Precursor

It is exactly three weeks until Venice part two begins. And to be honest I’m a little bit scared. May was my first spring visit to the city ever and probably also my best experience. Since then I have kept abreast of the problems in the city and visiting in high season has me on edge.

Ok, so this is a little background to my second trip of the year and why I am picking the worst possible time of year to visit (apart from Carnevale). You may remember my week long excusion at the beginning of May. I tracked my spending, where I went and wrote about all the historical connections I had to the city. This was my first holiday alone, my first trip abroad alone. It was the beginning of a new era for me.

September is not going to be the same thing again. My budget hasn’t changed. The difference is that when I land at Marco Polo airport on the afternoon of 5th September, I am meeting my parents who will have simultaneously arrived from London on another flight.

I am setting myself up as their guide for the week, not just to make their life a little easier since I know my way about, but also as a guiding light so that they spend their money properly and remain Venezia savvy. And of course I would be lying if I said I was doing this entirely out of the goodness of my heart for Venice and for my parents. Because, to be honest, they have hired an apartment. And it has a spare bedroom. And I’m going to be in it. A little more on the apartment situation in another post once I get there, because that also came with its own set of concerns.

Exactly 48 years ago, my parents spent a few days in Venice on their honeymoon with absolutely no idea that our family history came from there. Last November I managed to persuade them that a return was inevitable and long overdue. So here we are.

So this will be an interesting exercise. Spending money isn’t hard. Spending it wisely and ethically is the key to doing it right. The week has already been timetabled including island visits, the right kinds of restaurants, a carefully researched Gondola experience, museums and other experiences. I’m spending a morning with Row Venice….well you get the picture.

This will be a chance for me to see first hand just how bad things have become. Imagine May but with more people and much warmer conditions. Am I ready? Yes and no. I am desperate to be back there, but also more than a little bit worried about what I will find.

 

 

What Is Venice’s Problem With Tourists?

To the layman, the average guy on the street, anywhere else in the world in fact, Venice might seem to have a bit of an attitude problem. But every time I see a Venice action group complaining about the behaviour of tourists, here is a case in point, I cannot help but compare it to behaviour I see in my every day life here in the UK.

Venice’s population is dwindling. Many of its natives have left, many of those are the new generations. They leave behind the older ones who cling to the notion of the ‘good old days’. There are not many ‘new ways of thinking’ penetrating daily life and the influx of 28 millions tourists a year does nothing to indire the world to Venice’s standards of decency.

Venice lives in a bubble. It is a city, theoretically if not practically, cut off from the rest of the world by water, its saving grace for centuries. Venice is old, super super old. Whilst you’ll see a lot of modern frontages and recognisable brands clogging up the buildings, the structures they are in are often 800 or 900 hundred years old.

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This ‘bubble’ has created a community which steadfastly refuses to submit to the rest of the world. Venetian is still a thriving dialect. Religion and thousand year old traditions are still a guiding force. The citizens have rules about behaviour in the street, general decency and are more patriotic than I’ve ever known a place to be. The buildings themselves steadfastly resist the modern world.

So I’ve looked at a number of problems that bug Venice and its people. And I applied them to where I live – Manchester, UK. Now, you might say there’s no comparison, but let’s remember that people from everywhere go to Venice. And they will take their attitudes, these attitudes, with them.

The fact is that, and perhaps its simply because populations have become too overwhelming to be able to deal with these issues effectively, we have all become complacent. We have allowed ourselves to be ridden roughshod over by advancement, by expansion, by consumerism, by a slackening of attitudes, by a need for something for nothing. I am often embarrassed by what I see as I go about my daily life, but we turn the other way and we simply deal with it, by not challenging it. And thus the standards continue to slip.

In Venice these failing attitudes really hurt the city, because it doesn’t have the infrustrature to cope. It is after all a city on water, without roads, without road traffic. And when your daily visitor numbers exceed your entire resident population you are fighting a losing battle.

Grafitti

Almost an art form in Manchester, some of it deliberately creative and beautiful, much of it not. In Venice it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb because tags dawbed on the brickwork of 900 year old buildings just don’t work. Yes there are people dealing with it like Masegni & Nizioleti Associazione ONLUS but it’s a never ending job.

