Letter from an ex-Venetian: “Love Venice? Then don’t come to Venice.”

“If you are expecting culture and tradition you will find the exact opposite – in fact you’ll feel insulted. But what is worse is that the places where you will sleep, eat and shop have behind them sad stories of families that, in the name of “tourism”, have been exiled from the place where they were born and raised.

[Ed. Note: what follows is an anonymous letter to the editor that recently appeared in La Voce di Venezia.]

20 April 2022

Dear tourist, if you are planning a day trip or a stay in Venice, stop and think before you make a reservation. What you imagine to be the “most beautiful city in the world” is no longer even a city, but rather a place in the hands of speculators who have absolutely nothing to do with “original”. Remember: when you hand your money to the landlord, the restaurant or the souvenir shop you will be financing those who have evicted the residents, replacing them with temporary workers who don’t earn enough to live there.

Those of you who speak of tourism as the “gold of the third millennium”, take a look at the trainees at the reception desk, or the army of foreign waiters and cooks forced to share accommodations on the mainland. Because what the administration calls the “world capital of sustainability” does not provide for inhabitants: buildings that once housed families have become hotels and “short-term rentals” where the only ability required of the employees to that of “knowing how to adapt”.

A look at the numbers tells the story: if in 1951 Venice had 174,800 residents, today it counts just 50,412, mostly older. The most striking number concerns the number of guest beds in the city, which has gone from 12,995 in 1997 to 59,373 in 2019: an almost five-fold increase. The same has happened with bars, which now number 1,468, of which 420 opened in the last 7 years: these “come lately” businesses only know the stereotype of Venice, and if you ask them for information you’ll be answered by someone who knows even less than you.

Because the tourist is only a number, a chicken to be plucked; so what does it matter if what you tell him is false? Rather its better that they all go to the common places, to the “mask shops”, the “gondolas” and “Casanova”, given that the lowest common denominator brings in more profit.

If you are expecting culture and tradition you will find the exact opposite – in fact you’ll feel insulted. But what is worse is that the places where you will sleep, eat and shop have behind them sad stories of families that, in the name of “tourism”, have been exiled from the place where they were born and raised.

This is because the market has never been regulated, and a minority of Venetians, property owners, have taken advantage of that. Without any scruples they have not renewed residents’ rental contracts but instead have sold to agencies, multinationals, and shady businesses.

Thus where once there was a house or a local store, now there is a “Ca’ Arleccino”, a snack bar or a souvenir shop, all rigorously fake, while the real Venetians, the bearers of the city’s culture, values, and tradition have packed their bags, and reluctantly live in some building on the mainland, talking nostalgically about their city, which no longer exists.

The only thing that gravitates around Venice is the avarice of the property owners whose only priority is profit, for whom “a hundred euros more makes the difference”, people who have no hesitation in booting a craftsman out of his shop, or an elderly couple, or a young family with children from their homes.

Their insatiable greed has triggered a vicious circle, where the lack of inhabitants leads to the closure of schools, hospitals and services, simultaneously eliminating the professions that made it possible to cope with the increasingly onerous rents and causing further loss of residents.

The appeal “don’t come to Venice” can seem strong, and according to some “counterproductive” because this would take away from tourism workers “even the little” work that allows them to feed themselves. However, it is the only solution to free the city from speculation, to help the city return to the place it deserves to be. It is only by boycotting the hotel chains, the landlord or the restaurant with a “buttadentro” that the owners will lose income and begin to question the investment: rents could drop and allow young people and families to return.

If you choose not to come to Venice, it will also be an advantage for you, visitor, if in a few years you can come back and feel like the guest of a living city, where you see the children playing, where you will sit to eat next to a resident, and when you go home you will carry these memories in your heart instead of stereotypes, crowds and junk for sale. But above all you won’t increase the bank balances of those who inherited a house or a store but, instead of rolling up his sleeves like his grandfather and father, lives a life of luxury off his income without any care for those who have been evicted, and those who, in their place, are reduced to temporary “contracts”, double rooms, washing dishes and selling trinkets that have nothing to do with “Venetian” at all.

An (ex) Veneziano

-Source: La Voce di Venezia


3 thoughts on “Letter from an ex-Venetian: “Love Venice? Then don’t come to Venice.”

