My name is Erla Zwingle; I am a freelance journalist, and have been writing for many different magazines on many different subjects for close to 30 years. I have no specialty, unless you consider “anything” a specialty. Basically, everything interests me. I’ve written about sports, photography, education, phenomena, people, places, and things. Primary amid all this published prose are more than 25 stories I have written for National Geographic, on topics ranging from Population to Olive Oil, Catherine the Great, Globalization, the Ogallala Aquifer, Greece, Naples, the Alps, and so on. Sometimes people call me a travel writer, but I’m not. I don’t write about travel, I travel in order to write about things which happen to be somewhere else.
I have written about Venice in “Venice — More than a Dream” (National Geographic, February 1995); “Mysterious Venice” (National Geographic/Italy, February 2007); Project â€œMOSEâ€ (Edutopia, November 2007); and the National Geographic Guidebook to Venice (2001). I was the producer of the Venetian segment of the PBS television series “Great Streets” (The Grand Canal), and I have worked as consultant and assistant to filmmaker Craig McCourry on “Tides of Change,” his one-hour documentary on Venice.
So why am I here? I came on assignment in 1994 for National Geographic to write about the Venice of the Venetians; not the artistic/historic/cultural city, but the home town, the place where — whether you like it or not — everybody really does know your name. Or the name of a close relative. And all their distressing little secrets. Then I met an amazing Venetian — Lino — and that was it for me. I have pretty much gone bush, as the British used to say of their overseas agents who took to wearing sarongs and liking the native food. I speak the Venetian dialect, I row in the Venetian way, I fish in the Venetian lagoon, then I cook it and I eat it.
This blog is intended to answer the question I’m often asked, “What is it like to live in Venice?” I’m never quite sure how to answer; it’s like asking somebody what it’s like to be a genius. It seems normal. But living here isn’t much how many people think it would be. At least not in my Venice. After 15 years here I can say that it’s more demanding and more surprising and more rewarding than even I had imagined. I also think there are people who’d like to know what it’s like here, day in and day out, in the so-called most beautiful city in the world.
The other reason for this blog is that I got tired of writing irascible letters to magazines and newspapers correcting the apparently infinite supply of careless, preposterous and spectacularly wrong things that they keep publishing about Venice. So I’ll be cranky here instead, and trust that the word gets out. Being cranky is very Venetian; complaint is the default mode of conversation, whether the subject is something trivial and transitory or huge and hugely important. Being cranky doesn’t make you wrong, of course. And let’s fact it, there wouldn’t be any reason to comment at all if the place didn’t deserve serious, intelligent, kind of hopeless devotion.
Being here is not for the faint of heart or spavined of limb, but Venice gives back more than you could ever take away. Just keep in mind that whatever I write, however much it may strain credulity, will be true. You know how they say everything happens for a reason? I’m not too sure that everything here does. But I know I could never make this stuff up.
The sign says: “It is forbidden to leave or dump rubbish here.”