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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My preoccupation with Venice is a bit obsessional. But I do like a good cause – something I can get behind. Something that inspires me and I can see the results of when I make the effort. I like the rallying cry from the city. You can see, and hear, the murmer of revolution in those 900 year old wings. It is potentially an exciting time. Venice is no stranger to fighting for its liberation. So why should now be any different?
And I suppose my Venexiane ancestry only serves to fuel the fire that is my interest in preserving the city and the welfare of its indigenous population. I am well behind the need to curb tourist numbers, to ban the ‘grandi navi’ (cruise ships), even to a charge for entering the Piazza San Marco if it controls numbers and the money is properly invested back into the city for the benefit of its people.
Which is ironic because for all my bleating on about protecting Venice, every time I go there I am essentially a tourist. I try not to be one of the mob. I try to shop at the right places, to follow the rules, to be sympathetic to the problems of the cittidini and imagine how I would feel if I lived there and I had to put up with the hoards. But I know that by agreeing with the city’s cries for help, I could be pricing myself out of ever seeing my ancestral homeland again.
Lord Byron once said of his Carabinieri dealings, as they struggled in vain to liberate Italy from the Austrians in the 1820s:
‘It is no great matter, supposing that Italy could be liberated, who or what is sacrificed.’
And I concur.