Archive for Tourism

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
Comments (6)
Aug
19

Anger management

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This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.

This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.  These men and this boat have no connection to the story below.

Just when I had concluded that there was nothing different or interesting to say about Venice, just when I thought life here was going to continue to grind deeper and deeper into its rut (same old problems, same old remarks, same old endless cycle of birth and rebirth), comes a blast of rage from person or persons yet to be identified.

Whoever they were, they trashed 7 of the gondolinos belonging to the city, discovered just today on the last day of the gondolino eliminations for the Regata Storica.  The “Storica,” as you know, is the ultimate race, and it is conducted aboard the gondolinos.  There is a total of 9, plus the reserve boat.  Three boats, which were in another place and therefore escaped the axe murderer(s), weren’t much to work with for the eliminations today, but the nine two-man crews were divided into three sets of three, and extra time was eaten up with the removing and re-installing of the forcolas of each rower at each change.  The mayor has tweeted that the boats will be repaired in time for the race on Sept. 4.  Five boatyards have thrown themselves into the work.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

9.jpg gondolino USE

10.jpg gondolino USE

 

8.jpg gondolino

Who would do such a thing?  Plenty of police are working to find out.  But who would WANT to do it? Who indeed? It might be disaffected office-seekers, or environmentalists protesting deforestation, or people who want Jodie Foster to fall in love with them, or anything.

There has been tension in the rowing world recently, it’s true.  But until all the dust has settled, and been left there as long as I usually leave it anywhere, and then finally Pledged away, I’m not going to start theorizing.

I can mention, however, that a sense of anarchy stretching beyond the world of rowing seems to be threatening what ought to be well-earned somnolence in the city.  Tourists keep trying to swim in the Grand Canal.  A New Zealander, one of the crew of a yacht in port, got drunk a few nights ago, jumped off the Rialto Bridge, and landed right on the windshield of a water taxi passing below. The mariner is in the hospital in very bad condition, and the taxi is also in the shop.

Here is a recent video from Roberta Chiarotto, on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/roberta.chiarotto/videos/10209231322756467/

We see some young people in their bathing suits in Campo San Vio, heading for a refreshing dip.  The voice of the Venetian woman reprimanding them, in English and German, basically says “This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a city.  You can’t do this.”  For those (like Lino) who remember swimming in the canals as little tykes — naked, learning to swim tied to their mother’s washboard — may I say that there was less dangerous traffic then, and by the way, they were merely little tykes.  Healthy full-grown hominids who are not in their own back yards should be aware, if only dimly, of the appropriateness of some behavior. If in doubt, I’d suggest “Don’t.”

What amazes me is how tranquilly these visitors receive this unwelcome news, and how unconvinced they look. And they’re not an isolated case; a few weeks ago, five young French tourists took the plunge in the Grand Canal in front of City Hall, no less.  I won’t continue this list, because however many times I might mention it, I still can’t believe it.  And it seems to have no effect.

Once again driven to distraction, some exasperated resident recently snapped, posting a sign near Campo San Martin:

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures... None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn't that they're tourists, it's that they're not aware that they're in somebody else's city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but I invite you to defend that idea at certain points in the city all summer long. And at other times, too.

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward, but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures… None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn’t that they’re tourists, it’s that they’re not aware that they’re in somebody else’s city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but that doesn’t mean the world has to come and stand on your bridge.

On a more serious but equally anarchic note, two nights ago there was a nearly fatal collision in the lagoon (that’s good news, considering that at least once a summer there is a completely fatal collision to report).  A motorboat being driven at high speed — that’s redundant, pretty much all motorboats are driven at high speed in the lagoon — ran right straight into a passing water taxi. The motorboat sank, the ambulance came, the two young men are in the hospital and the girl escaped unharmed. The high-spirited young folks had been zooming along with no lights on their boat, lights which are not only required by law but which common sense reveals would have at least given the taxi driver some hint as to their imminent arrival.

My point is that a great deal of anarchy can be tolerated, for many reasons, as long as nothing happens, which is what everybody is counting on.  And then something happens.  Like ramming a taxi.

Consequences can be so unpleasant.  And they follow deeds with such annoying persistence.

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (7)
Aug
07

Brain flutterings

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There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather commonly called "erica" (Calluna vulgaris). It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I've been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms are gone by now.

There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather known as “sea lavender,” or Limonium vulgare.  (I haven’t yet found a local name for this.) It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I’ve been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms have faded, or fallen, by now.  This picture is here only to set a mood of some sort — it has nothing to do with what follows.

Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday.  I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point.  If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.

But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control.  So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich?  I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.

I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012).  Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi.  He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.

And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.”  He said he was joking.

“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable.  But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”

The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.”  I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation.  Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.

From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear.  So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.

And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers.  The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.”  Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up.  I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole. Looking at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What's the point of writing "cipolle"? Or "pomodoro"? Or "patate"? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole.  As I looked at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What’s the point of writing “cipolle”? Or “pomodoro”? Or “patate”? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

It just strikes me as -- perhaps not odd -- but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

It just strikes me as — perhaps not odd — but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

And while I'm on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I'd felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: "Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there." I know the space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I’d felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: “Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there.” I know that space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romantized these ladies -- their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I'm going to forget that for the moment.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romanticize these ladies — their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I’m going to forget that for the moment.  There are just too few of them left for me to cavil.

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (9)
May
01

Budget this!

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Venice is so beautiful. But maybe she looks better from a little farther back.

Venice is so beautiful. So beautiful and so expensive.  She can’t even afford herself.

You want to help Venice with her budget problems?  Buy a  palace.  Or 13, if you’re in a good mood — that’s how many the city has recently mentioned considering putting on sale.

But this story isn’t about palaces, it’s about money, need for, lack of.

The thing is this: It’s easy to imagine that All Those Tourists who come through Venice are strewing cash like crazed monarchs. “What’s the problem?  Venice lives on tourism!”  Actually, it doesn’t. Venice lives mostly on an allowance from the national government which has been cut so far back that there aren’t enough coins left in the municipal pocket to make even one tiny jingle. Venice can’t be self-supporting because there are too few tax-paying residents (more about that in another post) to pay for the needs of a really big, super-old World Heritage Site trampled by millions of people a year.

The repairs that some good soul has made on this "capitello" are kind of a metaphor for this whole subject. I guess I didn't need to explain that.

The repairs which some good soul has made on this “capitello” using strips of plastic twine are kind of a metaphor for this whole subject. I guess I didn’t need to explain that.

Not metaphorical at all, though here again, some helpful person has placed a bit of plywood to help out. I'm not sure what it's helping but the spirit is admirable.

Not metaphorical at all, though here again, some thoughtful person has placed a bit of plywood to help out. I’m not sure what it’s helping but the spirit is admirable.  I think people tend to walk around holes, not through them, when they see them.  But, as I often ask myself, what do I know?

I feel like I’ve been reading about Venice’s financial problems all my life, but the stories come out in bits and pieces and aren’t very well connected, and the numbers are always up in millions and billions, so I’ve never had a clear notion of what was involved in paying for keeping Venice running.  Now I have some information even I can understand, so here goes. To save space converting numbers, just bear in mind that one euro = 1.12 dollars at the moment.

One reason it’s hard to understand how Venice can be so broke are the thrilling reports of money made from big events such as New Year’s Eve, the Biennale, and Carnival.  The numbers are dazzling to a one-celled organism like me.  A few months ago a story in the Gazzettino trumpeted the fact (I guess it’s a fact) that 40 million euros were expected to come pouring through the big chute labeled “Carnival.” Forty million euros!!  My first reaction is “Semo in poenta!” which is Venetian for “We’re in polenta!” which is Venetian for “We’ve struck paydirt!”  (Or “We can make next month’s rent!” or “We can buy the kid a new pair of shoes!” or “We can feed your mom this week!”).

But pausing for a moment to consider how this money is distributed — hint: it doesn’t drop directly into the city’s coffers — the reality is that (A) that much money is expected to be spent here (yes!!) by tourists paying for things like (B) hotel rooms (C) food (D) gondola rides (E) taxi rides (F) fabulous ticket-only costume parties and masked balls in palaces, tickets to which can reach 2,500 euros, and (E) extras. “Extras” is usually where my own budget strikes the reef.

The benefit to the city from all this spendage is supposed to arrive via taxes.  You know, the taxes nobody pays.  Sorry — almost nobody.  More about taxes in another post.

So forget big events and their resplendent ephemeral income.  Let’s look for a moment at the city’s everyday budget.

Income: The Special Law for Venice.  Before I continue, it’s worth knowing that billions of euros granted to Venice over the past decade or so for the benefit of the city and lagoon have been pretty much all diverted to the MOSE project.  This diversion was accomplished by the MOSE people, with a big assist from the city fathers and anybody else who could get close enough to stick out their hand.  I draw your attention to the phrase in the Law which mentions that the money is also granted to Venice “to ensure its socio-economic viability.”

