxis.   No vehicles.   This is officially from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with some inconvenience tacked on at each end.   For the Lido People it will suddenly be like they’re living in Brigadoon, for the 99 years and 364 days it’s invisible.

Anyone who needs to go somewhere on the Lido (Lino and me, say, if we were to want to go rowing that afternoon) tomorrow will have the option of once-hourly boat service which will make several stops along the lagoon shoreline.   At which point you debark  and walk inland — presuming they let you cross the road.

Well, it won’t kill me not to go to the Lido one day.   Au contraire.   But it’s the drama of the logistics that has overwhelmed the world- and life-view of the Lido People.    Whereas citizens of other towns experiencing world-class events (Monaco comes to mind) might feel a kind of excitement and even pride, people on the Lido are thinking only of how hard life is going to be tomorrow.   They are among the most provincial, isolated people I’ve ever known, and about the only thing that has any reality for them is their own little island life.   (I exclude shopkeepers, who I imagine are hoping for some kind of windfall from the tornado passing through.)  

I would love to have the chance to announce that Jesus is coming back tomorrow and He’s starting on the Lido, just to hear what the Lido People would say.   It would either be “Will Billa [the supermarket]  still stay open till 8:00?” or “So, does that mean that the vaporetto will follow the Sunday timetable?”  

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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