Slaying The Travel Bug

My last trip to Venice ended just over a month ago and I am almost at the point of selling my soul to a mundane 9-5 day job with a guaranteed income, just so I can go travelling. This of course makes no sense in my plan for circumnavigating the globe, but it’s that or the winning lottery ticket and I’m not known for my winning streak. I may have ticked off some of my travel destinations over the years, but the world is a big place and my hit list never seems to get any smaller.

It all ground to a halt in 2008 when I put plans into motion to start my own business, kissed goodbye to my well paid job and took a leap of faith. In the last 10 years I’ve only managed to go abroad a handful of times. Trips back home to Kent at least get me into the Metrop once in a while but the joke is starting to wear thin now.

I have an insatiable travel bug in my DNA (I know where that comes from), but work has been piling up whilst I’ve been galivanting these past six months whilst I completed the revision of my book. I’ve been avoiding my other responsibilities and I’ve had to put a firm travel ban in place for the rest of the year in order to catch up. After three weeks I was going stir crazy. Manchester seems remarkably uninviting right now.

My work puts me firmly in the ‘flexible to do whatever I like’ category and I have no other responsibilities holding me in the UK as such. By comparison I know that this makes me luckier than most but it doesn’t allow me the funds to do it as often as I would like. I have a plan but I’m waiting on outcomes for how this may or may not pan out next year. In case it doesn’t I have the B and C plans too.

Even so 2018 is potentially full of interesting possibilities and I’m not prepared to side step any opportunities that come up. The fact is, I’m not very good at real life. I don’t do responsibility, I don’t do routine, I like to be impulsive and go with my gut instinct. I’ve managed to tailor my life to suit my personality as much as possible but I am greedy of course, as all travellers are. It’s never enough. La vita è breve. Don’t waste it. You won’t get another chance.

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The History In Your Own DNA

I have never classed myself as a racist but I’ve always had a bit of a gloss on matters international for the simple reason that you can’t take the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you did, your life would be miserable and if I’m honest I’ve been much happier in my personal life since I stopped watching tv and turned off the news – the jumble of modern wants destroys the meaning of life and I needed to get away from that.

But as my family tree extended further and further I began to see everything in a different light. There is no such thing as a purely ‘English person’ being truly English. We all have ancestors from around the world. Pure white British is a myth. It doesn’t matter how many generations you go back, at some point, somewhere out there your DNA came from somewhere else.

In the early days we always thought our family were of Spanish origin because of the Oliver surname. There seemed to be some, as it turned out misinformed, evidence we could be traced back to Scotland where many Spanish people landed in centuries past. On holiday Spanish locals would come up to me and start talking in Spanish assuming I was one of them. But this was terribly flawed research in the days before the internet. And as I investigated our tree it turned out Oliver wasn’t even our surname and we hailed from Dublin and who knows from where before that, I’m stuck in the 1740s at the moment.

On the other side we are Italian, VERY VERY Italian. It may be five generations past but because of how connected I have become to that part of our history and to the country now, I know there’s a lot of Italian DNA firmly rooted in me. More than that, it’s Venexiane DNA which is like getting a gold medal in my book because I’m not sure anything in Italy is more special than Venice.

I have always been fascinated by other cultures, accents, ways of life, the world is a melting pot of amazing stories of survival and suffering and success and colourful lives and dreams and challenges. And to deny that in your own genetic makeup is the ultimate folly. It can also explain a lot about who you are. Untangling my DNA has explained why I am who I am, how the DNA leap that didn’t seem to be as evident in the rest of my immediate family, came out in me all singing, all dancing and threw spanners into my life at every turn. I was at the mercy of my heritage without even realising it.

The other day Ruby Wax’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are aired. It was a particularly noteable episode. I’m never entirely sure that celebs really connect with what they are discovering but Ruby certainly did. What she discovered explained a lot about her world, her family, her own self. Had she known about her family’s past years ago I think she may have had a different coping strategy for everything that she’s had to deal with. One line that resounded with me was ‘Instead of doing therapy, I should have been doing my family tree’. And she is absolutely right.

So What Happens Now…

After almost a year, this Sunday just gone in fact, I completed the last proof of the revision of my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant’. It then languished for a few days before going to my layout editor and then to print. Sunday night I sat back and watched a film. I relaxed. I thought I’d earned it. By Tuesday I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I began to realise what a mammoth project this had been. Don’t get me wrong I have lots of other things to do now that it’s been put to bed, but as is the case with any big project, you need some down time afterwards to take your brain out of its current mode and back into whatever it was doing before the book took over your life.

