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.

Venezia – 3 Giorno – On This Day In Venice

Lunedi 8 maggio

On this day in 1798 on the island of Murano, my great great great grandfather, probably best known as Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard, was born. The fact that I am in Venice this week was not a part of my plan, it’s just the way the dates fell on my AirBNB booking.

After breakfast at Goppion, where I met two tourists (one of whom teaches English on mainland Italy), I headed off to Fondamenta Nove to catch the vaporetto to Murano to meet my new cousin.

Paola Falcier is a writer and Murano resident whom I met on the internet a couple of months back. We were both researching our Murano Falcier ancestors and there was a reasonable chance we were related. As it happens, we’re not directly, but we’ve stayed in touch and she’s been a willing victim via Whatsapp as I improve my Italian. We’re still hopeful of finding a connection somewhere. The research continues.

We did a huge circuit of Murano taking in the Fondamenta Venier, which used to be the Fondamenta degli Angoli which is where my Falcieri family lived and where Tita and his siblings were all born.

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We also visited all the churches, a glass factory, the cemetery and I was introduced to a whole host of friends and relatives who had all heard of my impending arrival.

My ancestors on Murano (Falcier, Nichetti, Gaggio and Caurlin) were liberally spread across the southern part of the island and were hanging out around San Stefano, San Pietro and San Ciprioni but there are also connections to San Donato. Between  1814 and 1818 Tita’s father, who had drifted between being a wine seller and a boatman, had picked up his wife and children and decamped to Venice where they had taken up residence at the Palazzo Mocenigo Casa Nuova as ‘gondolieri de casada’ to Lucia Mocenigo, famous of Andrea di Robliant’s books, and later residence for 3 years of Lord Byron after he left the Frezzeria. Why they moved I have no idea. I am guessing they had contacts, probably a family member, already there.

After we parted I headed off to Al Timon. I had found a language exchange group via ‘Meet Up’ and, even though I had spent all day with Paola speaking almost nothing but very broken Italian, I had the chance over cichetti and Aperol to give it another go with my host Michele.

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After this I cut the day short. Paola reckons we clocked up about 8 miles today and tomorrow is another full day. My visit is now half way through. This makes me a bit sad, but I have plenty left to do.

For now, Tita, wherever you are, Buon Compleanno.

What Did I Spend?

Today was quite a cheap day. Breakfast at Goppion was 2.60 Euros and I only picked at cake and cappuccino during the day. Water is freely available throughout Venice at the various fountains so you have no excuse for dehydrating here. Cichetti and two Aperol at Al Timon cost me 10 Euros.

The vaporetto return to Murano Colonna from Fondamenta Nove in Cannaregio cost 10 Euros.

Di Venezia Con Amore

Forgive the impersonal nature of this blog post. Today I arrive in Venice – actually I’ll be somewhere over mainland Europe when this drops onto your timeline. I don’t know when I will get internet access so this is damage limitation, by way of a quick pre-published introduction to say hello from here. If you are in Venice, drop me a line. I am open to all sort of interesting liasons over prosecco, cichetti and anywhere else dreamy and romantic as ever Venice is.

The aim over the next six days is to document my time here with observations, the kinds of photographs you don’t normally see (I promise no Grande Canale panoramics), thoughts on prices, where to eat, artesans, people and the history I see as I trace my ancestors back and forth. I will also be tracking my spending, to see just how true it is that Venice is an overpriced tourist trap. I am very budget conscious so this will be an interesting exercise.

Ciao. Ci vediamo dopo…from somewhere over Europe.

My Venice Review – Countdown!

This post is written mostly in English but with a bit of Italian as well. I’m still learning so translating takes agggeeesssss! But it is good practice!

When I first went to Venice 15 years ago, I was oblivious to the problems. I went five more times, still unaware of what was going on. This year I have returned after a 10 year gap. I am now educated and aware of the problems, the pros and cons. Largely this is also because I know so much more about my personal connection to the city. It is my ancestry. It is my family history. It is my past and it has also been a huge part of my life and my future.

To record my return and my new awareness of the city, I am going to write, research, visit, eat, drink and photograph my six days and blog here. I will be blogging in both Italian and English which I hope will have some accuracy! Excuse my errors!

Please follow my posts. I don’t like to be considered a tourist, but I suppose I am and I hope some of what I say will be of use to other tourists who want more than the tourist experience, and of course for those who live in and care for the city in a small way.

Quando mi primo andare a Venezia 15 anni fa, ero non consapevole dei problemi. Ho ritornato cinque volte, ancora non consapevole. Questo anno ho ritorno dopo 10 anni. Sto più istruito e più conscio dei problemi  – la buona e le male. In gran parte, questo è anche perchè conosco molte di più riguardante la mia connessione personale della città. E il mio antenati. E la mia storica famiglia. E il mio passato. È stato una parte enorme della mia vita e della mia futura.

A ricordo il mio ritorno a Venezia e della mia consapevolezza nuova della città, scriverò, ricerca, visita, mangia, beve e fotografia il mio sei giorni e blog qui. Sarò blogging in Inglese e Italiano quale spero è accurato. Scusa il mio errori! Io sono una studente nuova della lingua Italiana (quattro mesi).

Per favore seguito il mio posti. Non piace le persone pensare io sono una turista, ma io sono suppongo e spero che cosa dico sarà utile per oltre turisti che vogliano più che la turista esperienza, e naturalmente per le persone che vivono e occuparsi della città nel un piccolo modo.

And now for more English because I’m all out of Italian words for today…

My two primary guides on this, my first trip as a solo traveller, are Venezia Autentica and Her Grand Tour. Most of the recommendations are for food and drink because Venice is a minefield of tourist hotspots that I really don’t want to repeat. I hope to add to their recommendations but I’ve pretty much included everything they have to offer on my Google Map (I was writing it all down but it’s turning into a novel on its own). There is no way I am going to manage everything in six days. Thankfully my next trip is just four months away so here’s to multiple returns to the most beautiful city in the world.

Ciao ciao!