Day 133 and 134: Venice

Some of Sydney’s best restaurants are inside a casino. Some fantastic and very creative food can be found there but I never go because I hate casinos. Aside from the fact they’re run by cretinous fuckheads, they’re ugly and they make me feel icky like a unwashed bar floor. I hate being in them.

Venice gives me the same jibes. It’s got the same problem as the restaurants in the casino but in reverse – like big, very beautiful, restaurant full of little casinos.

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It’s really beautiful, absolutely ridiculously so. Almost every alley, canal and square would be the number one tourist destination in any other city but here it’s all squished together – all the beauty living on top of itself like an awkward mass of Siamese unicorns. But within this beautiful swirling mess there’s no substance, no life – nothing is real.

It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. But unlike Rome or Paris, where the tourist population filters out through the cities’ many destinations and sights, in Venice all the tourists are jammed into one tiny space. It’s really small, you can walk from one side to the other in an hour. The 58,000 people who live there have almost no economic leverage over the millions of tourists who come every year. The entire city is dedicated to feeding of the transient herd. Almost every street is lined with tawdry mask stores, industrial gelaterias, Gucci stores and everything else you’d find on any tourist strip anywhere in the world. If the tourists stopped coming all these places would close down, they have no value to anyone who lives here. It’s horrible and ugly and it makes me feel weird just like the casino does. It must be even stranger for the people who live there.

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This door is in a street that opens up onto the main plaza. On a busy day you wouldn’t be able to open it because of the amount if people streaming past. Every shop, restaurant and bar within 500 metres caters only to tourists. There’s no supermarkets, cheap restaurants, doctors or anything just overpriced tawdry crap. I’m so curious about their life. Where do they buy groceries? What restaurants do they like? How do they go to the doctor? Where do they go out? How do they ever find other venetians to make out with and have babies with?!

I’m sad we couldn’t find a couchsurfer to ask all these questions to but I did my best to badger any store owner or waiter we met. These are some things they said.

Middle aged woman working in a designer stationary store. Bright azure eyes, black hair straightened with a machine and sideways glance that felt homely or flirty, I can’t desired which:

“Is it weird living here?”

“Now it’s just walls and behind it it’s empty . . . It’s Disneyland. . . There is nothing here for us. We need to go to the mainland to get anything. There are no services.”

Young woman in Guggenheim store. Hair cropped like a raindrop, nicely dressed and pretty:

“Do you mind if I ask. Do you have a lover?*”

“Yeah I have boyfriend.”

“How did you meet him?”

“In the library. There are no bars here where we can meet people. The only place to meet people is at the university.”

Middle aged man working in at the bar in a pizza store. Tall, broad, bald and gesticulatey:

“Do you love here in Venice?”

“No it’s too expensive. I live on the mainland. Everyone who works here loves on the mainland.”

“Would you like to live here?”

“No. I enjoy working here in the day. It’s beautiful but I don’t like it at night. It’s dead. It’s quiet. The streets are empty.”

It’s giving me a bit of an identity crisis. I’m a tourist and I’ve come for the same reason everyone else has – to look at beautiful stuff but I’m as much a part of this Disneyland as anyone else inside. Any effort on my part to find something real or Venetian is only contributing to Venice’s contrived tourist economy.

I felt that on our second day. I’d read about a nice cheap restaurant (very short supply) that sold fresh fish in a Telegraph* article. I already pretty wary about advice from foreign news sources and travel writers so when I saw some fish mangers on the way I saw a good opportunity – produce vendors and deli owners have given me the best food recommendations so far.

“Where do you like to eat?”

“Hang on one second. Mario! Mario!”

“What?” Younger guy, also covered in fish blood who might be his son.

“Take these guys to get a good lunch”

The younger guy washed his hand of fish guts and led us down the street and into an alley. He said he was full but him and his dad (maybe?) eat there all the time.

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It’s was a new chiccetti bar (snacks that you order with a drink). Everyone inside was Italian, holding a glass of prosecco and eating meatballs or stuffed zucchini flowers.

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While we were eating a personalised food tour came in. Two young American guys, who strangely complained of being full before eating, and their Italian guide. We overheard that Marco, the owner, is a famous Venetian chef that runs cooking schools in the local cuisine. Everything we ate there was delicious and unbelievably cheap. I wondered how long this will last.

We had originally come to Venice for the festival of the Redentore* but after two days we wanted to leave. We didn’t care too much about missing the festival because we knew on the same night our garage rock friends were going to a 50s and 60s rockabilly gig in the countryside.

*the direct translation of what I said would be object of love, which is not that strange a thing to ask. I didn’t want to assume her sexuality.”
*UK version
*commenorates the end of the plague in Venice.

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