  1. Caro (ex) Veneziano

    Questa è una storia molto triste. This is my letter in reply, (in inglese – scusa). I first came to visit Venice in 2009 and instantly fell in love with the city. I returned 18 months later and stayed for two months. I have returned every two years for a two to three week period, always wishing it could be longer. My last visit was in October 2019. And then Covid struck.

    What I love about your city is that it is settled on hundreds of islands and everywhere you look there is water, no cars, different sounds and best of all reflected light which is magical for an artist. There is no other city like it anywhere in the world. I stay in Cannaregio away from the tourist traps and surrounded by local Venetians. I only ever visit Piazza San Marco early in the morning or late at night. I try to avoid Rialto Bridge at all times. The city is packed with treasures, in the churches, in the museums and galleries and in various palazzi. Venice holds the world’s most prestigious art Biennale, just opened this week. It is a dream for an artist like me.

    I have found local artisans and shops where I can buy beautiful things to bring home, tasteful souvenirs of long practiced arts and crafts from Venice like glass and textiles. I love the rich history of the city, the colours of the city that change according to the time of day, the time of year or the weather. I love going to La Fenice and walking home late at night through deserted calli or riding the No.1 vaporetto along the Grand Canal with the inky, silky water and chandeliers glowing from the grand palazzi. I love exploring the lesser known islands in the lagoon. I can truthfully say I have never taken a ride in a gondola (other than the traghetto gondole), never taken a tour to Murano or thought of entering a ristorante or trattoria where there is a “buttodentro”. (What a great word.) I have tried to learn your language and converse in Italian whenever possible. Sadly, I am not warmly welcomed in Venice as I am in other parts of Italy. I find the Venetians polite but distant. I fully appreciate that this is probably a result of their city having been invaded by tourists and I don’t have a sign around my neck that says “I am here for several weeks”. But I have made a few acquaintances who appreciate how much I love being in Venice.

    However, I too have become despairing of the “Disneyfication” of Venice. Not sure if there is such a word! The huge cruise ships that unloaded thousands of day trippers onto the narrow calli (hopefully now banned), the ghastly souvenir stands and shops selling Chinese Murano glass and tatty masks and the disappearance of local shops and botteghe. With each visit I noticed the place where I bought fresh flowers had gone, the tea shop closed down, the alimentari near Rialto where I shopped every week no longer there, my favourite clothes shop in San Polo closed, the butcher in Strada Nova where I bought tiny lamb cutlets … he is no longer there. And so it goes on, a gradual whittling away of the traditional life of Venice.

    I understand your despair and your advice to stay away. But can I just quote you a poem by a friend of mine written some years back?

    The long slow light of Zattere at dusk towards the end of May reminds you over wine and salad how this day, too, has passed away just like that cruise ship, high and white, that introspectively slips by. Why is it that all who visit Venice want one more trip before they die?

    Geoff Page from “Shifting Windows” 2012.

    So forgive me, as I head towards 80 years of age, if I would like one more visit before I die. You can see I cannot wait a few more years. It may not be possible to return to my most favourite city in the world but I dream about Venice nearly every day.

    Cari saluti

    Robyn McAdam Canberra Australia

    One of my photopolymer etchings of Venice. “The Plashing Stillness of Night”.

    Sent from my iPad

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  2. I have only been once and I wanted to love it but my lasting memory is the insistent sound of the wheels of wheely suitcases on cobbles Such a relief to get off main thoroughfares I will return and support the city enormously

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  3. I love Venice . I teach about the history of Venice, whose Republic lasted longer than Rome’s. I have seen the great changes over the years and it saddens me greatly. I return every year for the last 30 years.
    I love the sounds of Venice, the church bells , nowhere else do the church bells sound the way they do in Venice.
    I love walking in the Calle late at night, hearing my own footsteps echoing off the walls and magnified by the water.
    I love walking in the parts of Venice where people actually live, away from the Grand Canal.
    I love going into the small churches , they are different than other churches I have seen , I love the sound of the Venetian language. I love the sound of the Italian language as spoken by Venetians; the language is already musical but it is even more so, with an extra lilt when spoken by a Venetian.
    I cannot stay away but I understand what the letter writer is feeling. I can only say that they should take some comfort in the fact ghst there are those of us who know the Real Venice, who appreciate her history and traditions and the uniqueness of life there.

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