As mentioned, the big news in both Venice newspapers was:

As mentioned, the big news in both Venice newspapers was: “The Special Law: 25 million are coming for Venice.”  “The Special Law: Half the money and no tax breaks 162 businesses into a chasm.”  You will notice that the poster here says 25 million, but the article it refers to uses the number 28 million.  Just go with it.  Because you get the same discrepancies between numbers in headlines and the article immediately following — the first will say there were five victims, the story will say there were three.  Actually, you get used to it.  It’s only when I’m trying to understand that it bothers me.

The Gazzettino reported the most recent allotment of funds via the Special Law:  Venice will get only half of the money that was hoped for. (“We have no money” is not exclusively a Venetian song.)  The city will receive a total of 65 million euros over seven years to be doled out thusly: 5 million in 2016 and 10 million per year from 2017 to 2022.  Looked at that way, it doesn’t sound like much at all, and of course the city fathers agreed; some politicians had pressed for 50 million per year for three years, while another political group had suggested 13 million per year for an unspecified number of years.  (They were probably estimating “forever.”)

To put those numbers into some kind of context, until a few years ago (by which the Gazzettino probably means 2008), the city spent 150 million euros a year.  Now it’s a struggle to the death to find the money for paying the policemen.

This is not the mayor meditating, but it could be.

This is not the mayor meditating, but it could be.  While he’s thinking, he ought to give his Border collie something to herd.  Like the annual budget, with all those numbers that keep running away to nowhere.

Good news:  The city has pulled itself up nearer to the edge of the deep hole into which it had fallen, thanks to the drastic cuts made in the budget by Commissario Vittorio Zappalorto (2014-2015).  When I say “drastic,” I mean along the lines of “We had to destroy the budget in order to save it.”  So at the end of 2015, after slashing and burning by him as well as the new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, the deficit has been halved.  The 64 million debt is now 30 million euros.  This is huge news, though of course 30 million isn’t a particularly small number.

The Special Law allotment includes money for art works.  The Ministry of Culture is allowing 6 million euros to Venice (out of 13 million to the Veneto) for 241 projects defined as being at the national level, among which is legal tender for the following projects:

  • Finish the restoration of the great stained-glass window by Vivarini at SS. Giovanni e Paolo: 600,000 euro.
  • Complete the restoration of the church of the Gesuiti: 1,000,000 euros.
  • Restore the squero of the Bucintoro at the Arsenal: 400,000 euros.
  • For the recovery of the patrimony of furniture, fabrics, paintings, and other objects including the fittings of a gondola which are in the storerooms of the Superintendent of Beni Culturali, for the collection of the Palazzo Reale (royal palace): 300,000 euros.  (If you’re wondering where is the royal palace, it is a series of rooms in the “Ala Napoleonica,” built by Napoleon and now housing the Correr Museum; these rooms were occupied by him, of course, and then by the Hapsburg monarchs whenever they were in town during the Austrian occupation).
  • Updating the fire-extinguishing system in the Marciana library: 800,000 euros.
  • Surveying and conserving the 16th-century wooden ceiling of the vestibule of the Marciana library: 620,000 euros.
  • Restoration of State Archives, maintenance work, and bringing the lightning rods up to code: 841,000 euros.
  • Accademia Galleries: 1,500,000 euros for uses not specified by the Gazzettino.
  • Surveys, studies and security interventions on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio: 390,000 euros.
  • Second phase of the realization and installations of the National Museum of Marine Archaeology in Caorle: 1,900,000 euros.  (Good going, Caorle city fathers!)

This is all very gratifying, and I’m not being sarcastic.

But now we come to the prickly subject of Outgo.  Moving our eyes from art treasures to the World Outside, things look less lovely.

The Special Law has provided 28 million euros, which is earmarked thusly: 5 million for maintenance of parks and green spaces; and 10 million for “cultural interventions” (theatre, cinema, programs at the Bevilacqua La Masa foundation and the Querini Stampalia.  I thought those were private?); and 13 million for ‘touristic interventions,” which despite the label are subdivided to pay the municipal police (7,500,000) on holidays and nights; 1,100,000 for the Venetian-rowing world; 1,600,000 for the “organization of events,” especially the promotion thereof.  This is the division of the spoils till 2018.  We’ll definitely be turning our shirt collars and drinking tap water to get through three years on that allowance.

Just thought we should pause for a breath of fresh air perfumed by wisteria.

Just thought we should pause for a breath of fresh air perfumed by wisteria.

