Footweary, But in a Good Way
May 6 to 8, 2019
The best thing about Venice is that it bears a striking resemblance to the way I have always imagined it. Of course, like most people, I have had a lot of help in forming my mental image of this city – from literary and dramatic sources (e.g., Mann’s Death in Venice, various iterations of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice), through paintings by Monet, Manet, Kinkade and especially Giovanni Antonio Canal (aka Canaletto. With a name like that, what other city was he going to paint?), to movies that include The Italian Job, The Tourist, and Moonraker. It’s even been featured in cartoons (See “O Sole Minnie.“) Venice looks exactly the way it is supposed to, which was a huge relief to me: I feared I might be disappointed. I definitely am not.
But since I’m sure that those of you who haven’t been to Venice yet have exactly the same images in your heads as I did/do, I decided that in this post I would share things I didn’t know about Venice until I got here, rather than things I did. So here goes.
Every two years (or so) the entire city celebrates the Biennale Arte de Venezia, featuring art and artists from around the world. In 2019, the 58th edition will open on May 11, and run to November 24. So we missed the opening, but that was okay because the areas of Venice where the shows are held (primarily in Arsenale and Giardini, which are east of the main tourist area) will be crowded once the opening has happened, and we got to walk around those areas while they were almost deserted. We saw workers installing an art display and heard people rehearsing for performances, but mainly the area was so quiet it was almost ghostly. Today, the Biennale includes dance, architecture, performance art, cinema, and educational initiatives as well as the visual art exhibitions that have formed the core since its inauguration in 1893. This year’s theme is “May You Live in Interesting Times.” We do.
Speaking of workers, it hadn’t occurred to me that absolutely everything has to be delivered by boat to every store, restaurant and hotel in the city until I read this article in The National Post. One afternoon after we’d worn our feet out, we sat down for a rest near the gondola stations and a vaporetto stop on the waterfront. There we watched the world float by, and in addition to the various water-based human transportation systems (including massive private yachts), we saw all kinds of other boats dropping off supplies – massive crates and cartons — delivering them to the closest wharf to their destinations, and then carrying them the rest of the way. Those guys work their asses off.
So do the gondola drivers. What I enjoyed most was watching them move so lightly on their feet as they use their long oars to manoeuvre around each other and all the other water traffic (of which there is a truly significant amount!). I didn’t see a single boat bump into any other boat, which is astounding when you consider how many of them are out there – going, it seems, in all directions.
Tourism has actually become a huge problem for Venice: the city is sinking and the waters are rising, and instead of only the wealthy being able to visit this massive historical site, almost every Tom, Dick and Mary is able to afford the trip. The cruise ships are a huge problem – not only because of the pollution, but because of the crowds (we saw several of the huge floating hotels while we were there) and there is a movement afoot to have them banned from the region. The BBC reports that more than 26 million people visited Venice in 2017, and that nearly half of the actual population has left in the past 50 years.
We stayed on the island of Lido, rather than on the main islands in the Venice Lagoon, so we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos and on buses, and we felt as though we were on Toronto Island rather than in the big city. It was lovely to get away from all of those people at the end of the day. On Lido, there are roads as well as a few canals. There are thousands of bicycles parked near the boat docks, and people ride them, and walk and use the bus. I was astounded to find that the buses have USB charging outlets on them!
By the way, after studying the language on Duolingo for several months, I am happy to report that Italians speak spectacular Italian. But most of the people we met in Venice were also almost fluent in English, for which I give them huge credit because I can also report that I am certainly not anywhere close to fluent in their language. I hope to improve at least a bit before we leave. It is a beautiful language.