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Rubbish

In Manchester rubbish is everywhere. Yes there are bin collections and public bins are provided but a lot of it is simply thrown around in the streets by the public or piles up in unimaginable quantities in overflowing bins on days when visitor numbers are high. The phrase ‘take your rubbish home with you’ simply doesn’t apply here. Venice has narrow streets, people rely on the streets to get around. And everything happens by water. By comparison Venice is a clean city so it notices rubbish in an instant.

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Drunks and indecent behaviour

Drunks falling about, hen parties, girls wearing the kind of thing you’d normally only see on the beach, guys with their shirts off, spitting in the street, using doorways as toilets, drinking and eating in the street, – this is standard Manchester behaviour – not just on Friday and Saturday night, but every day. And people see no problem in taking those behaviours to other countries where they are not tolerated. Swimming in the canals is another no-no in Venice and yes it happens in Manchester too. Joy.

Sleeping on the streets

I’ve seen this a lot in Venice. I guess people who are there for a couple of days, in cutting their budgets – like a 1 Euro slice of pizza – choose to sleep on the streets for a couple of nights rather than find a B&B. It’s a lot warmer than Manchester after all. They hole up in doorways, pitch tents in grassy campos and even curl up right in the middle of the Piazza San Marco overnight. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen the photos.

Obstruction

People sitting in doorways, on shop window ledges, on steps of bridges, sitting in groups in the middle of walkways. Yes this is Manchester too. Noone moves for anyone. Venice’s streets and bridges are far narrower than here, where people just walk around the pavement blockers. In Venice that’s almost impossible.

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Not paying for anything

Venice is not a cheap city. But a world of consumers trained in paying as little as possible for anything, still want to go there. They cut corners by not investing in the infrastucture of the city. They buy cheap souvenirs that definately weren’t made in Venice, eat food from tourist restaurants that aren’t run by Venetians and they view the main tourist attractions from anywhere that doesn’t involve actually buying a ticket. It’s hard running a genuine business in Venice. Running one in Manchester is just as hard. Just ask me. It’s difficult trying to get by with all that infectious consumerism. Nobody appreciates carefully honed skills, locally produced or the climbing costs of running a business when there’s ‘Made in China’ in the next window. And that is most definitely also a Manchester problem.

Nowhere to live

With rising tourism come the buy to let landlords and hotel owners out to make a quick buck. Citizens are running out of options in Venice. Affordable accommodation is a problem here in Manchester too. HS2 looms on the horizon. They promise more housing and jobs once it’s built but the reality is that commuters from London will take the properties which will be set at London prices and very few of the jobs will go to Manchester people. Venice has the same problem. Except their HS2 is the rising tide of tourists.

Conclusion

So where am I going with this? You’re probably wondering. The fact is, Venice still holds to standards that most of the rest of the world gave up on years ago. And it has been able to hold on to these standards because its isolation in the Lagoon meant that it could. It instilled a patriotic mindset which determinedly still digs its heels in. And in the end, that could be all that’s left protecting Venice from the rest of the world.

I applaud a city that in our modern age is still fighting the ‘modern age’. Because what’s wrong with having a few standards?

The Guilt Complex

I am struggling with a conflict of loyalties.

In 5 weeks I return to Venice. At the height of season. I haven’t done that in 11 years. Not my choice. It’s my parents holiday and I want to be there to help them make the best of the venue. Ok, I lied, I really WANT to go back to Venice and I wouldn’t care when it was. It’s Venice.

I read a lot about what’s happening there at the moment. About how the cittidini are at breaking point. I look at the disgusting way tourists behave and the distressing disrespect so many people have for one of our most historical places on earth, and for all my care and consideration that I have put in place for my second visit, I can’t help feeling like I am just another part of the problem.

I don’t want to contribute to it. And for all my bleating on about my Venexiane ancestry, I really am not one of them. It was four generations ago that my g-g-g-grandfather was born and raised and worked in Murano and Venice. I am a charlatan. The only way I will ever be able to consider myself even close to being ‘one of them’ will be to live there. And that, I am sorry to say, is not going to happen any time soon, no matter what way I look at it.

So I don’t know how to reconcile myself. I hope that I am different from the millions that stream into Venice every year. I know that in some ways I am very different. In others perhaps not.  And I am thankful that I will be able to help two more people, my parents, who are one generation closer to their Venexiane DNA than I am, to be as conscientious as me.