A very interesting and detailed article in a magazine called “Il Metropolitano” outlined what it costs to keep Venice running (translated by me).  The subtitle gives a hint of things to come: “To guarantee the services in the Historic Center costs 41 million more per year than any city in the rest of Italy.  And Rome is sending less and less money.”  It’s true that Venice is the most expensive city in Italy, but now I see that it’s expensive not only for tourists and residents, but for itself.

An independent research organization, the Centro Studi Sintesi, recently did a detailed rundown of the city budget.  You don’t need to be some financial wizard to grasp that the 5 million euros allotted for 2016 falls slightly short of the estimated 120 million annually that Venice needs.  There’s more — due to drastic national cuts imposed in order to get the Italian economy in line with European norms, Venice did not receive the 1,250,000,000 (you read that right) it was expecting over the past few years, and only got 77 per cent of what was expected between 2010 and 2015, which makes Venice the city most-penalized by national economic restrictions in the country.

Let’s go to the videotape:

Garbage collection and street cleaning: 30,000,000 per year.  It’s commonly thought – I used to think it too — that the amazing quantity of tourist trash increases the spazzino‘s workload, but statistically this turns out not to be true.  The study says that the cost is high because Venice is the only city in the world in which, six days a week, the trash is collected entirely by hand.  The small streets and winding canals are implacable on that score. The average annual cost of garbage collection in Mestre, on the mainland, is 156 per family or entity such as a shop or restaurant.  In Venice, it’s 727 euros per family or entity.

Cemetery: 2,000,000 per year.  Stories keep appearing in the paper about how the cemetery on the island of San Michele is falling to pieces.  And it is.  But there are also 16 other cemeteries in the Comune of Venice and, the study specifies, eight in the Historic Center. There’s San Michele, but there are also two cemeteries on the Lido  one each on Burano (actually Mazzorbo), Malamocco, Pellestrina, San Pietro in Volta, and Sant’ Erasmo.  There are eight more in the Comune of Venice on the mainland.

Sewage treatment: 600,000 euros.  No, it doesn’t all go into the canals anymore.  For the past 20 years there has been a steady improvement in this necessary part of city management.  Septic tanks have been required to be installed in public buildings — hotels, restaurants, offices, museums, etc.  But again, the tiny, complicated spaces of which Venice is so fascinatingly constructed means that there isn’t one in the Historic Center.  You may have noticed that “honey boats” come and pump out the septic tanks, but the city doesn’t pay for that.  The sewage is taken to one of the 30-some treatment centers strewn around the Comune, which includes some of the mainland. There is one center on the Lido and one in Pellestrina, to which the houses there are connected.

Public parks (“green spaces”): 600,000 euros.   Although not considered technically an essential public service, there is a surprising number of big trees around, in biggish and smallish parks alike. And also shrubs and flowers, which are so desperately wonderful in the summer heat. But trees and bushes need to be trimmed, pruned, and lopped. Unhappily, this category of expense does not include trimming the bridges, which continue to sprout destructive plants and weeds because, in the organizational scheme, shrubbery on bridges is nobody’s responsibility. It’s not garbage, it’s not a green space, it’s not anything but just stuff.

Most bridges by now sprout something, lots of something, as in this case.

Most bridges by now sprout something — in this case, lots of something. You could probably cultivate marijuana for years this way, since nobody is paying any attention.

Tide Forecast: 1,200,000 euros.  Acqua alta is far from free.  First, there is the cost of putting out and removing the high-water walkways.  That is to say, hauling them all from the warehouse in September and stacking them at the crucial points; unstacking and positioning them when high tide is coming ashore, stacking them up again (to save space on the street) when the tide goes out, and on and on until April, when they are definitively hauled away to the warehouse.  But this is paid for by the garbage-collection budget, because it’s the spazzini who do this work.  Thereby leaving uncollected bags of garbage all over the city on high-water days.

But the real cost is the maintenance of the system of collecting data and forecasting the tide, which requires many instruments (maintenance of) and manpower to analyze and broadcast the data.  Somebody has to hit the button to sound the warning sirens, after all.  I can tell you that this department needs lots more money than it gets.  And then, of course, the citizens screech when the prediction is not fulfilled.  You can understand people yelling when the tide turns out to be higher than forecast, but people yell when it turns out to be lower, too.  If I had to work at the Tide Center, I’d be on drugs.

