Sunday, 20 August 2017

Where to Find Pleasant Tourists in Venice

Ca' Pesaro - Foto di Giovanni Porpora courtesy Comune di Venezia
(Venice, Italy) Venice has been in the international news lately with reports about Tourists-Behaving-Badly: having public sex, jumping into canals, sitting on bridges and blocking the flow of foot traffic, riding bicycles, wearing beach clothing, etc. The New York Times recently published an article entitled: Venice, Invaded by Tourists Risks Becoming 'Disneyland on the Sea,' (someone needs to blow the dust off that headline) about how mass tourism is killing the city. The other day, The Guardian piled on with "I Don't Mean to Ruin Your Holiday, But Europe Hates Tourists -- And With Good Reason, and last month: "Imagine Living With This Crap: Tempers in Venice Boil Over in High Tourist Season." The Economist chimed in with Not Drowning But Suffocating, suggesting that splitting Venice from Mestre was the solution, as if that were an original idea.


None of this is anything new. Way back in 2008, out of frustration with the tourist flow, I wrote a piece called TIPS FOR MOVING AROUND VENICE, a condensed version of which was picked up by the Financial Times and published in their Weekend Magazine. In an article called That Was Then, This is Now: Venice, my words were paired with comments from John Evelyn's Diary, dated 1645:

1645: from John Evelyn, Diary “...add the perfumers & Apothecaries, and the innumerable cages of Nightingals, which they keepe, that entertaines you with their melody from shop to shop, so as shutting your Eyes, you would imagine your selfe in the Country, when indeede you are in the middle of the Sea: besides there being neither rattling of Coaches nor trampling of horses, tis almost as silent as the field.”
2008: from “Venetian Cat – Venice Blog” by Cat Bauer “Tips for moving around Venice: 
1. Stay to the right when walking (even if you are British). Pass slow-moving creatures on the left. 
2. Do not sit on the bridges, under any circumstances whatsoever. One person sitting on a bridge can cause a traffic jam for miles.
3. Before stopping, look both ways, plus, in front and behind ... Do not stop short. Someone could rear-end you.”

Henry James used to stay on the top floor of Pensione Wildner on the Riva degli Schiavone, which was thick with tourists even in the 19th century. Here is what he had to say about Venice back in 1881:
...The barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar.
There was a horde of savage Germans encamped in the Piazza, and they filled the Ducal Palace and the Academy with their uproar. The English and Americans came a little later. They came in good time, with a great many French, who were discreet enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè Quadri, during which they were out of the way.
The months of April and May of the year 1881 were not, as a general thing, a favourable season for visiting the Ducal Palace and the Academy. ...They infest the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about the bridges and the doors of the cafés....
Photo: Savvy Backpacker
Now we have arrived in the year 2017, where, thanks to technology, a bunch of foreigners have become "authorities" on Venice, hawking self-published books and "expert" services, feasting off the moribund body of Venice from afar. They do not live in Venice, but try to control the local narrative, manipulating social media to promote their skewed view of life in a deeply complex city -- a Byzantine city that carefully guards her secrets.

So, not only have local residents been pushed out of Venice by foreigners buying properties and renting them out to other foreigners, we are also bombarded on social networks by opinionated foreign marketers who link their names to unsuspecting local individuals and organizations, trying to gain legitimacy for their superficial "Venice" brands. As the late Martin Roth said, "You see how art and culture can be controlled for political purposes without you realizing it."

Forbidden Behaviours from the Venice Comune
The Venice Comune has launched their own awareness campaign on social media called #EnjoyRespectVenezia, with Good Rules for the Responsible Visitor, and clear, simple diagrams of Forbidden Behaviour. Most no-nos should be obvious, like don't get drunk and jump off a bridge because you might land on a boat.

On Ferragosto, August 15, I decided to head over to Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art because I had missed the opening of David Hockney - 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life exhibition. On my way over, I witnessed with my own eyes five out of six of the Forbidden Behaviors, including a bicyclist zooming down the Zattare. The only forbidden behavior missing that day was that no one happened to be diving off a bridge -- at least, not that I saw.

