Archive for Indro Montanelli

Aug
15

The more things change….

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The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

People sometimes ask me — or ask themselves, standing next to me — why the government of Venice doesn’t do one thing or the other to resolve the city’s problems, which are right out there for everybody to see.  It seems impossible that nobody has come up with any ideas for what to do to make it cleaner, safer, more efficient (well, that might be a reach) — or just generally spiffed up and functioning.  How can it be that no long-term solution is found for something — anything?

If we were to take the proverbial legal tablet and write the proverbial two comparative lists, one would be titled “Problems” (it would be a very long list), and the other “Solutions” (which would also be long).  But there are almost no points at which they recognize each other and embrace, like twins separated at birth.

But guess what I just found out?  People were raising red flags, launching the lifeboats, pulling out handfuls of hair in 1970 about the very same problems everyone complains about today.  That’s 43 years of standing in one place.  If I were a city, I’d be tired by now.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice -- not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times -- being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there's a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I'm definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn't pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down.  You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it.  Except that you don't.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice — not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times — being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there’s a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I’m definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn’t pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down. You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it. Except that you don’t.

As I have long suspected, it’s not ideas that are missing here.  (I mean, constructive, forward-looking, beneficial-to-everybody ideas).  It’s execution.

Tides of ideas flow through Venice from all sides, but like the lagoon tide, they go out again.  Most of them.  To return again.  Most of them.  Some of them begin to be realized, then they stop.  Then they start again. You get the idea. (Sorry.)

Here are some of the most telling bits from a big article in the Gazzettino last Sunday, written by Pier Alvise Zorzi. It might be useful to know that the Zorzi family is documented to have been in Venice since 964 A.D.  That doesn’t mean he knows more than anyone else, I’m just saying he’s not the latest person to see the fireworks of the Redentore and decide to stay here forever.

Mr. Zorzi reports that back in April, 1970, veteran journalist Indro Montanelli dedicated virtually the entire month to articles about Venice and its problems — its particularity, its fragility, the housing depression, the political bungling, and so on.

“THE ILLS OF VENICE? THE SAME WERE REPORTED BY INDRO 43 YEARS AGO.  From depopulation to the risk of the touristic monoculture, from the sublagunare project to the problems of housing.”

“I have in hand a page from the Corriere della Sera (April 23, 1970) with the headline: ‘The Youth Front for Venice,’ with the subtitle “On the lagoon one breathes the air of the Titanic — the discouragement which by now pervades the Venetians is the main danger to face – to break this passivity a movement of young people has arisen without any political label ready to support at the next elections anybody who defends Venice.”

Under some emblematic photographs are these succinct quotes from 1970, which read like telegraph messages from the front lines.  It’s deja vu again, and again, and again.

“Tourism: The city can’t live only on hotels and restaurants.”

“Housing:  Too many uninhabited palaces and the cost of rent is through the roof (as they say here, “to the stars”).”

“Dignity: Enough of sterile complaints: each person needs to get involved.”

He continues:  “A young person who was interviewed complained of the progressive abandonment of the city…the problem of housing, which is not only decrepit but at much higher rents than on the mainland…And the culminating point, ‘We don’t intend to raise tourism to the level of a monoculture. A city like Venice can’t live only on hotels, trattorias, tips.  It will become degraded.'”

And the solutions these young people suggest are also, by now, hoary and draped with cobwebs: More artisans, for example, or linking highly specialized institutions to the world of production and cultural foundations in Europe and America.

The Front eventually fell apart, but the old problems are still here, and have been joined by some new ones: “The ‘hole’ of the Lido (endless construction projects that are badly conceived, worse realized, mercilessly expensive); the ghost of corruption on the MOSE project (more about this in another post), the mega-billboards which continue in spite of new ministerial regulations.”

But wait -- I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight -- you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water.  But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you've been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again.  Is that enough "again"s to make my point?

But wait — I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight — you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water. But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you’ve been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again. Is that enough “again”s to make my point?

Zorzi acknowledges a few positive signs lately, small and tentative though they may be.  But the essential character of the situation is not only unchanged, but maybe even unchangeable. “The problem,” he says, and so do lots of people here, “is that everyone who is able to make the decisions is so tied up in the webs of common interests, either political or economic (but aren’t they the same?) that they move only with extreme, sticky slowness.

“The risk? That 40 years from now we’ll still be right there, at the same spot. I don’t want my grandchildren still to be reading, for example, about the Calatrava bridge, that economic abyss … or the suspected speculation on the renovation of the Manin barracks.  Or the hospital. Or the eternal MOSE. Or all the usual things which the national newspapers don’t bother with anymore because everybody’s fed up with Venice’s constant whining.

“I want Venice to have the dignity to save herself on her own, thanks to the citizens which consider her not as something to exploit, but something to invest in.  I want the Venetians to denounce the little local mafias, instead of trying to join them in order to gain something for themselves.  I want the multinationals who buy the palaces to invest in the city and not merely in their own image.  I want that each person, even in their own little way, should do something to safeguard our special character. If I were to live for a hundred years, I’d like to read something new about Venice.”

You know what’s too bad about this cri de coeur?  I’ve heard it before.

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question).......

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question)…….

IMG_1006 victory

Or this? Mass tourism creates blowing trash and cattle-car transport and other unattractive things which could be considered degradation. But you don’t need a mass of tourists to feel depressed. You can manage with just two, if they’re like this pair, relaxing in front of the church of San Zaccaria.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

 

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

I didn't get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians are almost certainly talking about something that's either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. If I had ten cents for every time I've heard a Venetian say "Poor Venice," I'd be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day's problems in the newspaper.

I didn’t get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians give several signs that they’re talking about something that’s either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. (Perhaps it’s about work, or the mother-in-law, or the car.  But eventually it will almost certainly be about Venice.) If I had ten cents for every time I’ve heard a Venetian say “Poor Venice,” I’d be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day’s problems in the newspaper.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don't mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own).  I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal from somebody.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don’t mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own). I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal. First thing he’ll do is throw the book at everybody.

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