Street Lighting:  1,000,000 euros.  When I came here in 1994, there was still a good number of streets which were dark and romantic.  Or dark and ominous, as you prefer.  On our fondamenta (in another neighborhood), the only light at sundown was from the window of the deli across the canal.  I used to call it “the lighthouse of the neighborhood” – it was the only gleam in the gloom of a dismal, foggy night.  Then the city started to install more streetlamps and now there are some areas that are as bright as stadiums.  Here again, Venice’s fascinating interweaving of tiny streets creates unromantic problems.  On the mainland, 292 lamps per square kilometer are sufficient.  In Venice, you need 804.  And all that juice isn’t cheap.

School lunches: 300,000 euros. No need to repeat it – Getting cargo around Venice is costly (lots of canals, bridges, streets, and most important of all, very little storage space, therefore more trips).  A child eating in the cafeteria in a school in Venice pays from 76 – 84 cents more per meal than a child on the mainland.

Handicapped transport:  1,200,000 euros.  The explanation of this expense isn’t clear.  I can understand that making many places wheelchair-accessible is expensive, but once that’s been accomplished, the cost should diminish.  There are buses on the Lido and mainland which have extending ramps to help people in wheelchairs board, but to get on a vaporetto, the person still needs to be hoisted by hand.  Still, this is in the budget, so there we’ll leave it.

Ordinary maintenance: 4,100,000 euros.  To the naked eye, it appears that this generally consists of putting warning tape around spots that are dangerous (broken pavement, collapsing fondamente, and so on).  Canal-dredging has become a mere dream.  But let’s say that some problem crops up with the wiring in City Hall – fixing it will cost 20 per cent more than on the mainland.  Costs for construction are 30 per cent higher than on the mainland.  The biggest challenge (expense) has to do with the street pavement.  On the mainland, just throw down another layer of asphalt.  Here, the streets have to be torn up and reconstructed stone by stone.  Result: It costs 80 per cent more in Venice than on the mainland to fix a street.

I could fill pages, so to speak, with images like this one, but will limit myself to small things that represent huge things.

I could fill pages, so to speak, with images like this one, but will limit myself to small things that represent huge things.

This house near us has moved far beyond the level of plastic twine. Of course it's not city property, so the residents have stapled their building together at every possible point. Just a small illustration of the March of Time here. And maybe, now that I think of it, it's also an example of what a project looks like when you wait until it's reached crisis point. Perhaps 20 years ago just a few shingle-nails and some duct tape would have fixed everything.

This house near us has moved far beyond the level of plastic twine. Of course it’s not city property, so the residents have stapled their building together at every possible point. Just a small illustration of the March of Time here. And maybe, now that I think of it, it’s also an example of what a project looks like when you wait until it’s reached crisis point. Perhaps 20 years ago a few shingle-nails and some duct tape would have fixed everything.

I will tell you a revealing remark made to me many years ago by a Venetian who was showing me some of the destruction wrought by motondoso on fondamente and assorted streets and bridges.  He pointed out a few massive stones bordering the fondamenta at the church of the Salute.  Their relationship with the horizontal had been compromised by some trivial wound, and waves and gravity were obviously going to make it worse.  I, with my quaint, Anglo-Saxon “stitch in time,” “for want of a nail” outlook on life, asked him why the city didn’t intervene to repair this now, thereby avoiding more work later.  He said, “Because it doesn’t cost enough.”  Translation: Only when a problem becomes big, and therefore costly, and therefore worthwhile to some company to make loads of money fixing it, is the situation addressed.  This makes the same amount of sense as not clipping a hangnail because when it becomes gangrenous you can bring in teams of expensive surgeons and teratons of drugs and everybody makes some money.

There is even a saying to cover this approach: “Don’t bandage your hand until it’s hurt.”  To which I always reply, “If you avoid hurting your hand, you won’t have to bandage it.”  You can say it in Italian, but I haven’t found anybody who thinks it makes sense.

Let’s finish in a blaze of glory, or at least a blaze from some shorted-out circuit on the tram line.  My idea is this: If you can’t pay to fix the problems you already have, at least don’t create new problems that will cost even more money.  The tram holds a weird fascination for me, as it continues to reveal spectacular flaws in design and construction. There are almost daily breakdowns, delays, malfunctions of all sizes and shapes down to the fact that there isn’t an adequate system for de-fogging the windshields.  It cost 208 million euros to build two lines and buy the trains, but it costs twice as much as a normal bus to operate.  The electric bill is 2,500 euros ($2,820) a day.  Two carriages of the 20-train fleet are permanently out of service, left in the shop to be cannibalized for parts as needed, because the company which made the parts has gone out of business.

I think that’s enough for one day.

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