Monday, 2 January 2012

Venetian Musings 1 - The First Visit (1980s) and Musings on Today

Of all the places in the world that appeal to me islands and island communities have a special appeal. Venice, made up of many small islands, appeals more than most.

I have been visiting Italy and especially Venice since 2004 after an initial visit at Christmas some time in the 1980s. Then, Venice was deserted. Hardly any tourists were there, and as a consequence not all restaurants and museums were open.

On our first day Venice seemed to be hardly open at all but that all changed in an instant. I can still recall the moment as though it were yesterday that suddenly a mass of predominantly young people entered the Piazza San Marco. Venetian men paraded like peacocks, each checking out the others to ensure the woman on their arm and the clothes they wore were better than any of the others. Every evening was the same, no matter what, they always appeared. This, like so much else in Venice, is now either invisible or relegated to the past.

We saw two people of some fame from back home, Dick Taverne (a politician) and Alan Hacker (a clarinettist).

Our visit to Murano was memorably wet. The afternoon of Christmas eve was spent sitting in glorious sunshine at the Giardini Pubblici, Christmas Day was grey and overcast and below zero for most of the day. Most evenings (and other times of the day) were expensively spent in Caffè Florian. We walked the streets getting lost, finding ourselves in closed courtyards, walking along a street only to find it ended at a canal, a tradition we still keep up!

Since then, Venice changed and continues to change. La Serenissima is still a wonderful old lady (like so many of the old Venetian ladies in their grand fur coats). She is permanently on display, warts and all. Age may not have been kind, but, nonetheless, she overcomes the challenge and matures.

There is a darker side, but this is an ailment of modern life and not the fault of the Republic. For some time Italy has been plagued by handbag salesmen. They sell on the street. They disappear whenever the police appear. They hide their faces when a camera is raised in their direction. I let you draw your own conclusions from these observations.

They have now been joined by other new pestilences. One sits alongside of camera tripod and sunglass salesmen. Another, more randomly spread out has a gloopy mess that when thrown to the ground splats out into a flat blob and then miraculously regains its spherical shape. Heaven only knows what filth these gather when constantly thrown on Venetian streets. The final group is mainly in the Piazza San Marco, sellers of a toy that gets catapulted in the air and falls down. The gimmick of this pestilence is only apparent as it is sold at night. The toy is fluorescent.

"True" Venetians - even those forced into residential exile on the mainland- are still, as were their predecessors, merchants. They never undersell anything, and one must learn to sort the verbal wheat from the chaff. The influx of the foreign salesmen (I have never seen woman selling any of these goods) is a plague, like so many plagues Venice has suffered. There is little enthusiasm to eradicate these new plagues, not even with quack remedies.

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