Day 8 of our tour of Italy took us to a place unlike any other that I have been to in the past; Venice. After a quick 1 hour train ride, we stepped out into the city, into the view of the main canal that runs through Venice, and I have to say, the scene was beautiful. Brightly colored buildings and cobblestone roads lined the very edge of the canal, in which both new and old fashioned boats slowly made their way down the water. Overlooking this view, Venice felt like a place that existed in a reality completely separate from the rest of the world. In some ways, as I would find out, this feeling was not so far off from the truth. How this city operates itself because of its geography and canals, is unlike any other city in the world.
As our tour guide explained, Venice is not one solid piece of land, but a collection of very small islands connected to each other using many bridges throughout the city. This immediately explained just why the city had waterways and canals for its roads, with boats occupying the role that cars normally would in a city. Large public boats took the place of buses, and water taxis replace their land dwelling counterparts. Unfortunately for Venice, canals and roads aren’t quite comparable when it comes to functionality even if they play the same role. A boat in a canal cannot move quite as quickly car on a road, and transportation is much slower in Venice as a result. In fact, it is said that if you need to get somewhere quickly in this city, your best bet is just to walk!
Using waterways as a means of transportation wasn’t always an outdated practice however. Walking along the canals, our tour guide explained that in previous eras, Venice’s reliance on waterways, for transport, in addition to its geographical location giving it access to the ocean, made it a home to merchants and other tradesmen who would use Venice as a base to send their trade ships out on voyages, bringing huge amounts of commerce and wealth to the city. Unfortunately, times have changed for Venice. Though the city is not poor, it is not the center for trade that it once was, and most of its economy is based on tourism. This is fairly apparent when walking through the city, as street vendors line the sides of the streets, and tour groups pass by each other. This part of the culture of Venice feels so prominent that it’s easy to forget that some people actually live here.
In fact, it seems almost unfeasible for a regular person to live in Venice. The foremost reason for this is that its unique geographic location makes the cost of living very high. Most of the goods that Venice receives still arrives by boat, and almost all of their goods have to be imported, which raises the cost of the goods significantly. This coupled with the extremely high price of a home there (the minimum cost is $500,000), makes for quite the expensive home. Adding to its unfeasibility is the fact that most of the jobs in Venice have to do with the tourism industry, which do not bring in a high enough income to support a residence on the island. This has caused most of the locals who work in the city, to have to move off of the island in search of a more affordable living space. Essentially, the only way to support having a home in Venice is if the buyer is rich in the first place, limiting the amount of people that can live there to the wealthy few, leaving the city to mostly be filled by tourists and those who sell them things.
A city of tourists and tourist attractions provides quite a contrast in terms of culture when I compare it to back home. Those who weren’t tourists in Venice seemed to move, to some extent, at their own pace in life, as this is a place where the expectations of a person and what they do don’t appear to be quite as high as they are in the U.S.. Jobs that do not require a college education are just as acceptable here as any other it seems. A prime example of this are the waiters in the restaurants. The demographic of waiters in Italy is not just of teenagers working to put themselves through college, but of all ages of people that recognize waiting tables as a respected craft. In Venice specifically, this concept of respecting all types of professions was apparent in the demographic of the gondola drivers. The age of these drivers ranged from mid 20’s to what looked to be late 50’s, which told me that this was not a profession to pick up and put down after a little while, as it might be in the States. These people were masters of their own unique craft, showing that this was a profession to be respected in this country.
Another observation that has been apparent in all of the cities that we have been to was that locals can spot an American from about a mile away and many times see this as an opportunity to make money in their business, depending on what it is. Waiters at various restaurants stand outside, greeting each one of us and advertising their menu as we pass by hoping that we choose their restaurant to eat. That does not compare to the many people out on the streets, giving away “free” trinkets such as bracelets, roses, and bird feed, only to ask for money in return after it is not possible to exit. This type of opportunistic conduct is something that has not reached the states yet in the slightest, and I will say that I was taken for a ride in receiving a “free” bracelet my first night in Italy. The smallest bill I had at the time was 5 euros.
With a nice visit to Venice under our belts, we are heading back into the world of fashion tomorrow, with a trip to a fashion consortium in industrial Verona tomorrow. I’m looking forward to exploring Verona in greater detail in the morning!