And I hope that in some small way that gives something back. Because I don’t want to be THAT tourist.

Language Learning and Hello Talk

My Italian language learning has become obsessional. The better I get, the more I enjoy it. And the more I enjoy it, the more I do.

I don’t learn new things easily. I am impatient and I never learn for fun. I am practical. Everything I learn I expect to be able to use, and not when I am proficient, but from day one.  And so Italian became a part of my daily life quite literally from the first day through social media, family tree research, and trying to write my own blogs – oh and scriptwriting. I needed Italian to be able to do some of these things. So it was inevitable that its practical implications would be immediate and it was to my benefit to get good at it.

I’m now at an intermediate level apparently. Things which a month ago I could hardly comprehend, and was constantly making mistakes with, are now making sense – sentence structures, tenses. The more I learn, the more I remember. My word recall is getting better. I’m editing my scripts with Italian notes. I write my shopping list in Italian, I spend more time talking to myself and listening and reading and writing in Italian than in English. This is currently as close as I can get to full immersion. You can choose how much you want to do, and I choose to do it all. Because stopping means forgetting.

A lull in my learning, when I feel like I will never get the hang on it, usually signals a  breakthrough and a realisation that something I couldn’t get my head around, suddenly makes sense. Taking the odd online test to check my progress is helpful but I don’t worry about them too much. I took one last week, which is why I now consider myself intermediate. My obsession with grammar and reading seems to have been paying off – these were my best scores. My vocabulary, which wasn’t, I think is more down to my lack of confidence with speaking, more than anything else. When I’m put in a real life situations, I’m a rabbit caught in the headlights, which is ridiculous because I can chat away to myself all day confidently, if not proficiently. But as soon as I’m in real conversation my mind goes blank. And then I anticipate it. So I’m already setting myself up for a fall.

I still haven’t found the environment where listening and talking is easy. Language exchange groups have their place, but I find them very artificial environments. I felt more comfortable in Venice, alone and having to use my skills in real day to day situations with non English speakers, rather than sat in a pub with 30 other people all trying to improve their skills at the same time. Youtube is proving to be my best method for listening. The various scenarios, both classroom and ‘out and about’, and the option to utilise subtitles or go it alone is very helpful.

And although being corrected is useful for avoiding continuous mistakes, it damages my confidence if it happens too often. In Venice, people understood me and if they found out how long I had been learning Italian they seemed to be impressed which is a great confidence booster. Noone corrects you because they are just relieved they don’t have to use English unless they volunteer to. On Hello Talk or at exchange groups I am constantly reminded of my errors, put on the spot and scruitinised, on a sentence by sentence basis. People are looking for problems rather than just allowing you to communicate as best you can. And that’s very wearing. I already have Duolingo for that. It kills my confidence to keep trying because then I start expecting to be wrong. So I’ve ditched Hello Talk for now.

This is just one of many reasons why I am really excited to be returning to Venice again in September. Full immersion with people who just let you get on with it. I had such a great time there in May and it was the one thing that gave me the confidence to start speaking. Because I was there, doing it, and I was getting by on my half rate Italian which proved I was learning something. Not that many people in Venice are confident English speakers, despite the huge number of English speaking tourists, and I think I got by better on my half rate Italian than using English in many of the places I visited.  And I’m thankful for that.

Youtube transcription

I’ve included below the text from my last Youtube upload with one or two alterations. I realised a couple of errors after I posted this video. That’s the learning curve!! There’s also a link to the Youtube blog at the end.

Stasera sto scrivendo usando un microfono invece della mia tastiera. Questo è mio metodo nuovo di parlare. Spero che sarà aiutarmi con parlando, ma anche aiutarmi di  ricordo le parole più veloce.

La ragione è perché non sono trovando tanto opportunità di parlare con le persone al momento. Il gruppo che ugualmente incontro con ha fermata per l’estate – finché Ottobre. Questo è un problema per me perché vivo a Manchester e non in Italia. Così miei opzioni sono limitato per ora. Infatti quando sto scrivendo questo, sto parlando nel mio telefono, cui probabilmente guarda molto strano del persone.

