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Aug
18

Hey! Where’d everybody go?

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While some people have been working themselves up about the mobs of tourists in Venice (tourists in Venice?  I’m shocked!  Shocked!) our little lobe of the city has quietly tiptoed away, its denizens going to the mountains, the Seychelles, Hammerfest, the Empty Quarter, anywhere but here where they can enjoy a little peace and quiet and — I hope — not to have become tourists in turn, if you take my meaning.

Between Ferragosto (August 15, as you know) and the onslaught of the Film Festival is this small sliver of time which is like a deep, peaceful breath. Even though the heat continues to enervate us, night and day —

If, for some reason, you lost your mind and decided to come to Venice in August, your main survival tool is liquids.  Lots of them, as you see.

— there is an atmosphere of restfulness along via Garibaldi which is almost like vacation in itself.  And that is because many of the shops are closed. Temporary inconvenience to the few remaining inhabitants is more than mitigated by the tranquillity, and besides, it’s not as if ALL the fruit-and-vegetable sellers are gone, and yes, there is one butcher left who can slice you some pork chops.  In any case, we now have the mastodontic Coop supermarket to take up the slack (open every day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, if you can believe it), manned by staff which does not always look happy to be helping, which I can understand even though they do have air-conditioning.

Let me take you on a brief perambulation of via Garibaldi, rejoicing in the “closed for vacation” (ferie) signs on the windows and doors.  It’s as if the supposedly avaricious and insatiable merchants had all suddenly said, “Nah, we don’t care.  We should stay here sweltering just on the chance that SOMEBODY might wander in, even by mistake?”  Because most of their regular customers are also far away.  I’m only here because I have to be, but I get to enjoy this moment and they don’t.

You’ll have to go somewhere else until August 21 to buy laundry detergent, lipstick, rubber kitchen gloves, or a bucket and mop — the everything-store is shut. You should have thought about needing that shampoo or scouring powder sooner.

Now is not the moment to be caught without underwear or dish towels or handkerchiefs. The dry-goods ladies aren’t coming back till the 28th.

No shoes, even on sale (“saldi”) until the 21st.

Anything in the optical line, from high-class sunglasses to replacing a screw to a bottle of contact-lens wetting solution is unobtainable until the 21st.  Still, he’s only taking a week.  That seems very, very short to me.  I could wait for the lens-wiping cloth a little longer.

Just as soon as you got used to the fact that this hair salon was open only in from 8:30 – 12:30 in July and August, they go and close altogether.  Still, they only took four days off, which I think is extremely strange and unreasonably short, and I, personally, would not have advised it.

But we are evidently expected to walk around with our heads wrapped in scarves because, as you see, the OTHER salon (yes, there are two) has also elected to go relax everything up to and including their hair, somewhere else.

The toys-and-school-supplies-and-paper-goods store is giving itself two weeks off. Once school starts again they’ll have more than plenty to do.  If you need an eraser or some lead for your mechanical pencil, too bad.

The butcher has put the prosciutto away, and if you’re pining to make fegato alla veneziana you’ll just have to wait. Eat some clams or some scrambled eggs meanwhile, or trek down the street to Alberto the butcher, who is hanging tough.  Better yet, have some gelato.  That’s one type of shop that couldn’t possibly close in the summer.

Well, that settles that. You absolutely cannot have any problem either with your computer or your cell phone until Gianni gets back. There is no Plan B. The mere sight of this sign makes me cower.

Want to play the lottery or buy some smokes? You’ll have to go back up the street to the other two places that will provide you with these vital services because the mother and her eccentric son in this emporium are somewhere else.  They have helpfully given two alternate shops, but I can’t understand why they didn’t list the one two minutes down from the top of via Garibaldi.  Perhaps they’re involved in a feud.  It happens.

