Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Have My Reasons

Venetian Traffic Jam #1

 "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go." ~ Truman Capote

If you were to ask me to name the five Italian cities I like best, you would not hear Rome.... nor Florence.... nor Milan... nor Venice.  As a matter of fact, the cities that I like best are probably cities of which you've heard little—or maybe even nothing unless you're of Italian descent.

Please don't get me wrong. By saying that those cities are not my favorites doesn't mean I don't like them (except for maybe Rome), but I don't go out of my way to go to most of them every time I come here. I also won't stay in any of them overnight.   I completely understand the attraction of all of those cities I mentioned.  Rome has the history. Florence has the art. Milan has the fashion. And, Venice has the intrigue.

What bothers me about all of those cities and more is the fact that they have become caricatures of themselves because of the tourists that flock there and how the cities have responded to those hordes. Since we visited Venice yesterday, let me explain using it as an example.

Venetian Traffic Jam #2
Venice is not a large city, and more than 60,000 people visit it daily.  Daily, not weekly or monthly.  60,000 people daily.  As more tourists flock to the city, more of its citizens move away.  Once a city of more than 150,000 residents, Venice today has fewer than 60,000.  Increasing numbers of cruise ships come into the port—sometimes four or five a day—and do more damage than good. But how is it possible, you may ask, that tourists who spend money can damage to a city?  Good question.

 Look first at the environmental impact that the cruise ships alone have on Venice.  In the first place, the ships contribute to air and water pollution just by their nature. Moreover, the strong tides they produce contribute to the erosion of the city's buildings' foundations. 

Moreover, the influx of tourists causes the prices for everything from coffee to condominiums to be outrageous. At some point in the day, tourists need to eat, and restaurants can charge exorbitant prices for mediocre meals because they have a captive audience.

My pork cutlet and roasted potatoes

Take, for example, the meal I had yesterday while my group was touring the Doge's Palace.  I ordered a pork cutlet, roast potatoes, and a glass of Coke Light. The chop looks to be a decent size, but it was very thin, and the bone, fat, and gristle took up about 1/3 of it.  The only lettuce on the plate was what you see. There was more lemon than lettuce, and my Coke was about the size of a can. The best thing that i ordered were the potatoes, and they were the right size for a side dish.

 Would anyone like to guess what I paid for that lovely meal?  I'll tell you tomorrow if anyone wants to try. By the way, don't forget to add in the espresso that I had after the meal.... And I got free wifi while I was there.

3.5 curo for a can of Coke Light & three ice cubes

On my way to the lagoon after lunch, I passed store-after-store that sold Venetian souvenirs, many of which I can find in kiosks at the outlet malls in Las Vegas because they came from PRC, not Venice. It's sad.

My sadness extends to the gondola rides.  Once an important part of Venetian culture, today the gondolas are important to many tourists who visit.  For around 35 euro per person (45 if you want the gondolier to sing), you can get yourself into one of them-there gondola thingies and ride it around the canals just like 40,000 other people do every single day.

"Kind of takes the romance out of it, doesn't it?" a woman standing next to me as we stood on the bridge and watched the gondola traffic jam below us. I just shook my head.

The worst thing, though, is that so many tourists have no respect for the history or the culture of the city.  Ed and Jerry, the two guys in this group, told me about a group of idiots who toured the Doge's Palace the same time that they did. They were in a large room in the palace, and the floor bounced a bit. The idiots started jumping up and down to make it move more.  Who in his right mind would jump up and down on a 14th century masterpiece to see what would happen?

Give me Sulmona, Bologna, Ravenna, Pettorano sul Gizio, or Santo Stefano Sessanio any day.  If I want a gaggle of tourists to smother me, I'll go down to the Las Vegas Strip.

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