Saturday, May 13, 2006

From Venice: too many of us

This isn’t the only place in the world that draws Euros or bucks from tourists by the cartload, but sometimes it seems that Venice has become overwhelmed by the numbers. Of tourists, not Euros.

You enter Piazza San Marco and it is like Disneyland on the Fourth of July. Yet the cafes there stand mostly empty. People come, people go. People buy trinkets, not expensive drinks and desserts.

And for those who serve us here, it must just seem like each day spits out a flood of never ending questions, badly asked, in broken Italian, or worse, in drawly and incomprehensible to them English.

The other night on the Vaporetto (boat bus), it was crowded and my suitcase was wedged somewhere in the back and so I asked the boatman in my tired Italian how many more stops before the Accademia (where I was to get off). He shrugged his shoulders. Two maybe – he said. I don’t really remember. In Sicily, I would have been told how many stops, how many seconds to get to it and where I can get a good coffee once I’m off.

The thing is, I could not blame him. He had done this trip a million times with a million disoriented people on board. The captain at the wheel kept knocking on his window because I kept standing up to take photos and inadvertently I would block his view. That must happen another million times each day. Tourist stands up. Bang bang bang, motion to please sit down, can’t see a thing, may run down some poor soul on the water.

There is a barge out here selling vegetables on a side canal of the Dorsoduro. It has been there since I started coming to Venice some thirty or forty years ago. I always take a picture of it. I don’t know why. Sometimes close-ups, other years with daughters in front. Same boat, same veggies. It’s a camera magnet! I’m not the only one. The guy selling the veggies is uniformly pissed at the photo taking (even though surely it must be a different guy each time). He wants to sell vegetables. Cameras block the real shoppers. He wishes we would all trip and fall into the canal, I am sure.

In the evening, we cross the Rialto bridge on our way to dinner. Rialto is sheer madness, but if you hug the perimeters, there are quite the people watching opportunities. Three American student types are sitting at the edge of the canal. The aperitifs must have been flowing that day because they are laughing excessively and even for this noisy place, are boisterous beyond the beyond. One more sip and a bottle is now empty. The one who is laughing hardest tosses the bottle into the Canal. This causes her to almost topple in along with it, she finds it that funny. Out comes the digital camera, as she takes pictures of her gift to the Canal. A taxi boat stands nearby. The driver watches these young women without any expression at all. He is no longer surprised, no longer bothered.

We are early and so we stop at an outside cafĂ©–bar so that I can sip a Campari spritz and pretend for a minute I am one of them and not one of the tourists.

We eat in a tiny restaurant (five tables only) heartily recommended by the proprietor of our tiny hotel (five rooms only). There are several Italians and several Americans. We are pretty much oblivious to everyone as we sit in a corner and wolf down plate after plate of glorious food. The mamma type who serves us is straight out of the movies. Proud of what the kitchen makes, happy to be there, feeding people.

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seafood salad with polenta

A woman, an American, gets up and comes over to me.

Excuse me, she says to me, I hear you speak Italian. I wonder if you can help me say something to the woman (the mamma type) who is serving us. Can you tell her that we witnessed what happened there, at that other table of Americans?
What happened?
They were joking around and someone ordered the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu (about $100), you know, just for laughs. She brought it to them, opened it and then they said they didn’t really want it and would not pay for it. We want to offer to pay her. We are so angry and ashamed.

The mamma type would have none of it of course, but she smiled extra hard.
They hugged her good bye and left her, I am sure, a generous tip.

In the small bar around the corner of the hotel (seats no more than three, with standing room for an additional two), we stop for a Cynar. (To commenter chuck b.: I did this for you. Herby and medicinal. Grows on you.) A stunningly gorgeous young Canadian woman comes in. She is waiting for the manager to close the place – they have a date. She has been traveling around Italy alone for a month and has another month to go.

It’s been my dream to do this. I stay in hostels and eat pizza a lot, but today I blew a fortune at a restaurant these guys recommended. It was extraordinary! The Italians, they are so nice to me. Everywhere I go, they are so kind.
How long have you been in Venice?
I just got here.

I wanted to tell her – they’re more jaded here. But don’t blame them for it. We have done this to them.

Venice is a working city. It takes so much work to keep it afloat and reasonably clean. Here are some photos of those who do the work and of one (and not the only one) who appreciates the effort.

(but first, a capucci'o moment)
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more waiting

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going to work

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Ocean author, enjoying

Ed, my traveling companion for two weeks, left this morning to return to his work and his ambitious plans to plant a million tomato bushes.

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Ed, at the farm, the one at Campofelice di Rocella

I walked him to the boat for the airport. In a few hours I’ll catch a train that many many hours later will place me in Zagreb, where I will be joined tomorrow by my family. I came to Venice by moonlight, I leave by the dazzling rays of a morning sun.

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glittering in the morning sun