Not that it’s going to turn into Atlantis tomorrow, but Venice (where I vacationed last week with my sister Trish) is heading in that direction. A number of the grand buildings on the Grand Canal are abandoned – at least on the lower floors – and in Piazza di San Marco (St. Marks Plaza) and its surrounds, they put out portable walkways (passerelle) on scaffolding so that you can keep your feet dry when the water’s on the rise. And that’s not just when it’s been raining. We were in the Piazza on a perfectly sunny day, but it was high tide, and water was burbling up through the drains. So we had to walk around on those narrow walkways. (Crowded narrow walkways. Even though we were not there in ultra-high season, St. Mark’s was jammed each time we walked through. It must be a complete nightmare in the spring and summer.)
When we were in St. Mark’s Cathedral, the brilliant mosaic tile floors seemed a bit, if not squishy, then undulating.
Throughout the city, buildings have steel barriers across their front doors to keep the flood waters out when “acqua alta” (or high water) occurs, which is typically a few times a year, generally during the winter.
Acqua alta is pretty much unavoidable, given the peculiar geography of Venice: it’s on a lagoon in the Adriatic, and the town is criss-crossed by all sorts of canals. But these days, it’s occurring more frequently than it used to, thanks in part to global warming, as well as industrialization in the surrounds. The town is sinking – more rapidly than it has in the past – and it’s also listing, meaning that Italy may end up with more leaning towers than the one in Pisa.
Because of the sinking and listing, as well as the desire of people to live in a more modern, more easily-accessibly and lest costly community, the population of the central, historic district has sunk in half since 1980. Folks are also being driven out by the tens of millions of tourists who stream through the narrow pathways of the city each year. Tourism-related jobs have driven out “normal” jobs – and they don’t pay all that well. Some doomers are predicting that there’ll be no one actually living in old Venice in a couple of decades. Workers will come in to staff the hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist sites, but there won’t actually be any residents.In this sense, I’ve seen it likened to Disneyland.
Anyway, with or without a town full of real Venetians, it’s just a matter of time before Venice goes way down, below the ocean…
Glad we got there in time.
Because it really is unique, and probably the most fascinating place I’ve ever visited.
As tourists, we did the usual tourist things.
No, we didn’t take a gondola ride. Not exactly romantic, if you’re with your sister. Plus those tiny canals are pretty filthy. We didn’t need to see that tee-shirt that said “Venice by Night” on it – right above a picture of a rat – to tell us that Venice is rat-ridden. Fortunately, no rats crossed our paths. But we did notice that a number of the residents in the area around our hotel put their garbage out by hanging it on a line out there window so that it didn’t hit ground level where rats could get at it.
While there were no handsome gondoliers along our way, we did truck around Saint Mark’s, poke around the Museo Correr, and tour the Doge’s Palace, crossing the Bridge of Sighs to check out the prison. (Believe me, you did not want to get on the doge’s bad side.) Thanks to a tip from brother-in-law Rick, we also hit Il Frari, another church full of art, and colossally interesting.
But neither Trish nor I are all that big on Renaissance Madonnas, so we were delighted to take a look-see at the Peggy Guggenheim modern art collection.
Guggenheim – yes, she was one of those Guggenheims – went through an exceedingly successful period in the 1930’s-1940’s when she scooped up works by just about every modern artist you can think of. It probably helped that she was married to Max Ernst for a while in there, but wow, just wow. The collection is housed in Guggenheim’s home, where she (and her dogs) are buried in the courtyard, and where you can just see the speedboats pulling up to her place, dropping off her spectacular friends, for some sort of spectacular gathering ca’ Peggy. Peggy Guggenheim is someone I want to read some more about.
Speaking of Peggy Guggenheim, in one of the other museums we tromped through, a young guard waved us over. He spoke pretty good English, and he wanted to practice on us – and ask us about the US election. (He was a Bernie fan, by the way.) He also asked us about other museums we’d gone to. When we mentioned the Guggenheim, he said “Ah, the Jewess.”
When he saw the looks on our faces, he told us he had nothing against Jews. It’s just that Peggy Guggenheim was, after all, a Jewess.
We walked away from this encounter scratching our heads.
Wasn’t that a word last used in 1938?
Just plain weird.
Anyway, when we weren’t seeing the tourist sites, we just did what we love to do: walked around and looked at stuff. Eat wonderful food. (Those tiny little clams in the spaghetti with clam sauce. Yummy, yum, yum.) Stop for a gelato break.
And if you like walking around and looking at stuff,eating wonderful food and indulging in a daily gelato, Venice will be your kind of town.