The indefatigable Fabio at the Trattoria alla Rampa is off Work A (feeding people) but only in order to exhaust himself doing Work B, otherwise known as “maintenance.” He knows what it’s going to be like when the Film Festival starts and he’s going to be ready — to be precise, on September 3.

Some shops don’t need signs. Everybody knows this is a pastry shop, and everybody knows that pastry shops pretty much close for some time in August. The reason: Cream just doesn’t have the same appeal at room temperature as it does frozen and sitting in a cone. Everything is hard to work with in the heat, from chocolate to your business partner.

The faithful and doomed-to-be-photographed-forever fruit and vegetable boat. Massimo and Luca used to clear away all the boxes and crates when they went on vacation, and the sight of the bare deck was a strange and memorable moment in the waning summer days. But as you see, they just said the heck with it. Yes, there are two other produce sellers on the street, but I can tell you that they are nowhere near the same quality. So we soldier on…

…but not particularly encouraged by the ominous note at the bottom: “To reopen on 25 August. Maybe.”

Giorgio’s boat might as well have a sign on it because when he’s in Venice he goes out fishing virtually every single day, barring typhoons of either the meteorological or domestic type. To see the boat tied up in broad daylight is to know that the world has stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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No tourists will be pictured in this post.

Several thoughtful friends and readers sent me a link to a recent article in the New York Times, just the latest in an endless, repetitive series of articles that bewail the imminent degradation of Venice to the level of Disneyland.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/europe/venice-italy-tourist-invasion.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

Me, I have to say that this is a slur on Disneyland, where the behavior and the trash which are inescapable here would never be tolerated in Orlando or Anaheim (or Paris, I guess). I’ve often thought that running Venice like Disneyland might actually be a good thing.  But I realize that the comparison is intended to contrast something “real” (Venice) to something “phony, pretend, not real” (Disneyland).

I thought the New York Times published news, but this is not news!  It must have been a slow news day (remember those?) because they might as well have published a story revealing that water runs downhill.  This subject comes up at least once a year — it’s part of a squad of topics that are as predictable as the tide.  Motondoso is another (one or two blitzes a year, many fines, much outrage, everything goes back to the way it was), as is pickpocketing, and brawls involving assorted illegal vendors, and corrupt city councilors, and matricidal sons with histories of mental illness, and also that the city has no money.

Back to Venice as Disneyland, which is code for “daily pillaging and sacking by barbaric hordes of unspeakable tourists.”  This happens in the summer, of course, which is when tourists go on vacation, and when it’s hot an irresistible desire wells up in your tourist to soak his/her feet in the canals and also to jump off bridges. IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.

I am not excusing it, but I do want to mention a few things which are not the result of outrage fatigue (though there may be some of that).

One is that Venice is not unique, at least in this regard.  The most superficial exploration online reveals that the same imbeciles, or their cretinous relatives, go to Florence and Rome and do stupid things and damage monuments there too. I don’t know if anyone jumps off the Ponte Vecchio, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this behavior is somehow more objectionable in the Venetian setting than historic cities inland, but that makes no sense.

Clearly these tourists are not visiting irreplaceable cities with incalculable value in the history of the world.  They are on vacation and aren’t at home, their parents are nowhere to be seen and they can drink all they want to.  Even if these tourists were in Ulaanbaatar or Rancho Cucamonga, I would be willing to bet they’d be drinking and doing stupid things.  As for loutish tourists who are adults, I cannot find any excuse for them.  At all. If you don’t know that walking around half-naked and leaving your trash on windowsills is ugly, I can’t help you.

The most obvious solution would be to turn Venice into Singapore-on-the-lagoon.  Let’s place five policemen with truncheons on every corner (hm — how many corners does Venice have? That would be a research project for the next time we’re snowed in). No disrespect meant to Singapore.

But even if all those policemen were to exist, which they don’t, the city is not capable of or interested in dealing with these masses of tourists, regardless of age.  Stories written in high dudgeon come out every single year about the slobs and their antics, but by that time it’s too late.

