Archive for Tourism in Venice

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.

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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O Audrey, where art thou?

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I want everyone to stop for a moment and think of Audrey Hepburn.  Yes, one of the most divine women ever to set foot on earth.  Just writing her name is like inhaling a waft of moonflowers and heliotrope from the Isles of the Blest.

Now I want you to imagine her — just for a second, because this hurts — becoming old, neglected, and feeble.  Not demented, just left to deteriorate at random.  You know: The soup stain on the blouse, the dirty hair, the shuffly slippers instead of shoes, the drooping slip, the general all-purpose “Just don’t care anymore, can’t be bothered, nothing matters anyway.  What pile of unopened bills on the kitchen floor?  What half-eaten cans of tuna in the laundry basket? A mouse in the refrigerator?  Is it alive?”

Now I want you to stop for a moment and think of Venice.

Now put the two pictures together.  Not good.  Not good at all.

I hinted in my last post at a certain laissez-faire atmosphere which has taken over what I still am determined to consider the Audrey Hepburn of cities.  Over the years, signs of distressing degradation have been noticed, and even reported to the authorities — each sign existing in its own little capsule in the municipal consciousness, just as each sign of personal neglect can be passed over by benevolent or apathetic eyes.  Each, of course, explained or excused because no ghe xe schei.

Then suddenly the total of them all reveals itself as appalling.

Welcome to the most beautiful city in the world.  Enjoy your day.  (Photo: Gazzettino).

Most beautiful city in the world, the pool at the community center, your cousin’s back yard — what’s the difference?  (Photo: Gazzettino).

This revelation seems to have hit a lot of people lately, if the Gazzettino is anything to go by.  And yes, great lamentations continue to rise from the Venetians concerning the tourists.  But if tourists are the perpetrators, the municipal non-authorities are the enablers.

First, the tourists.  When I use the word, I’m not referring to their quantity, which is distressing though not difficult to understand, but their quality, which utterly bewilders me.

Yes, of course there are millions of wonderful tourists here all the time.  And I don’t want to get into an arm-wrestling match over percentages, or what constitutes “quality tourism,” or the God-given universal human right to come to Venice whenever you want.

But I have to say that I do not perceive a human right to come to Venice to DO whatever you want.

I still do not understand this.  Do you just lie down in front of the church in your own town?  Do the tourists imagine they're invisible, or do they imagine all the people around them are invisible?  I must ask one someday.

I still do not understand this. Do you just lie down in front of the church in your own town? Do the tourists imagine they’re invisible, or do they imagine all the people around them are invisible? I must ask one someday.

Every few days some novel behavior appears which the star of the story inexplicably considers just fine, behavior which in their own city is probably regarded as offensive and possibly also illegal.  Here the same behavior is also regarded as offensive, and is often illegal, and yet Venice, especially in the summer, and especially this summer, seems to attract a type of tourist who thinks that former Queen of the Seas is more fun than the locally-much-reviled Disneyland, although the comparison isn’t very useful considering that the Magic Kingdom is more strictly run than your average penitentiary.  I mean that as a compliment.

Graffiti-sprayers and sun-bathers in the Piazza San Marco are no longer any special big deal, repulsive as they are.  But this year has kicked it all up a notch.  There was the Indian family which hunkered down in the Piazza San Marco to cook lunch on a camp stove. The man who decided to beat the heat by stripping down to his underwear, blithely wandering the streets in his Jockey shorts, or the European equivalent thereof.

A young couple, all tuckered out, who spread their towels on the street in a nice patch of shade and lay down to sleep.  A man who decided to scale the Doge’s Palace, demonstrating a free-climbing skill that would have been admirable if he hadn’t been clinging to pieces of marble and statues hundreds of years old.

A tightrope walker who strung his cord between two lampposts along the Zattere.  Carnal knowledge on the Scalzi bridge.

Do these people think that it’s Carnival here all year?  Did they come all the way to Venice just to do this, or are they merely responding to some sudden impulse?  Or do they intuit, by some imperceptible herd sensitivity, that Venice has become something like homeroom with no teacher, all the time?

Nature calls, and hears no echo in the reptilian-complex area of their brains where dwells some primitive memory of  childhood instruction.  (Corriere del Veneto)

Nature calls, and hears no echo in the reptilian-complex area of their brains where dwells some primitive memory of childhood instruction. (Corriere del Veneto)

Now comes the latest: Two male visitors in the Piazza San Marco whose bursting bladders brooked no delay.  So they relieved themselves into a garbage can.  As in many of the above-noted cases, it was broad daylight.

