With varying degrees of accuracy nearly every tour company or guide here promises a rare, authentic experience of Venice. But yesterday tourists in certain parts of the historic center experienced a truly rare occurrence that hasn't been typical of the city for many years, though it was once (and for many centuries) the norm: For about an hour yesterday morning, along a route running from Rio Terà San Leonardo (near the church of San Marcuola) to the Rialto Mercato, some lucky tourists got to find out what it's like to be outnumbered by actual Venetian residents.
The occasion was a march organized by a group of twenty-something activists called Generazione 90 to assert the simple but all-too-often-ignored fact that, yes, indeed, Venetian residents do still in fact exist. And that, moreover, a good many of them are determined to resist the various forces in the city which, for the sake of profit, would prefer to scrub the calli and campi and even the canals themselves clean of everything except tourist accommodations, restaurants, shops, and transportation.
This was the message of the banner carried at the head of the procession, which read "R-ESISTIAMO": that is, both "we resist" and "we exist."
The official theme of the event was shopping. But as the title of the event--Ocio ae gambe, che go el careo!--made clear, it wasn't about the kind of shopping done by tourists at one of the "poles of luxury" the current mayor loves to talk about and is intent on developing more of, or at one of the city's ubiquitous cheap mask shops. Rather, the title means, in Venetian, "Watch your legs, here comes the [shopping] cart!" and was meant to evoke the kind of quotidian shopping that locals here do for produce, fish and meat--and which has long been symbolized in this pedestrian city by the careo (carrello, in Italian), or shopping cart. Everyone was encouraged to bring such a cart--or one of those other wheeled symbols of resident domesticity, a baby stroller--and process en masse from the western end of Strada Nova to the Rialto Mercato, which for all its picturesque charm, still functions as an important part of daily life for many residents.
The turnout for the event was, as you can see in the images, substantial--and enthusiastic. In fact, it really was a strange experience to see the usual ratio of tourists to residents in Venice inverted.
In a good many other cities one might visit as a tourist it's common to find oneself not only puzzled by local customs or language, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of residents. In Venice, however, you may as a tourist be puzzled by something you see, but it's a good bet that, looking around you in most cases and most places, you'll find yourself among a good number of other tourists, perhaps equally puzzled.
And as a resident here, used to having your path to your child's school or some other appointment clogged with great masses of tourists, it was funny to observe how tourists reacted to finding their own free movement through calli or across bridges impeded by great masses of residents.
Not that the point of the procession was in any way to discomfit tourists, nor to be anti-tourism, nor anti-big ships, nor anti-anything. There were no particular policies or people opposed, nor positions taken, beyond the simple, positive assertion that Venetian residents are here and have no plans to clear out.
I know of one Venetian who stayed away from the event because of his concern that such pro-Venetian fervor might in part manifest itself, at least among some people, as what might be called a worrisome kind of insularity, of the sort that appeals in equal measure to nationalistic nostalgia and racism (a dismayingly popular combination these days in many places around the world, including my native country). But I got no impression that the young organizers of the event intended it to be anything other than as inclusive as possible, and I saw no signs of such troubling sentiments or behavior.
After all, the greatness of Venetian culture, and commerce, originated in the city's position as a meeting place of East and West, North and South. And as moronic as Lega Nord-style fantasies about cultural or ethnic/racial purity are in general, they stand out as even more so (if that's possible) in a place like Venice.
|"Come together citizens or they'll cook us up"|