There have occasionally been neatly dressed squads of multilingual young people — the “decorum” agents —  fanning out around the Piazza San Marco to intervene in cases of nasty and brutish behavior.  But this year they only began their work a few days ago.  We’ve already had two full months of summer and you wait till August to bring them on?  That’s kind of crazy.

There is either a short or a very long story behind the disposition of this wedding festoon, whoever did it.

My second point is that “tourists” is too general a term to be useful. Sure there are plenty of revolting ones, but I see a good number of tourists in via Garibaldi who have undoubtedly come to see the Biennale, and many of them are dressed really well.  Some of them really well.  I like them, so I guess that means they don’t count as “tourists” in the New York Times sense.  And, may I also say, I see plenty of Venetian men and boys (also girls and women, to be fair) in the summer in our zone that look and dress like they’ve just been rescued from the rubble — the same scuzzy tank tops and skeezy shorts and crappy crocs and everything else that makes those terrible tourists so objectionable.  But that’s okay because they’re Us and not Them? Just asking.

What about the tourists who do not mill around in massive droves and provide dramatic photos that make the world shudder, but who stand on the vaporetto dock smack-dab in front of the exit area, making it impossible for all the people on the boat who want to disembark to actually get off? Can we get policemen to deal with them?   Or the suddenly oblivious tourists in the supermarket who leave their just-emptied shopping trolley literally at your feet at the check-out counter?  Do they do that back home in Braunschweig or Rostov-on-Don, or is it just that old Venetian magic that makes them act like they’ve never been out of the house?  Let’s get policemen to deal with them too! My point is that if everybody who comes here wants to behave as if they’d never heard of common sense, much less minimal manners, how many policemen will we need?  And the real question, which will never be answered, is why do they act that way?

On the other hand, let’s look for a minute at the much-maligned day-trippers, who I see at 4:30 PM along the Riva degli Schivoni, huddled, sweating, exhausted, waiting to board the big launch back to wherever they came from, scrunched onto church steps in order to sit for a minute or clustered in nearby calli where they can have at least a shard of shade.  There are plenty of tourists here that I feel really sorry for, because basically the city has given them a jumbo-sized “Just suck it up!”

I act like I’ve read the article, but I just skimmed it with half-closed eyes because these articles are always sprinkled with misstatements and half-truths, and drone on about the same problems which are never resolved, thereby rendering the droning pretty much useless.  One such half- (actually quarter-) truth is found in the caption of the Times’s photo showing the young woman with the police.  It states with refreshing fervor that the feast of the Redentore is “one weekend of the year when Venetians take back their city.”  Well, not really.  Before a journalist starts patting the Venetians on the back for somehow briefly escaping the clutches of all those tourists, he or she should know that about 90 percent of the festivizers are not Venetian.

Nope, sorry.  They might be Italian, and many are from the Veneto, but they’re still tourists; some come up the lagoon from Pellestrina and Chioggia in their big fishing boats, but most of the big motorboats are carrying people from the hinterland who come down the rivers from Padova and Treviso and all around the lagoon but who are definitely not Venetians.

Furthermore, the past few years has seen a terrific increase in enormous party boats which provide the ride, dinner, and deafening disco music to hundreds of passengers.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Venetians.  Some dauntless Venetians are still willing to risk their lives in their smaller boats, with or without motors, because it’s lovely to float around for the fireworks, but they know that after the grand finale this flotilla of hundreds-of-horsepower motorboats of all sizes will head out at high speed, in the dark, driven by people who have been drinking who pretty much don’t know the area.

Excuse me for going on about this, but that photo caption needed correction. In our neighborhood, and at Sant’ Elena, many Venetians now eat the Redentore dinner at home, or on tables set up outside, then watch the fireworks from the fondamenta.  I don’t think that qualifies as “taking back” their city.  We used to love to go out in our boat, but we can’t anymore because we want to survive the night which has been taken away from us by non-Venetians.  And by the look of it, it’s never coming back. Who am I supposed to blame this time?

