What image comes to mind when you picture a “dying city”? If it's not a group of scantily- clad people eating pizza in the street, nor a noisy bunch of joyful travelers disembarking from a boat, nor a rowdy group of teenagers trotting through the town with open beers sloshing in their hands, then you must not be picturing Venice. I'm sure no one thinks of “degradation” while admiring the paintings of Titian and Tintoretto. And, I agree that dangerously decaying stucco does, in fact, look beautiful here. So why would any visitor to Venice think of this as a degraded and dying city? How would they know?
Here in Venice, death looks like candy, multi-colored pasta, and dried lavender. It looks like both designer and discount clothing, with absolutely nothing in between. It looks like a brand new five star hotel, plus five or six new bed and breakfasts. It looks like take-away pasta and, also cocktails to take-away. It looks like souvenir, schotsky and t-shirt shops whose windows strangely do not change with the seasons. It looks like signs announcing “limited time” sales that mysteriously never end. It looks like the fish mongers must actually be models for all the cameras pointing at them. And, it looks like we shall have to go to mainland to get XYZ.
All of which is to say that the death of Venice looks like an on-going Carnevale which sucks up and discards everything relevant to a living community and replaces it with trinkets that are really only appealing to people on holiday as it rolls on its deep-fried and sugar-coated way to the next “historical” festival to which locals are only invited as performers.
Death is adorned with identical window boxes, or spindly succulents, or shutters with the paint peeling off, and it never needs to hang its laundry out to dry. There are lots of ways to identify a house where no one really lives.
Death wears no uniform and answers no telephone. As the number of residents in Venice dwindles, so do public services. And while there may be some vacationing fools out there who gleefully jump off of bridges knowing that no one is coming to stop them, they would do well to remember that, should they fall off of bridges instead, no would come to save them either.
There is something enchantingly beautiful about the crumbling stucco walls and wave-worn stones that adorn Venice. But, make no mistake, Venice is experiencing both physical and moral degradation. Both the supports and foundations of Venice are degrading. Meanwhile, Venetians are responsible for the disposal of the massive amounts of unsightly and unsanitary waste produced by visitors to the city. This is a very visible degradation, particularly as this waste so often finds it's way to the steps of monuments and into the doorways and windowsills of private homes; A stinking insult to the dignity of both Venetian history and living Venetians.
But, don't think that degradation always looks like filth and rot. It also looks like glittery plastic carnival masks, faux Murano glass, and, now also “gastronomic souvenirs” which are actually mass-produced imitations of Italian specialty foods. It is terribly emotionally, culturally and financially degrading to helplessly observe the spread of this mockery of traditional Venetian products right here where the original products were created.
Degradation is also a picnic, a picnic to which Venetians are not invited. While thousands of tourists settle themselves in the streets, on the bridges, along the canals, on vaporetto docks, and in the squares for lunch “al fresco” every day, a Venetian family was recently fined for “illegal occupation of public space” for making so bold as to throw a child's birthday party outdoors in a public square. Is it not degrading to be told that there is just no room for you and your children in the public spaces which your taxes pay to keep clean?
Degradation is the enactment of a special law without any consultation of the community. It is also the unquestioned, un-researched and utterly false reporting of local events. And, of course, it is very degrading indeed to be told by those entrusted with the care of the city that those who don't like it should just leave.
Degradation is a hiss, a long sigh and a shove, intended for the millions who don't speak your language nor care about your manners, but very often also landing on one of your few remaining neighbors as a slight that will prevent you from forming a polite relationship with them either.
I was at home overseas the first time that reality of what my Venetian friends had been telling me for years suddenly became clear to me. I was equal parts outraged and deeply saddened, empathetic and guilty. For, even then, I was a foreigner who regularly took up space here. Now, I am a foreigner who lives here, who was married here, who does her shopping here and greets her neighbors here. And, in my darkest hours I imagine that we are among the last families who will ever really live here, though I really couldn't say for how long we'll keep at it.
It was one thing, to analyze the Venetian reality from the distance. The lack of housing and lack of skilled jobs are easy enough statistics to verify online. It is something else to live the day-to-day death and degradation of this city that I continue to love and admire so much even as I too slowly become one of those who issues the long-sigh.
OG Venice Italy Blog
Our Venice Italy travel blog is packed with both pretty pictures and useful information about life in the most serene republic of Venice. Enjoy!
Recommended Reading in & about Venice:
Things to Do & See in Venice:
Venice Blogs & Websites We Love:
Naturally Epicurean -
Venice Food Guide and Healthy Italian Food Blog full of both excellent recommendations for eating out in Venice and lots of healthy recipes to try at home.
La Venessiana- Wonderfully Written and Curated Mix of History, Tradition and Recipes all Originating in Venice.
Colazione a Venezia - Breakfast in Venice
The ultimate journal of teas, coffee and pastries in Venice!
Detourism - Sustainable Tourism - Regularly Published Newsletter of Off-the-Beaten-Trail Tourism Suggestions for Venice
Gruppo 25 Aprile - The Blog of a Non-Partisan Citizens Group Sharing Statistics About Venice and Citizens' Concerns about Life in The Lagoon.
Cook in Venice Blog - Recipes, Cookbooks & All the Food News of Venice
I Am Not Making This Up Blog - Witty, Humorous and Impeccably Written Observations about Life in Venice
Venezia Nascosta (Hidden Venice) - Images and Posts Discussing the History, Mysteries and Traditions of Venice
Venezia da Vivere - The Cultural Activity Guide to Venice