Were we a harbinger of more tourists to come streaming in her direction? Would she and her friends, gathered outside for an afternoon drink and chat, become the subjects of a thousand uninvited photographs?
The Horror: What Impact Would Increased Tourism Have On The Lifestyle of Venice Residents?
It was years ago now that Lidia Fersuoch, director of Italia Nostra in Venice, pointed out that some residents of Venice can buy a 4,000 euro watch within meters of their homes but have to take the vaporetto to buy groceries. The situation has become more distressing over those years. Forget the 4,000 euro watch. Now they can buy 400 10 euro plastic carnival masks.
It always struck me as odd, though sometimes in a good way, that when Venetian kids graffiti directions on the walls of the city they graffiti correct directions. This really is different from many other international cities I've visited where, lets be honest, children and adults alike sometimes seem to take pleasure in misdirecting people. Why so different? I think it's because Venetian kids don't take pleasure in our lostness. They'd much rather most of us go back to where we came from and leave their neighborhoods alone. Those graffitied “San Marco” and “Rialto” signs could just as easily say, “Get the hell off my block!” This is very Venetian... So helpful on the one hand while, on the other, they're also a veiled protest against the lifestyle imposed upon the painters by mass tourism.
The Hope: The Need And Desire For Tourism Away From Central Venice
In my experience, useful local businesses in the smaller streets of Venice are also very happy to serve tourists. In fact, they are usually more pleasant and always a better value than most central businesses. I think part of this has to do with the differences between local culture and mass-tourism culture. Neighborhood businesses thrive on developing relationships with customers who remain loyal for years, whereas businesses in central Venice survive on one-off transactions with strangers whom they will never see again. I suspect that small local businesses, in addition to being more friendly, of greater value and more enjoyable to frequent, also need a certain amount of non-local business to survive. It takes a certain number of customers to generate enough demand to keep stores open. The population decline in Venice must be taking its toll on Venetian small businesses that cater to ordinary needs.
And finally, Venetians also desire that their society should be appreciated and respected. They know that this doesn't happen with tourists who stay in the city center and have entirely superficial experiences in Venice. And, in fact, Venetians can be extremely open and friendly when they also are away from the maddening crowds. To counter the unsolicited directions I received on Burano, I have another story of a woman that I met on Pellestrina. This woman had seen me walking about a third of the way up the island before I sat on a bench to wait for the boat. She came and sat next to me and just started talking. After about three minutes it must have become clear that I couldn't understand most of what she was saying. So, she added patting my hand and tapping my shoulder to the conversation. She kept this up for twenty minutes and gave me a piece of fruit just as the boat arrived. Of course, I have no idea what that woman said to me with all her smiles and her hand patting. But, I am pretty sure that no one feeds people that they are trying to get rid of.