So people want to come to Venice? They can’t all be crazy.

 

Categories : Tourism in Venice
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Aug
02

spending money much?

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It’s probably just me, always thinking of how much everything costs and wondering about how people deal with the price of Venice.  Someone will remind me that Venice is priceless, but that’s only until the bill comes.

I used to think that to be a young person traveling around Europe in the summer meant sleeping on the beach and buying one banana (unit: each) for lunch and so forth.  And as I look at the young people swarming the streets and clogging the vaporettos, it appears that the classic plan is still pretty much in operation.

But this morning I found myself wedged into the #1 going up the Grand Canal (does everyone really swell in the heat?  And their luggage too?), next to two, or maybe it was three, young American girls.  They had their big Patagonia duffel bags cinched onto their backs, which implied “backpacker with five euros to last till school starts.”  But when I suggested to one of them to uncinch her bag and put it on the floor (so she wouldn’t be taking up space that two other people might occupy, which I didn’t say), we had an unexpected conversation.

Me: “So, are you enjoying Venice?”

She: “Oh yes, even though we just got in yesterday and we’re leaving this afternoon. We’re going to Porec (Croatia).”

“That’s nice, you’ll like it.”

“Last night we had dinner at the Marriott Hotel on that island, and today we’re having lunch at the Gritti Palace.”

Evidently their brief time in the world’s most beautiful city, etc. etc., was to be marked by comestibles and not by masterpieces by Titian.  And they weren’t using half measures, either.

Here’s the dinner menu at the “Sagra” restaurant at the J.W. Marriott on the “Isola delle Rose.”  This island is still referred to as Sacca Sessola by Venetians, and the buildings now boasting five-star everything were once occupied by people with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.  “Island of the Roses” sounds so much nicer, and so much less Venetian.

But maybe they didn’t feed the inner backpacker at “Sagra.”  Maybe they went to “Dopolavoro,” the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. https://www.jwvenice.com/assets/uploads/PDF/menu%20dopolavoro%202017%20giugno%20con%20prezzi.pdf

I didn’t ask where they had slept.  I’m assuming it wasn’t on the beach.  With bananas.

Down along the Riva dei Sette Martiri, another vision from the rich-o-sphere briefly appeared.  I’d like to say I’m hard to impress, having seen Barry Diller’s and Paul Allen’s yachts here, not to mention some of those Russian oligarchs who come here to oligarch.  But this is certainly worth at least a second look.

“Venus” is 255.91 feet/78 meters long, but, as we possibly agree, size isn’t everything.

This much we know: It was designed by Philip Starck and launched in 2012.  The man who ordered (and paid for it) died in 2011, so he never saw it, much less lolled on it.  I’ll give you a hint: He always wore black turtlenecks.

The website of Yacht Charter Fleet published this picture, even though the yacht is “not believed to be available for charter.”  So we can’t even dream about this yacht?  Is that why you’re showing it to us?

What some charter agencies seem unwilling to state is the identity of the rich person who commissioned it, though one agency says that it “is widely regarded to be Steve Jobs’ yacht.” I’m a stranger to these realms, but why would it be difficult to know this?  The current owner is Laurene Powell, Steve Jobs’ widow, though that doesn’t prove anything.  In any case, it’s too hot these days (up in the high 90’s) to begin to formulate a sermon, not even a small but perfectly formed preachment, but I will note that (A) it cost 100,000,000 euros ($118,145,000) and (B) Jobs died before it was completed.  I don’t suppose anyone ever wondered where all that iMoney they spent on iThings ever went, but now you know that at least some of it is floating around out here.

Boat: check. Friends: check. Having good time: checkity check. The only thing the people on the big yachts have got that we don’t is air conditioning. (Note: I am not this lovely sylph.  I am taking the picture.)