I don’t have much time to adjust. Once I’ve dealt with the layout and worked with the printers for the final copy there are sales to make and publicity to do and emails to send out and complimentary copies to post. I suppose that this is when the real work begins, the aim for the hard cash, the bit where you realise whether it was worth the effort or not. Except of course it was, whatever the outcome because this is much more than a book.

Finally saying goodbye, in part, to that aspect of your life has been so consuming, and in my case at the same time so personal, is actually traumatic. It’s like losing a partner unwillingly. Suddenly everything you worked so hard for, everything that dictated your every waking moment, has suddenly stopped.

I want to enjoy those few weeks before sales begin, but I just feel lost and it’s very strange. I have inhabited a world from another century for the past year, I’ve thrilled at every new find, and the chance to go to noteable archives and historical buildings and of course to Venice to where it all began. I found a sense of belonging every time I opened the file.

This became my world and now it’s like the dawning of a new year and everything is supposed to be different. The last time I felt like this was when I finished University. After 3 years it was suddenly over. I had plenty to do, but the structure had changed, the people, the surroundings, the motivations, the safety net. It’s inevitable that you won’t slip from one environment to the next without some minor teething problems. And of course it isn’t arrivederci. I will be back soon. But only time will tell if I can ever really let go of this project, or if it will ever let me move on. I don’t mind if it doesn’t, it’s not the kind of thing you can just walk away from.

Revisits

When I visited Venice in May coming home was hard, perhaps because it was my first visit in 10 years. On my second visit, in early September, I was geared up for the same heart-wrenching emotions. But they never came.

I was sad to leave, but not in the same way as I had been in May. That temptation to not get on the flight home was gone. And my all-consuming desire to continue my research into moving to Venice had also diminished.

I was disappointed in myself but also in a small way relieved. It’s complicated. There’s money and logistics and goodness knows what else to think about. And my life is already full of things that may not survive the move.

But maybe my response was because I had forcefully lined up several important projects and research trips immediately on my return to counteract the fallout (I was literally packing my suitcase again the day after I returned to Manchester). Perhaps I have more clarity. Perhaps the next visit will be even harder. I have no return currently in sight.

Since I got back two weeks ago, I haven’t even had time to look through my photos from September’s trip and I’ve barely drafted a few blogs about my week there. There’s plenty to come. It was a wonderful week, but I haven’t processed it yet. Nothing will let me.

The reasons will become evident over the next couple of months. There are announcements and milestones and a hope for the future. Watch this space.

Being Venetian Is A State Of Heart

I’ve picked up a few quotations from social media, which help in some way to try and encompass what I feel about Venice. I’ve scattered them about this short but musing blog.

There are two kinds of Venetians, those who are born in
Venice, and those who become Venetian in their hearts.
Kathleen Ann Gonzalez

I wasn’t born in Venice but it is the fatherland, the place where it all began, and the place where I discovered who I am. Most, if perhaps all, Venetians would say I am not one of them, but it is thanks to finding Venice in my genealogy that I worked out who and what I am, and where I fit in. From this I found a purpose that many people never realise. And for that alone I am truly grateful.

I cannot describe what that city means to me or how it makes me feel. It’s not something you can put into words. If you’ve truly taken your genealogy into your heart, and if you’ve become so immersed in your family history that you become it, and it becomes you, then maybe you will understand what I am talking about. It’s not something I can put my finger on, and if you don’t get it, I cannot help you.

Being an authentic Venetian is a state of the soul,
a mix of love for Venice and a peculiar mix of exuberant
vitality and intellectual wit.
EVenice.it

But every time I make that trip of nearly 2000 miles it feels like those early heady days when you’ve met a new love. You feel that passion rise up inside every time you think about them, every time you know a meeting is near. When you leave, it feels like you’ve lost a piece of yourself, like your heart is quite literally breaking. This is Venice to me. And tomorrow that emotional rollercoaster begins again.

It is always assumed that Venice is the ideal place for a honeymoon.
This is a grave error. To live in Venice or even to visit it means
that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left
over in your heart for anyone else.
Peggy Guggenheim

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?