Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy. Right now, we're in Venice.
On the vaporetto, we were crowded in with half a hundred other holiday-makers and all of their suitcases and packs. Venetians were a minority – pushed into corners, and looking saintly with patience, or cross and plain and simply cranky. There was an ENORMOUS number of tourists in Venice. There have always been a very large number of tourists in Venice, but the new cruise-ship terminal has upped the ante - disgorging an additional five to eight THOUSAND gawpers every time a ship hits port.
Relations between the hordes and the local Venetians are somewhat strained. We, of course, were model visitors, the sort any city would be proud to welcome, but some of the others –
Squashed behind us in the vaporetto from the train station were an Australian man and woman our own age.
When they first stomped their way into our awareness, it was because of an argument going on between the two of them – SHE had seen something on the side of the canal that excited her and HE was attempting to convince her that the vaporetto was a public bus, and not a private drop-on drop-off taxi service. It was an uphill battle – he’d get it half-way through her head, and then she’d see another pretty palazzo and shout “STOP! Arretez!” and then, when the vaporetto driver didn’t stop, “WHY?!?! Why WON’T he?!”
“They’re a bus, dear. They don’t DO that.”
“Well they OUGHT to!” She’d cry. “Don’t they WANT us tourists to SEE things?”
And what sort of tourist board could possibly argue with that?
When they next floated into hearing, they appeared to be puzzling over the exact nature of the water in the canal beneath the bus.
“So it IS fresh water, then, is it?” She asked.
“I don’t rightly know.” He said.
“But it MUST be, mustn’t it?”
“But – here’s the thing – there’s a SEA around this place, isn’t there? At least some of the water in here must come out of that.”
“Well,” She said. “It’s not impossible. But the rest of it has to be fresh, doesn’t it? Maybe the fresh water and the salt water sort of, you know, flow in currents around each other and don’t actually mix?”
“Yeah.” He said thoughtfully. “YEAH. That could be right. That could be it exactly!”
I was tempted to turn around and ask what on EARTH they were going on about when they answered my question for me:
“I mean, think about it.” She said. “We get fresh water from the taps in the bathroom in our hotel, and the water has to come from somewhere, so the canals have GOT be fresh, don’t they?”
The last we heard from them was as we were pulling out of a vaporetto stop. As we pulled away into the canal, a man on shore shouted a request for directions. A deckhand shouted back across the widening gap, but the man on shore couldn’t hear him over the engine, and the captain in the prow had his eyes on the water and opened the throttle. The deckhand shouted again, but his voice was lost and then we were away –
The Australian man behind me sighed gustily.
“Typical. Bloody typical. There’s no friendliness in this town. They can’t even bloody stop to give directions.”
The woman sighed and nodded and clucked her tongue –
Later, on solid ground, crossing a bridge in a cloud of American tourists, a pair of gondolas crossed underneath. The gondoliers shouted to each other, a hello that echoed off the stone walls of the canal.
An American woman tittered and shouted just as loud -
“We don’t even know what they’re saying! They could be swearing at us and we wouldn’t even know! How HORRIBLE they are!”
I wondered what had happened to her to make her say something so terrible.
There are depths of animosity on both sides. The tourists come in numbers that would drown any small town, let alone one like Venice, that cannot stretch at its seams to accommodate them all, and the Venetians whole economy is based around the tourists, with the Museums and Churches and Glass and Lace and Carnivals – for what other business is there in Venice?
They’d be crazy not to resent us, and we know that, and we come anyway because it is so very beautiful here, so much MUCHNESS – muchness of history and geopolitics and extraordinary building. We have the best of it – we come, and we look at the pretty, and we make messes, if we like, and then we go away.