I am going to let you into a little secret. I have a dream. The dream is to live in Venice. But how is that possible in a place where everyone is leaving, where tourism has all but eaten away at the fabric of the city?
Tourism is a double edged sword. It can bring income to places which have lost their industry or their community. It can work alongside existing companies or bring in new trade. It can attract tourists who otherwise may have come but not spent money.
Equally it can take over.
Venice is an incredible city with several problems – a dwindling population, it is separated by water (its most striking feature and also its worst enemy), a lack of solid industry to support its 54,000 strong native population, and an incredible history that attracts people from all over the world.
It’s been on the circuit of the Grand Tour for centuries but tourism was very different back then. These days, floating worlds – giant cruise ships – spill out hundreds of people who only hang around for 5 hours, buy junk from tourist shops, eat their packed lunches and then go back to their luxury liners, safe in their bubble. One Venetian local, speaking to Citilab for the article that inspired me to write this, described them as ‘smash and grab tourists’. And they are. They come to Venice, they photograph the Rialto, marvel at St Marks Square. And then they leave. They don’t SEE Venice. They see postcard images. And they don’t give anything back.
True, tourism is supporting some businesses. But only the ones that sprung up as a direct reaction to the influx of visitors, not the established centuries old businesses, or the local shops, or the things you need in day to day life if you live there. Tourist income eats away at infrustrature, community, ecology. The income is negligable compared to what is here and the businesses that really need the support – the indigenous ones, the centuries old businesses, the local production that isn’t £5 for 5.
I’ve been reading articles from those on the ground. Not big companies that are protected from Venice’s financial problems, but real people who have to live it and witness it day to day and deal with the problems of living and working in Venice. And I wonder if any of my skills could be of any use out there. Could I survive in Venice?
And then I read this article and one line jumped out at me:
‘…finding someone to sew buttons on to a shirt that’s lost them, are becoming impossible’
My background is in costume design. I did it for 20 years or more. Although I write, my job now is as a fashion designer and photoshoot stylist. But alterations, repairs and costume (think the Carnevale di Venezia) are still a part of what I do. I was also a professional PA for 15 years. And now that I am learning Italian, is this a possibility?
I am not Venetian. I don’t live there. Parlo un poco Italiano. Sto migliorando. I have visited as a reluctant tourist many times, as someone who wants to melt into the local neighbourhood but can’t because I’m not Venetian and I don’t live there. But my DNA is. And to me that’s really important. I am looking at my ancestry, and at my heritage and I see a place that I love that is still at arms length and yet I worry for it and I want to be a part of it. It is almost a duty, a labour of love. But one I want to embrace.