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Venice-Four days diary of a great love



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Venice….city of dreams, masks and gondolas is a "consumption ware", on sale all over the world, poisoned by its own success, counterfeited, forged, faked and exported, doomed to be buried by hoards of tourists and swarms of hungry doves. But nevertheless, Venice still lives and stands firm, battles, defends herself and bewitches everybody. Like it always has….
The new series about my second most loved city in Europe will start with experiences and notes I gathered and assembled during three periods. Last Easter, last week of December in 1997 and in June 1995. 

Diary of a great love. December 1997
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Saturday. Let the vultures keep away for a while more, Venice is still here and ready to sell its skin very dearly. It's too early for garlands, crowns and condolences, the Serenissima has other plans: like live and stun everybody, for instance. Prejudices must be taken away, these genial town has to be looked upon with wide-open eyes. 
It's for centuries now that a culpable is sought for Venice 's problems. A big scandal and uproar broke out when a small general occupied Venice and ordered all deaths to be unearthed and to destroy every lion that would be found on any campo, campiello, calle and rio. The lion being the symbol of a people that resisted such a long time against a hostile environment and human egoism. 
Or when the Austrians with their big moustaches, coming from the north, not used to these immense water surfaces, tried to play safe by connecting the port with the mainland, reuniting the unstable with the unalterable. 
Or like today, as soon as people feel their feet are wet, imagine the most catastrophic scenarios, demand that the waters should be contained, forgetting that it is exactly what they protect and love for so many centuries. 
Thanks, everybody all over the world, thanks for their help in these difficult hours, thanks for the royal signs of solidarity, for the world wide attempt to save that collective dream called Venice, the state, private capital putting its money at stake and the tourists, walking every day on the same grounds. 
I may sound blackening the situation, maybe…..but Venice is still not K.O., still standing and fighting, even a bit brittle, fragile, empty and mutilated. It still limps a little bit, but without crutches. Venetians, a race that was on the brink of extinction and more vulnerable as its stones, marble and frescos of its buildings, still exist and are alive and well. Ok, ok, they're getting old, but they still run swift and quick, without visible effort up and down thousands of bridge steps which the "sestrieri" guardians of legends and miracles of their "Venexia", connect to each other. 
The ones cannot live without the others, because all parts of the city, the calli, campi and ponti are the halting and meeting places of all people able to talk, think, live and play.

Sunday. Campo San Alvise in the morning. The sky is loaded with clouds, clocks barely manage to break the silence, a light breeze blows from the lagoon. The church is almost empty, kids play soccer outside and a dangerously looking slanting portal of an empty house is used as goal. Here, dreams can be fulfilled, even if they are one-sided. I walk a few steps along the rio I 40 ladroni and here is an old Venetian café where a members of a rowing club arrive in their little boats to banquet all together and sing, "So nato a Venexia, se mangia soar". A few tourists not at all taken aback share this so precious moment of daily Venetian confidentiality, the fresh air and legends that all come out of the lagoon water. It's here that I fell inhaling the bubbling Venice, the Venice without gondolas, famous frescos or over gaudy and showy palaces. Here I can still sit down next to a draw-well and listen to its stories about unfaithful lovers and ruthless merchants. 

Monday. 
 Monday morning I suddenly discover a gas station near the Fondamenta Nuove, where land seems to surrender itself definitely to the sea. The station doesn't fit opt belong to a city like Venice, if you except the motoscafi, motor boats for tourists, sick people and carabinieri. The station manager puts a few breadcrumbs on a long pole sticking out of the water and looking like a sentinel. A seagull approaches nonchalantly. How many times did the manager talk to these birds all lonely in his small shack? In front of the station t-the island San Michele is rising, a cemetery spot created by Napoleon for "hygienic reasons". Before that, the deceased rested next to their beloved. But at first sight the view is very impressive and my thought fly with the seagull to all poets and writers who dreamed to be buried there after a long and sad last voyage in the death gondola. 
Despite of that, the flower shops along the Fondamenta are the same like all over the world, just like the grief written on the faces of those stepping in the vaporetto to se someone they loved at the other side. 
I return and stroll to the Campo dei Gesuiti. A group of locals, their packed shopping bag on their knees, gossip about the adventures of a common acquaintance. This is also living Venice, where the stories with their loose, ironical accents still carry the spirit of Goldoni. Noise and talks of by passers enliven the campo and when the people leave, their laughter and melodramas of their gossip still echo in the air.

Tuesday, my last day. Weather is fine again, it looks like the sun was too clever for the clouds. The stazione marittima, closed for the public, is a good example and remainder to show us that Venice has always been a port during her extraordinary existence. Large and big ships pass regularly along the impressive canal, at the other side of the Giudecca. A courageous gondoliere drives his boat through the waves. I figure he is trying to get to his "working spot" at the other side, near the punta della dogana, where most tourists are heading, holding firmly on their guidebook. But I sit down at the tavern "Tony", with a simple but authentic Venetian atmosphere, where I participate to a very popular Venetian sport: the ritual of "l'ombra e il cicchetto, a nip and a bite, listen to effusions, stories that happened this very day or political discussions. Not that I'm an expert in Italian politics, but it's fun to listen. It's only after staying a few days in Venice or having been several times that you understand why this ritual is necessary: Venetians run all day, bridges and steps up and down, sometimes with children push chairs, where the babies, used to that permanent jolting, have a solid grip on their carriage ;-). What is then more normal that they want a rest from time to time, some conviviality ion places where tourist are only allowed if they like the atmosphere.
 Venice must be the only city in the whole world with such a "sense of community", where the streets are still owned by the heirs of those who built them, where you can just sit down on a bench or a bridge and watch the traces and vestiges on building walls and churches of long bygone times. Imagine! If this city would be constantly cleaned, if the canals were kept impeccable and you would not see any garbage anyway in a street, Venice would be an open-air museum, a ghost of the past, a dream only destined for the thousands masked hoards flooding the city for carnival. 
But a strange fate or simply the enormous energy of the population makes this city real, a mixture of problems and contradictions: garbage collection must better organized, the 11 million annual tourists wanting to see piazza San Marco must be take care of, the pollution problem of this city without a decent outlet must be solved. New city laws should regulate the speed of motorboats overloading the city foundations with their wake and rents should be lowered for young people, jobs created. 
This looks quite prosaic for a city like Venice, but ever dream needs legs to walk on. Or sails to plough the waves of the sea.