Much of this revolting behavior is something you’d expect — or not be surprised — to see on the Bowery, Skid Row, the Tenderloin, or whatever is the current term for the devastated section of your city.

But this is not them.  Nor is it — despite the sun and water and boats — Panama City Beach on Spring Break.

This is a three-square-mile World Heritage Site.  It’s more like the Louvre, with sun and water and boats.

So if whatever you’re about to do would be disgusting or ridiculous or rude in the Louvre — or even in Horse Hoof, Kansas, or especially in the much-maligned Disneyland — it would be likewise here.

Maybe Venice isn't a city.  Maybe it's some hydroponic social-experiment where the Id is king.  This romantic interlude is on the Scalzi bridge, by the railway station, a place I'd never have associated with overwhelming "From Here to Eternity"urges. (Corriere del Veneto)

Maybe Venice isn’t a city. Maybe it’s some hydroponic social experiment where the Id is king. This romantic interlude is on the Scalzi bridge, by the railway station, a place I’d never have associated with overwhelming “From Here to Eternity” urges. (Corriere del Veneto)

So much for the tourists.

Yet, as the always perceptive Davide Scalzotto noted in a brief essay in the Gazzettino, if the city has begun to look like a slum (I paraphrase), people will act as if it’s a slum.  I believe there are important studies which support this statement.  I won’t start a list here of the dreadful deterioration to be seen just about anywhere because it’s too depressing and also because it would make anybody want to scream.

Hardly any money has been spent over the past decade or more on maintenance, let alone improvement, and now we know why.  It’s because the city fathers were pulling out the money for MOSE through virtual pneumatic tubes for their own purposes.  And the state funds that come via the Special Law for Venice, which was instituted in 1973 specifically to finance measures to protect the city and its environment, are always too little, and too late.

Are there police?  Of course, but not nearly enough.  Are there laws?  Of course, but probably too many.  Considering that it’s impossible to enforce them all, they get enforced on an as-needed basis.  No wonder the once Most Serene Republic has come to resemble Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

But let’s say somebody gets arrested — it does happen, though it isn’t always, or even usually, a tourist.  Not long ago, we read about a crippled beggar well-known around the crowded streets of Venice and the beaches of Jesolo, just across the lagoon.  Hold your sympathy.  The story had to do with the fact that at quittin’ time the homeless, 47-year-old Romanian straightened up, brushed himself off, and briskly walked toward wherever he was going that night. When an angry citizen’s photograph was published — the lame walk?  The blind see?  Is it, in fact, a miracle? — the beggar was hauled in and charged with…. what?  Offending public decency?  Exploiting the public’s natural compassion?  Faking it?  What crime, exactly, had he committed?

None.  The judge ruled that it is not against the law to beg, even if in the process you callously counterfeit a pitiful condition to earn lucrative sympathy.  The mendicant paid an administrative fine, and the judge gave him his cane back.

So: There is no law that forbids a person to present himself as something he is not.  I guess I already knew that. We had a mayor who presented himself as honest, but he was not.  He was sentenced to four months of house arrest, but his crime wasn’t having pretended to be honest, but for having taken bribes.  Ergo, why should somebody be punished for pretending to be a cripple, staggering along, doubled over, supported only by his trembling cane?

So we could all start faking it and still be fine.  I know people who pretend to be intelligent, or caring, or lots of things they’re not.  I could walk around pretending I was Elaine Stritch and I’d never be arrested, at least not until I started belting out “I’m Still Here” on the street.

Here is the YouTube link:

I started with Audrey and I’ve ended up with Elaine.  My God: It’s the story of Venice in two names.  Maybe “I’m Still Here” ought to be the new national anthem of Venice.

Except that it shouldn’t have to.

My next post, barring some unforeseen calamity, will take us back to happier topics.  I’ve had more than I can take of all this tsuris.


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How not to get gondoliered

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It pains me to write this, but I hope that doing so will serve some useful purpose.

Gondoliers are arguably the symbol of Venice, and as such could be expected to evince a sense of the importance of same.  That’s just my opinion.

What is not opinion, but fact, is that they are independent, masters of their own boats, lords of their lives, and — yes — of their money.  I mean, of your money.

I know a good number of gondoliers and can attest that many are fine, professional people and first-rate ambassadors for their amazing city.  Among other things, they’re often the first to fish tourists out of the canals when the said tourists have misjudged the slipperiness of the algae on that stone step, or to have miscalculated other maneuvers.

You can see the required card impaled by the small flag on the prow. Seeing does not mean reading.

