Believe the hype. Venice is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible cities in the world. It is ridiculously beautiful, picturesque, photogenic.
There is pure fascination surrounding how the foundation of the city was built on wooden stilts, joining 118 islands through bridges and canals. But also how all of the houses, churches, palaces, monuments that were erected hundreds of years ago continue to stand after all this time.
With tourists literally pouring in: tumbling out of the train station onto its streets, lining up for (steeply priced) gondola rides, filling the terraces and piazzas and creating pedestrian traffic jams over archway bridges, there are moments when it feels like Disneyland. Like everyone there is a tourist, coming to be wowed, entertained and ‘serviced’.
Except, Venice is still a city with around 60,000 people living in the historical part. White collars carry their briefcases to work. University students eat packed lunches on benches. Teenagers hang out and tag walls. Children are walked to school. Grocery shoppers traverse bridges with food trolleys. Transporters deliver equipment and machinery by boat.
In a quest to find a restaurant ‘with some locals’ I crossed two office workers on their lunch break who rang an unmarked, unassuming doorbell. When they were buzzed open, my mouth gasped to view a huge, bustling, full restaurant within. The suit-clad gentleman looked at me and closed the door behind him.
Of course, Venetians, and others who live in Venice need, let me repeat, need, to create spaces for themselves that are free of peering tourists with cameras in hand, looking for that perfect capture. An opportunity to live a relatively normal daily life in a city which is a live, walking museum 365 days of the year. There is the facade that you see. But there is more to it. You find windows, entrances, doorways, gardens protected with fences and bars. Spaces are created within spaces that are hidden from the roaming wanderer.
Thus, we need to acknowledge that there is a sad reality as well. It is difficult to live in Venice. The prices of apartments are soaring, thus many migrate to other places. Further, the buildings are incredibly difficult to maintain, restore and inhabit – leaving many run down or abandoned. Although establishments receive tourist dollars through the services they provide, competition is steep and there remain limited job opportunities for other sectors. While large development projects such as the MOSE are trying to combat the city’s sinking, they come with their own challenges.
Walking the streets of Venice makes one reflect on the past. One witnesses history, archaeology, architecture and art through the city structure itself. All embedded in a certain culture and tradition which is difficult to imagine let alone replicate. Amidst this preservation of the past, it becomes all the more interesting to observe other, more contemporary forms of creative expression within the city such as graffiti, street art and political banners.
For the perfect, picturesque photos of the city and its monuments (which are truly impressive!), google Venice and check out galleries or buy a postcard. The photos are true to form. It is that beautiful.
However, this post represents a small attempt to capture some of that ‘ordinary daily life’. Things that are perhaps a bit ‘less pretty’ but no less beautiful, real and relevant.