Fake Questions from Make Believe Readers: Volume 2

venice2

Q:  Is it true that you had a bad experience in Venice?  How could anyone have a bad time in such a beautiful city?

Lieutenant Al Giardello – Baltimore Police Department

 

I appreciate the question Lieutenant Al, but I am afraid you are accusing me of a crime I did not commit.  My wife and I went to Venice in late November a few years ago and we had a fine time.  I found the city to be every bit as beautiful as those who have been romanticizing it for centuries.  

But…

Venice is an absurd place.  The cathedrals and piazzas are stunning.  Doges Palace is almost as nice as the replica in Las Vegas.  St. Marks Campanile, despite being a 20th Century rebuild of the original 16th Century tower, is a fitting marker for the basilica of the same name.  St. Mark’s Basilica, by the way, is one hell of a church.  The problem with Venice is that the entire city is an uninhabitable tourist trap.

I have a habit of judging European cities in terms of livability.  Could I live in Paris?  Of course. Could I live in Berlin?  Definitely.  Could I live in Venice?  Hell no.  Put aside the fact that there are no cars because there are no roads, there aren’t even any bicycles.  That’s right, Venetians are still living without the wheel.

Of course it is unfair to judge Venice on the same scale as major metropolitan European cities like Paris and Berlin. Reduced to its essence, Venice is nothing more than a theme park with some apartments for the few remaining locals. If you have never been to Venice, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable living in Walt Disney World.  No?  Cross Venice off of your retirement home wishlist.

I’m being a touch hyperbolic but that’s my nature. Venice is not a theme park – it is a dying city that a defunct civilization left behind for the rest of us to enjoy. Left without maintenance, I imagine the city would have a life expectancy of less than five years. The environmental hurdles the city must jump through to maintain its existence are outrageous. The Venetians did not make things easy on themselves by building the jewel of an empire on a glorified sand bar, but I am glad we live in a world that values its maintenance and restoration.

gondola

So despite the fact that it is unlivable and falling into the sea, what makes Venice the target of its well deserved criticism?  Sadly, most of Venice has become a glorified cruise port; the Cancún of Europe.  The ships unload early in the morning and the tourists pour into the city to consume as much of Venice  that eight hours will allow.

The result of such manic tourism is mediocre hospitality, and more importantly, mediocre food. Let me be clear, I am sure there is excellent food and excellent hospitality somewhere in Venice, the problem is that the city has devolved into an orgy of carnival barkers and trinket salesmen. If you have been to Paris or Rome you are undoubtedly familiar with the omnipresent street salesmen who gather around the heavily trafficked sites and monuments.  The hard sell of European “street vendors” can be a jarring experience for the uninitiated, but the major cities have plenty of breathing room to escape the barking harassment.  In Venice, literally all of the major pathways are inundated with salesmen, aggressive gondoliers, restaurateurs, and beggars, all vying for a portion of your daily allowance.

I do not blame the Venetians for the unfortunate touristic evolution of the city, quite the opposite in fact.  Tourism is the only viable industry left for the Venetians.  Unfortunately, the captivity of the cruise ship day trippers has resulted in a glut of mediocrity and price gouging – a bad combination.  

So to answer your question Yaphet, err Lieutenant Al, I had a great time in Venice but I was also disappointed with the reality of Venice.  The city is a factory of tourism and kitsch.  By the end of our long weekend in Venice I started to doubt the authenticity of everything.  The beautiful yet prohibitively expensive Murano glass sculptures, the carnival masks, the marbled paper, nearly everything for sale in the city seemed like an obvious Chinese import, even if completely authentic. The problem with being entirely surrounded by forgery is that you begin to distrust everything you encounter.

yaphetYaphet Kotto is one of our greatest living actors as well as a frequent make believe contributor to Travel Pedant.

 

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