Then there are the others. There are some that easily inspire apprehension, who resemble inmates out on a work-release program, with boats to match.  But don’t be distracted by the externals, because how a gondolier behaves depends on many and easily shifting factors apart from his housekeeping and personal care, and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle when the shifting is going on.

I wouldn’t bring it up at all, but there has been a recent situation here, amply reported in the Gazzettino, in which a gondolier charged a Russian couple 400 euros ($496) for a spin in his gondola that took less than an hour.  You could probably justify that price if you included a bottle of the Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck champagne poured into Baccarat flutes while the gondolier rowed you to Trieste singing the “Improvviso” from Andrea Chenier.

Then again, he could skip all that and just ask for the dough.  Which he did.

As you see by the rates standardized by the Ente Gondola, the gondoliers’ sort-of governing body, he should have asked 80 euros, or 100 euros, depending on the time of day.

But no.

People tend to be intimidated by gondoliers.  People need to get past that.  The Ente Gondola has tried to help, by insisting that the gondoliers exhibit the price scale.  Most gondoliers have done so, by attaching a piece of plastificated paper 5 1/2 inches square to the prow of their boat — a place a potential passenger isn’t likely to approach, even if armed with the necessary magnifying glass to read the type.

This card measures 5 1/2 inches square.

And it’s printed on both sides, so you’d have to turn it over to get the complete information.

Let’s move on to the happy ending: The Russian couple registered a complaint and got their money back, with a promise from the Ente Gondola of a free ride next time.  To which I’m pretty sure they replied “There’s not going to be a next time.”  It doesn’t sound better in Russian.

So here’s the simplest solution.  Let’s say that you and a gondolier have begun to converse.   Whether you approached him or vice versa, you’re talking about money.

He mentions a figure that doesn’t sound like what is printed on the Ente Gondola’s site.  So you say, “Would you please show me the rates printed on the card on your gondola?”

If he doesn’t have the card on his gondola, you move on.  If he has it but can’t explain why the rate he quoted you doesn’t match what’s printed, you move on. No need for complicated discussions or heated words.  It’s a big world, and there will always be another gondolier.


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Sensing Venice: Space

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Out in the lagoon, there's plenty of room to go around. On land, the situation changes.

Some time ago I embarked on a series of what were going to be five posts, each dedicated to one of the classic senses, and how I indulge them here.

I haven’t yet shared my thoughts on the remaining two (sight and touch) and I’ll be putting that off for a little while longer.

What has pushed ahead of them in line are few non-traditional senses which have inordinate importance here.  If you awaken these senses, the benefits ought to be many, such as helping to increase your enjoyment of Venice and, at the same time, minimize your impressive ability to spoil it for others.

By “you” I originally meant “tourists,” and much of what I’m going to say is, in fact, aimed at people who are just passing through.  But I have to say that Venetians themselves can be astonishingly oblivious to the world around them. I just want you to know that I recognize that, in case anyone is tempted to retort “Well what about them?”  Fine: They’re guilty too.  But this is their city, and their country, too.

So today I present the sense of space.  There isn’t much of it here.  The city covers only about two square miles, and I estimate that 97 percent of that area is occupied by buildings or water. So you can see how tricky it’s going to be to fit everybody, particularly 20 million tourists or so, into a town not much bigger than New York’s 41st Precinct.

And it’s not useful to imagine there’s any difference between “public” and “personal” space.  All the space here is personal.  I mean public.

This street, Ruga Giuffa, is actually something like a major artery. The value of not taking more than your share of space is easy to see here.

Venice has always been crowded — in fact, it was once almost three times more populous than it is now. But that didn’t particularly  bother anyone, if the songs are to be believed.

There are many which praise some aspect of the city’s beauty or the beauty of life here.  I’m not aware of a modern song praising Venice.  (I do not regard “Ciao Venezia” as a song, even if it is transmitted by human vocal cords.) Maybe I should try to write one.

Anyway, one particular Venetian song (which naturally sounds better in Venetian) contains this refrain: “Long live this great immensity/only Venice is beautiful/only our city.”

“Great immensity”?  Besides being redundant, it seems crazy.  This is a city that’s all twisted up in lots of skinny little streets and random knotty open spaces swarming with people pushing children in strollers, dragging overloaded shopping trolleys, brandishing large open umbrellas, or merely groups standing stock still at the exact point where there is no room to get around them.

The “immensity” praised in the song about Venice refers, I believe, to its environment: the lagoon.  Anyone who has ever gone out in a boat even a quarter mile from the city realizes that this extraordinary city is floating in the center of a vast amount of water and sky.