When I asked a father sitting on a bridge with his three kids to get up because they were blocking foot traffic -- specifically an elderly Venetian man with a cane and his wife who needed to use the handrail -- the father glared and ignored me until I took his photo. It is a €200 fine to sit on a bridge and block the flow of traffic, which, to me, is a rule the Comune should strongly enforce. In about 45 minutes I would have collected €3000!

Larry Gagosian by David Hockney
"I've known Larry for forty years, 
since he had a poster shop in Westwood. 
Now he's a big art dealer."
Anyway, when I arrived at Ca' Pesaro, I was pleasantly surprised to see the museum teeming with visitors, a whole other breed of traveler who had managed to get their families over to Venice's modern art gallery during their mid-August holidays. Ca' Pesaro is an enormous Baroque palace on the Grand Canal, built in the second part of the 17th century. Just the opportunity to enter and wander around such an imposing structure is worth the price of admission. There was a sign at the entrance apologizing for the lack of air conditioning, and I wondered if that was supposed to be a joke because the marble palazzo was so naturally cool.

Cat Bauer in the David Hockney chair
I made my way up to the David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life exhibition, which is of interest if you are someone who wants to see who the 82 people he painted are -- some of the portraits have comments by Hockney, some don't. For the rest of us, there is a terrific hands-on project you can participate in, kids and grown-ups alike: You can create your own cut-out paper portrait, posed sitting in the Hockney chair.


You wander into the end room, where there are six different patterns to choose from for your pose, and two different angles of the chair. You settle down at one of the two tables stocked with colored markers, scissors and glue. It is up to you to color in the figure, which is blank, cut it out, and then glue it in the chair.

Cat Bauer - work in progress
It was great fun. There were all types of people, male and female, grownups and kids, young and old, black and white, brown and yellow -- everyone sitting at the tables and concentrating on creating their masterpieces. We were quiet and respectful, asking politely if someone was done with a certain color, trying not to jiggle the table with our strokes. We chatted softly amongst ourselves, remarking about how long it had been since we had done something creative with our hands. It was so human, not cyber -- I got enormous pleasure by just being in the same space and time with other human beings doing a simple human thing.

Cat Bauer Hockney finished product
After you finish your portrait, you tape it on the wall. Well, you don't have to tape it on the wall, you can take it home with you, but most people tape it on the wall, so there is a glorious gallery of self-portraits inspired by David Hockney, which, frankly, I found much more interesting than the portraits Hockney did himself.

Portraits inspired by Hockney
After taping my effort to the wall (it's the first one on the bottom left), I went downstairs to see where the controversial Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt had been hung. You regular readers will remember that when our billionaire mayor Luigi Brugnaro first came into office, he threatened to sell it to raise cash, causing all sorts of commotion.

Later, Brugnaro completely flipped his attitude and supported the painting -- it had a starring role in an exhibition called Around Klimt - Judith, Heroism and Seduction in the Candiani Cultural Center in Mestre on the mainland, with Brugnaro posing next to the painting. I wrote a post about it, which you can read here:

Klimt's Judith II (Salomè) Stars at Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre (Venice)


After the exhibition ended, Judith returned to her home inside Ca' Pesaro, but in a more prominent location. I found Judith beautifully framed by a prominent doorway on the first floor, making her much easier to find.

Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt - Photo: Cat Bauer
So, if you are looking for pleasant tourists in Venice, head over to Ca' Pesaro. Not only will you be surrounded by civilized human beings, you will find many other sights for sore eyes, such as treasures by Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky, Calder, Klee, Rodin, and many, many more.

The Oriental Art Museum is located, oddly, on the top floor of the palazzo (how it got up there is the subject for another post), and crammed with the priceless collection of Japanese art from the Edo period that Prince Henry, Count of Bardi hauled back to Venice from his travels to Asia from 1887 to 1889. The 30,000 exotic artifacts -- swords, daggers, silk-dresses, rare porcelain, Chinese art, Indonesian shadow puppets and more --  make the Oriental Art Museum another kid-pleaser.

Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Venice has been in the international news lately with reports about Tourists-Behaving-Badly: having public sex, jumping into canals, sitting on bridges and blocking the flow of foot traffic, riding bicycles, wearing beach clothing, etc.

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