Sympathy for the Tourist


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Please allow me to introduce myself… 
I’m a tourist. More to the point, I have been a tourist here in Venice, several times. So, I can’t help but recognize many of the looks I see on people’s faces as I walk around Venice now, as I am here for the seventh time in my life and finally staying for long enough that I no longer feel like “just” a tourist. Which is not to say I feel like a resident. Even staying here for several months, I would not pretend to really know what it means to live here full-time, or to have been born here, or to have lived here and gone to live elsewhere. However, I love and care about Venice like it is my home, that is for sure.

But back to the tourists. I recognize the look of wonder and joy you see on some people’s faces as they look around at the city. They’re most likely here for the first time, and it is a truly unique and even disconcerting sensation. I don’t think I need to describe why. We all know. Even friends of mine who live here have told me they never really tire of the city’s nearly endless panorama of views, sounds, smells and sensations. It’s a marvel, and for many tourists, a dream come true.

I also recognize the look on the faces of those just arriving in the city, dragging their luggage and trying to make sense of the maps in their hands and the directions to wherever they are staying, often exhausted from what can be a difficult trip. I can relate. My trips here have not all been easy. The first time I came to Venice I was not quite 10 years old (in 1976). I still remember my father struggling up the narrow stairs of our hotel with our luggage to our room on the fourth floor, then it started raining the next day and did not stop while were here. My next visit to Venice was close to forty years later, and the Italian Air Traffic Control went on strike as we were about to leave Boston. We flew to Zurich, rented a car and drove to Italy, ending up in Mestre late that night. The following year my wife and I ended up in the airport in Paris for eight hours after a sleepless overnight flight, then in line at passport control at the Venice airport for well over an hour. By the time we got off the Alilaguna and began looking for where we were staying, things were already far less than ideal.

Then there are the parents who have brought their young children to Venice for vacation. The look on their faces is singular, and instantly recognizable to any parent who has had to reckon with tired, bored and uncomfortable young ones. It’s got to be uniquely difficult to be a tourist in Venice when there are children involved. Perhaps this helps to explain the success of all the candy stores, gelato shops and pizza take-out places. How else to satisfy the kids in such a strange place? Sarde in saor and a bottle of the best won’t do for them, even if it’s what you want or even came here for. 

And then there’s the rain. It has rained every weekend since I arrived this visit, only to become gloriously clear and sunny on Monday. I’m incredibly fortunate; not only am I here to stay for a fairly long time, but I’ve been here many times before and know I’ll be back again. The weather doesn’t make me feel I am missing anything. But thinking of those who have planned their dream trip to Venice – and for many visitors from afar it may be their one chance to make it here – it must be a true test of will to make the best with what you’ve got when you finally arrive in Venice only to find it raining. Sure, sometimes it’s just light rain, and yes, it’s not nearly as cold as many of the places people come from. But on a night like last night, for example, when it’s not only cold but really pouring, well, it must be at least a little heartbreaking for some.

In my subsequent visits to Venice, alone, I have loved wandering, or as a friend of mine used to say about mountain biking, to “take a hard left turn off the path and see what you run into”. On my own, with no schedule and nowhere specific to go, it is pure joy to get myself lost in the calle and dark, narrow corners, trying to remember landmarks and keep myself oriented. There was a special sense of triumph if I could end up where I was hoping to end up without consulting a map, and in many ways there still is.

But that’s me. Honestly, that type of wandering is not for everyone, and that’s another look I recognize as I walk around the city – that look of frustration, trying to find some place you want to go and having to keep turning around because you are lost. The maps don’t explain, for example, that there are many calle with the same names, but which are located in different sestiere of the city. I experienced this particular pitfall on my third visit, trying to find the home of a friend who had invited me to dinner. I finally swallowed my pride and called him, only to be told, “no, I meant the calle del —– on the other side of the Rialto bridge!” Ah. If you stick around and walk around long enough that begins to make sense, but even on my third visit here it still tripped me up.

I also recognize the conflict it can cause when one person is doing the looking and the other is visibly losing their patience. That’s a look I see often. It can be maddening for some. Add to that children and rain and so many restaurants that all seem to have the same menu… and no kids’ menu… sometimes take-out pizza, gelato and back to the hotel may well be your best option. 

But this is one of the many paradoxes of Venice. It’s a wonderful place to live, and a terribly difficult place to live. Likewise it can be a dream to visit, but also a bit of a nightmare. This thought brings me back to my own first visit here as a child. As I mentioned, it rained just about the whole time, and I really don’t remember much of my family’s short stay in Venice. However, that first night was clear and fine, and I very clearly remember looking out the window of our old hotel room, with the moonlight reflecting on the Grand Canal. Opening the window, we could hear gondoliers singing from the boats down below, and my mother sat down, put her arms around me and said, “I think you are going to fall in love with Venice”. It took another forty years for that to happen, but neither of us at the time knew how very right she was.

So, pleased to meet you. I won’t make you guess my name. And welcome to Venice.

Sympathy for the Tourist ultima modifica: 2022-12-17T13:11:38+01:00 da PAUL ROSENBERG
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