 

 

Categories : Boatworld
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Jun
11

The Venetian menagerie

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Ever since tourists have taken over Venice, nobody thinks much about other life forms (except maybe fish), but there have been many more creatures here than dogs and cats and the occasional canary.

And lions, of course. But most of them don’t require feeding or shots.

Last night we were sitting on a full vaporetto trundling its way from the train station toward the Lido.  We were facing forward, but some people a few rows ahead were facing backward.  I had seen them, but until Lino spoke up, I had not observed (as Sherlock Holmes would put it).

Lino:  “Did you see ‘Little Snail’?”  (I refrain from translating his nickname in Venetian; this is a small town, as I may have mentioned).

Me:  “No.”  (Short answer meaning “Mainly because I have no idea who he is.”)

Lino indicates a now completely obvious person, a man whose chronological engine seems to have stalled just after middle age, kind of like Piers Morgan.  The man is wearing a whitish baseball cap with some inscription, and a red windbreaker.  He’s alone, looking nowhere in particular.

“He used to live near me,” Lino went on.  “For a while, he had a pet mallard.  He’d put a leash on it and he’d walk around the neighborhood with it.”

If you might think this is eccentric, there used to be a man who lived near Santa Marta who kept monkeys.  His name was Ricco — “Richetto,” as a diminutive.  His house was full of smallish monkeys, macaques, whatever they were.

Sometimes he’d go out for a stroll with one of them on his shoulder.

A bonnet macaque, just to set the mood. Cute, but mainly from afar. (Photo: Shantanu Kuveskar)

“The neighbors couldn’t wait till he died.”

You can understand it — living next to the Primates Enclosure in Venice wouldn’t be a very great thing, but certainly that was back in the Dark Ages, before consumers and the environment and the health department had been invented.

“No no,” Lino said, “this went on up till the Sixties, even the Seventies.” But hey — Lino’s godmother Eugenia, who lived in the same courtyard where his family lived, kept a couple of geese in the storage room. He doesn’t know why they were there, but he does remember her force-feeding them.  This was two steps from Campo San Barnaba, not down in the Po Delta.

There may have been only two in godmother Eugenia’s storage area, but they probably looked like this to Lino.

But that’s nothing!  His cousin Carla (“who lived in the calle de l’Avogaria, you know, where the fountain is that doesn’t run anymore”) lived on the ground floor, and she had a pet rat.  Not that she kept it, it just came to visit.  “There was a hole in the wall of the bedroom, and sometimes the rat would come out, and she’d pick it up and caress it, call it nicknames…”

And speaking of rats, there was Lino’s friend who lived on the Fondamenta Bragadin, next door to the Spanish Ambassador.  The friend kept some chickens in his little courtyard, but sometimes he (the friend, not Lino or the ambassador) would come out in the morning and discover one of the chickens had been killed and sort of half-disemboweled by the rats, who wanted to get at the liver.  I used to like chicken livers too, until I heard this story about five minutes ago.

Back to the “Snail.”  Something about the name brought back a prehistoric memory of something Lino once told me.

“Isn’t he the one who used to howl like a wolf?”

“Yep.  He’d come home really drunk some nights, like at 2:00 AM, howling just like a wolf.” (Whisper: “Ah-WOOOOoooooooooooo….”)

If you might wonder what kind of work a person with that skill might do, he was a gondolier. Not a job that usually calls for howling, though I have to say it would have been cool if he’d taken his duck with him.  You know, “Take your duck to work” Day.

Lino: “But he only worked for a couple of years, then sold his license and just lived on the money ever since.  He had seven or eight brothers, he was the littlest.”

“In size, or in birth order?” (I need to understand what I’m being told.)

“Birth order.  He’s the last one left.  He’s got a nice house and everything.”

Any children?

“Nope.  Never married.”

I guess I could see that.  The wife would never know whether “Honey, I’m home” was going to be carnivorous keening or a couple of heartrending quacks.

 

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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