Allora, in ogni caso questo è un metodo molto utile per me. Il vantaggio di questo metodo è che posso rivedere dopo parlo. Certo mia Italiana non è perfetto. Sto imparando italiano da 7 mesi, e ho lavorato molto duro. Per me questo è soltanto un’altro modo di imparare.

Queste giorni sono meno preoccupato del mia grammatica. Io sento che ho un buono capendo della lingua ora, così voglio soltanto gustare usando la lingua e miglioramento mia fiducia. Perché per me, mia fiducia è un grande problema, particolarmente con parlando. Ora credo che posso uso che cosa ho imparato. Mi piace di parlare, ma con le persone ancora sono nervoso perchè sono lenta con ascoltando e parlando. Credo che mia prouncia è bene (almeno il microfono pensa così!), quindi credo che il tempo e praticare sarà aiutare.

Al momento io pratico per almeno 2 ore per giorno, quotidiano, ma questo non è sempre le lezione con Duolingo, ma anche io leggo Facebook, e Twitter, e YouTube ecc.

Talking To Myself

Since Duolingo’s update I’ve lost a vital part of my Italian learning. The speaking exercises. Now, you can only do these via Google Chrome on a laptop as none of the other platforms now support the speech software and it’s disabled on Android devices.

But within that update there were also two speaking methods. The one where you repeated what you saw written in front of you in Italian and the other where you were given an English sentence that you repeated back in your target language. And it was this second one that I was just starting to get to grips with when the update was implemented. It’s also this one which hasn’t been reinstated on Chrome. But a complaint I posted via Duolingo’s discussion board turned up an interesting solution. Use the microphone function on your devices.

Because my contact with people to speak in Italian is limited on a day to day basis (I dream of full immersion) I’ve resorted to talking to myself. All the time. I describe what I’m doing, what I’m seeing, trying to speed my memory recall into real time so that as my conversation improves I am able to listen and respond faster. And of course the more I do, the better I get because brain training really does work. But it requires daily usage. And for me I’m talking at least 2 hours of lessons a day aside from all the social media I read and watch.

I have enough friends I can text and message in Italian but writing it isn’t my problem right now. It’s speaking. So instead of writing my texts I’m speaking them. And this I have discovered is the way forward for my language learning. It’s a slow process. My confidence still isn’t up to getting on Skype and chatting to strangers. I’m building up to that. But this is a happy medium. And what this also helps with is pronounciation. From what I’ve seen of my results so far, I’m doing okay. It seems to understand what I’m saying and my only real corrections seem to be punctuation which the microphone function doesn’t allow for.

So, how do you use the microphone? On your phone or tablet, when you start to type a small cog on the bottom left of your keyboard is visible. Click on that, and you’ll get options including a microphone. Still unsure. Here’s a visual. Enjoy the process and let me know if this works for you.

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Source

Back To The Abbey

The last time I was at Newstead Abbey was in March. Various commitments have conspired against me and I’ve just not been able to fit my spare days with ones when I was needed at the Abbey.

Last weekend however, I was back for a full weekend. And four days later I was back again helping behind the scenes on a costume tour and then I went armed with a ‘Hetty’ to do my bit of housework around the building. Driving all the way from Manchester means I need to fill my day there. And housework never stops at Newstead Abbey. It also means I get the run of the house when no one is there. That means it is ‘molto silenzio’ and I get to peek into all the cabinets. The atmosphere of course is quite different. That is when Newstead really comes alive.

I’ve been wanting to help out on a costume tour for some time now. The collection now housed at Newstead, which came from Nottingham Castle five years ago, rivals some of the best in the country but you wouldn’t even know it was there and tours are private affairs, prearranged with the curator. As a former costume designer myself, these rooms, off limits to most tourists and staff alike, are a haven of inspiration for me and other creatives with an interest in textiles from serious re-enactors to hobbyist embroiderers. As a resource it is second to none.

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Costumiers dream

At the weekend when my volunteering duties were done, I took myself off to the gardens as I often do, to take some photographs. The day was glorious and the shadows falling on the masonry on the old Friary frontage were just too tempting to pass up. The textures on the stone and the colours are beautiful and ooze 900 years of history. No wonder it inspired the likes of Byron and became such a labour of love for those like Colonel Wildman. It’s a place you can never grow tired of.

My photography is amateur at best but I hope you see what I see.

Enjoy.

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