My experience, and — I deduce — that of countless Venetians who have come before, shows that the lagoon is not only the matrix of the city but the only known antidote to its compression.

A not unusual sight on the biggest vaporetto there is, the #1 local going down the Grand Canal. Theoretically, the correct thing would have been to have made a pile of his baggage in the outside area and stayed with it. What the picture doesn't show is that he or his things are occupying all three seats, and the aisle.

But even if your only chance to feel this spaciousness is from a vaporetto (which will be crowded….), I hope you will somehow feel the enchantment and, yes, immensity of the city’s surroundings.

In any case, you’ll have to go ashore eventually, which is where your sense of space is going to have to get to work.  Because your awareness of where you are, and what you do there, is going to have a really important effect not only on how you feel about Venice, but how everybody around you — especially any Venetians, if you care — feels about it too.

I respectfully recall to your attention the fact that Venice, small as it may be, at its apex was both the home and the workplace of almost 200,000 residents, not to mention an uncounted number of visitors, here on either business or pleasure or even displeasure. Among other things, Venice was a major port for pilgrims headed from Europe to the Holy Land. They could have been here as long as a month, waiting to find a berth on a ship (no reservations, obviously). This was much longer than the average modern tourist’s visit, and there were periods in which there were 50 ships leaving in a single month, or roughly two a day. (Not made up.) Which adds up to a fairly crushing quantity of people.

Furthermore, if you think the city is crowded now, spare a thought for the old days, when everyone who had a choice lived as much of their lives outdoors as they could. Except for sleeping and eating, families (which were numerous) spent most of their day out in the courtyard or the street, or somewhere other than home, where there also was no space.

This lady decided that her carryon bag would be more comfortable on the floor in front of the central seat rather than in the aisle. You want to sit there? Good luck with that.

And then there was the cargo: Vast amounts of often really space-intensive items being offloaded and transported from A to B.  Bricks.  Blocks of marble. Lumber.  Bales of wool. Imagine yourself walking down a street behind three people who are carrying enormous wicker backpacks loaded with coal. So it’s always been pretty cramped here.

Nevertheless, today we have all sorts of modern ideas about comfort and manners which make Venice demanding in an equally intense way.

Having said all that, I’d like to offer a few fundamental suggestions as to how to minimize the crampage. If you accept them, you have a chance at making life more pleasant for you and certainly for everyone around you. If you don’t really care — and there seems to be an abundance of visitors in this category — then you may fire when you are ready, Gridley.

Equal time here for Venetian transgressions: The woman on the right has claimed the space (single seat and open area) intended for people in wheelchairs with a friend. Since her trolley needs all that space, the tourist in the wheelchair has to sit half-out in the aisle.

There are three situations in which you have no choice but to share space outdoors: Walking, standing, and sitting.

Walking: To keep everybody, including you, moving in even some semblance of progress, try to imagine that you’re driving your car.  The same general rules apply here when you’re walking.

If you’re moving slowly, keep to the side.  Do not make sudden stops.  Do not make sudden turns.  Do not stop in the middle of the street and just stand there. Check your rear-view mirror often, because it’s very likely somebody is coming up behind you intending to pass you. In which case, move aside and let them. You’d be astonished at how many people do not do any of those things.

Forget the car metaphor and keep in mind that you are living in three dimensions.  Fingers: Tempting as it may be, try to avoid suddenly pointing at something, no matter how surprising or beautiful  it is; for some reason, a person pointing is often indicating something dangerously close to eye level. Elbows: If you stand somewhere with your hands on your hips, you’ve just taken space away from the persons on your elbow side for no clearly necessary reason.

If somebody wants to get past you, they will most likely start with a polite “Permesso.”  (Or “con permesso.”)  Venetians may say this as many as three times; if there’s no reaction, they push. The international language. If it happens to you, there was a reason.

Standing: If there appear to be too many people, you can be sure there will be far too much of their stuff.  If you need to stop to check your map or hold an unscheduled meeting of the family committee, make an effort to put your boxcar-load of baggage somewhere out of the way.  Slalom races are fun if you’re aiming for a medal in the World Cup, but not for somebody trying to get somewhere that’s important to him, like his accountant or home to his kid who’s running a fever.

This curious construction behind the wheelhouse is, in fact, an excellent place to stash your baggage. Just so you know.

On the vaporetto, try to organize your bags in as little space as possible.  A person (for example, me) shouldn’t have to explain that  you could put your smaller bag on top of your larger bag, instead of next to it.  I mean, when you think about it.

