Sometimes, when I'm in Venice, I hate it. The food is less than average. In summer it smells, winter it floods. It is a tourist trap of the highest proportions. Nobody really lives there anymore. It is a ghost town eating travellers souls, selling them trite trinkets and carefully designed antique squalor, Italian French fries, American coffee, contrived opera and $100 rides in $10 boats.
When back home I forget about it for a while. The pain in my wallet eases. I get ripped off in a different destination. I spend too long staring at concrete and mirrored glass, and I flip through a gallery or two of photos. Then I want to go back.
By God, the place is beautiful - there really is nowhere else on earth like it. A land where roads are liquid, hotels are palaces and history yells in your ear. But Venice's singular beauty is it's greatest destroyer. As is likely in all areas that become adored, of high demand, then of high price, the broad spectrum of residents dwindles until the culture is sucked away and delivered to more affordable areas. What is left? Tourism and Lindsay Lohan.
In peak season, queues choke the space like a boa constrictor, making it impossible to sit in the sun affront Caffe Florian and enjoy the blinding white parade of Piazza San Marco columns whilst sipping on a ten-euro espresso. Inevitably one ends up with an American in one's lap. Nothing against Americans, butf I'm going to have a stranger in my lap, I'd rather it be a tall dark Venetian – and it seems they’ve all left.
Petty crooks sell terrible knock-off handbags in front of the Doge's palace and the gondola station, tainting the scene like the proverbial fly in the ointment, and yet, it still makes for a beautiful photo. It's now illegal to feed the pigeons, it's said. They are destroying national monuments with all their flapping around and pooping. Another case of man defeats nature, and now one less thing for the kids to do while you are people watching.
It’s hard to actually see anything in the guidebook. The maps are indecipherable, the transport packed and bursting at the seams. The alleys are like quicksand - the more you move, the deeper you sink. It's best to simply relax and be carried with the flow of the crowd. Let’s just hope they’re going somewhere fun, and your purse is still in your bag when you get to the other end.
In this Disneyland of luxury, although seafront property is commonplace, there’s virtually no green space. Crumbling buildings rise straight out of the water like teeth – each built to the extremities of its estate. The gardens consist entirely of a bird’s nest and some weeds in the chimney and a plastic geranium on the windowsill. The sun is shining and there’s water and Italian delis all around, setting the scene for the perfect picnic. The tragedy is there’s no grass to plonk on that hasn’t already been occupied, vomited on at 5am by a backpacker or screened off in some vain attempt to preserve the tiny environment.
Only some sections of districts in Dosaduro and Cannaregio still hold onto Venice as it is used to be. Quiet, romantic lanes, covered aisles leading to surprise inner courtyards, impromptu market stalls, canaries in windows, grannies knitting in rickety bentwood chairs in the streets. The further you walk towards Ghetto Embracio, the better it gets. But can all wanderers handle it? As they meander the tunnelled paths the dark closes in, footsteps echo, and maps seem to change mid-view. And many find the further they delve into Venice’s dirty soul, the less they like it. So they go back to the light, the easy, the fairy-tale/nightmare that surface Venice is.
All historic cities have a living heart, which makes them unique. Paris, for example is an aloof place, requiring patience and work to appreciate, but the potential to reward you as a lover once conquered. Vienna, possibly the same, but like many great beauties can give the impression there's not much going on inside. Venice is the opposite of them both - it's a brash wench that sprinkles you with fairy dust, screws you over and spits you out, and yet for some reason you keep returning for more.
And yes I will. I’ll return, like I always do, and I’ll love it – but only after I’ve had time to ruminate and recover.