A city filled with everyday people going about everyday lives in the company of history, art and music. A city in which romance drifts in on shimmering mist as the basilica is reflected on water covering the Piazza San Marco after a shower, or the famous acqua alta, the high water that floods Venice.
A city so famous the United States purports to have its very own version – Fort Lauderdale, though having been to both I find it hard to marry the two. One has charm, the other…. well I’m not quite sure what it has. Modern riches, maybe.
Asia has thirteen places vying for the title of Venice of the East but the reality is there is only one Venice, and that’s in Italy.
Why this obsession with Venice?
Well, the book I’m currently writing – a contemporary novel – is set there and anything happening on the Italian floating island draws my eye. And so happened with an article, “Tourists fined for surfing up Venice’s Grand Canal”, written by Julia Buckley on the CNN website yesterday. I’ve been stewing ever since.
I could come up with all sorts of comments about the surfers but I think the Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, said it all, “Ecco due imbecilli prepotenti che si fanno beffa della Città…” which, in my rough translation means, “Two imbecilic bullies make a mockery of the city…”
In the age of social media and cell phone cameras it did not take long to capture the idiots, confiscate their eFoils (surfboards on hydrofoils worth approximately US$25,000) for not being insured, fine them just over $1,500, charge with them with anti-social behaviour and expel them from the city. I sincerely hope never to be allowed to return.
I did harbour a desire for them to have been run over by a vaporetto, the taxies that ply the Venetian waterways, but I suppose that could be classified as anti-social thought. But who the hell are these people who think they can travel and trample so carelessly on another country’s sensibilities?
Australian journalist, Derek Rielly, on the blog Beach Grit – Ultra Hard Surf Candy, likened Mayor Brugnaro to Mussolini, which rather shows his lack of knowledge, not to mention complete disregard for the safety of those travelling the canals legally. Mr Rielly goes on to condemn “Angels of Decorum” in Venice for fining tourists who jump into the waterways for a quick dip, who feed the pigeons which defecate on buildings and tourists alike, and for not wearing shirts. Perhaps, because Mr Rielly is from a ‘new’ country, he has no sense of history, no sense of preserving a UNESCO site – historic buildings rise from the waters of the Grand Canal, the main thoroughfare of the city – or perhaps he just has no sense. I’m guessing he doesn’t travel gently.
Despite all the press about the difficulty of travel due to COVID, staff shortages, bad management, whatever you want to call it, we can now once again hop on a plane to add new experiences to our memory banks. That doesn’t mean surfing the Grand Canal, or driving down the Spanish Steps in Rome, defacing monuments with inane scribbles, taking nude selfies in sacred places – all of which show a startling lack of respect for a country in which one is a guest.
Travel, whether for a holiday or living abroad, should encourage curiosity, should nudge us to discover another culture, new language, to revel in new foods, to marvel at new sights and sites. The privilege of travel does not allow a free-for-all of wanton selfishness and disregard. Tourism and expatriates may well bring in dollars, pounds and euros, but they can also bring mayhem, whether through drunkenness, stupidity or ignorance. It leaves the locals, whether in Mumbai, Madrid or Malacca shaking their heads in anger and despair. It makes travel so much harder for those who do roam with care, with respect, with curiosity – none of which negates the fun and excitement of foreign places and experiences.
Thomas Fuller, the English historian and churchman wrote in 17th Century wrote, “Travel makes a wise man better but a fool worse.”
The eFoil surfers on Venice’s Grand Canal in the 21st Century have proved him right.