If you’re carrying anything larger than an empty messenger bag, handle it with the awareness that wherever you put it, it’s taking precious square inches away from somebody else. I know it’s really hard to haul all that baggage down cramped streets and over bridges and so on. I know that there is little or no space on the vaporettos for anything larger than you, and often not even that. But the fact that many people devote more attention and concern to their steamer trunks or Himalayan-expedition backpacks than they do to their fellow passengers is something that baffles, and can often irritate, any nearby Venetians, especially if they’re trying to get past you (see: “slalom,” above).

What to do?

First: Minimize the space you occupy.  For example: Do not put your suitcases/duffel bags/backpacks on the seat next to you.  Seem obvious? Apparently it isn’t.  “Hey! Empty space!  It’s mine!”  Actually, it’s not!

For a while, these signs were up on many of the vaporettos. As Einstein said, Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Judging by the public response (which was nil), this design is so simple that almost nobody understood, it.

Second: Take off your backpack.  They’ve even made it a rule on the vaporettos, but the simple sense of this little act continues to elude nine and a half out of every ten people. If it’s on your back, take it off.  Even a daypack is a huge nuisance to everyone around you.  You may think it’s part of you, but the only person who wouldn’t annoy their fellow passengers with something protruding from his or her spine would be the hunchback of Notre Dame.  If you can take it off, do so immediately and put it at your feet. Or in a corner. Or maybe don’t even bring it.  How far could it be to the next oasis?

Third: Get out of the way.  Every day, oblivious people stand right where everybody else needs to pass.  On the street, on the vaporetto, wherever.  On the vaporetto dock — particularly, for some reason, at the Accademia stop — masses of eager people who want to get on fill the entire area needed for the arriving passengers to get off. If there is an explanation for this, it will have to come from the realm of astronomy, where matter retains all sorts of contradictory characteristics.  Here, though, matter occupies space.

Then there are people who find a spot that works for them and just……you know…..stand there….as if nobody else existed. They block doorways, they block aisles.  It’s not as if their kid is having an asthma attack and nothing else matters. They just stand there.  Even the fact that you have to contort yourself to get past them doesn’t make any impression whatever. That’s where they are, just deal with it, Maude. I have never understood what attracts people to standing in the vaporetto doorway.  Go out, or stay in.  Why are you trying to do both?  Are you not able to decide where you want to be?

Then there are all those time when you must force your way onto a vaporetto because it’s crammed with people in the open middle space where boarding and exiting takes place, while the interior of the boat is almost empty.  I realize that visitors want to be outside where they can look around and take pictures.  If you’re determined to stay outside, please do everything in your power not to block the only area available for getting on and off.

I cannot grasp the idea here: We'll just sit here blocking the street right near a corner. No one else exists.

Sitting: People between the ages of 12 and 18 seem to have decided that the floor is their tribal territory.  Sitting or sprawling in groups on the ground anywhere that appeals to them is not merely the best thing ever, it has become something like a right.  I’ve seen teenagers literally lying on the ground where lots of people need to walk. One memorable pair of girls (American) was stretched out across the wooden dock in front of the ramp leading to the vaporetto dock. Hundreds of people needed to walk there. (See: “slalom,” above).

It all seems so obvious.

But wait! — I hear you cry — what about all those rude Venetians who do all those rude things (except for sitting on the ground), as if WE didn’t exist?

I know.  I know they’re there, and I know they do those things, and they don’t have any more of a good excuse than anyone else.

I know theyalso position themselves in the exit area of the vaporetto dock so that they can get on the vaporetto first.

I know they somehow manage to slither past you to claim that minuscule empty spot in front of you. You might feel that they’re jumping a queue, but they don’t see a queue.  I have finally concluded that a person who does this has decided that since you’re not occupying that space, that means you’ve relinquished it and it’s available to anybody who wants it.  Now I actually do it myself because it makes sense to me — seeing how little space there is around.

So what solution is there to the problem of trying to put 100X of people and things into just 1Y of space?

Be aware.  Be courteous. Create as few problems for other people and you will simultaneously be creating fewer problems for yourself.

That’s the only possible solution.

Just like on the highway.

There's not an abundance of space in the canals, either, and parking your boats like this is guaranteed to cause problems. No tourists are guilty of creating this situation, I just wanted to show another way in which ignoring other people can make life challenging. It annoys me, not because I need to pass through the eye of the needle here, but because I simply can't grasp the concept at work. .

To drive a barge here you need a Ph.D in geometry, and a tote bag full of tranquilizers. And the tide chart, too.

Or you can just go back out into the lagoon, where you can breathe.


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