Saturday, February 29, 2020

Should You Come to Venice? Report from the Ground: Venice & the COVIT-19 Coronavirus

Venice Carnival 2020 - Costumed revelers from France - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The word "quarantine" is a Venetian word, and means "forty days." In medieval times, Venice was on the cutting edge of healthcare for its citizens by confronting how to prevent the plague from entering the city. Venice was a major commercial center for international trade, and much of the world's goods passed through its waters.

In 1423, Venice established the first plague hospital on Lazzaretto Vecchio, an island in the lagoon just off Lido, a lazaret for maritime travelers with infectious diseases. Nowadays, if you have ever been to the Virtual Reality competition during the Venice Film Festival, you have visited that very island, which transforms into a very cool screening area, mixing the ancient with the contemporary and pulsing with the newest VR offerings.

In 1448, after determining that the plague had a 37-day cycle from infection to death, the Venice Senate passed a law requiring ships and crews to wait outside the city for 40 days. This system was remarkably effective -- you either got better or you died, or you were not contagious.

Quarantine has since become an English-language word, and means any period of isolation from infectious diseases. Since there is no cure at the present time for COVIT-19, the world has resorted to medieval techniques to try to contain the spread of the infection. So in the year 2020, we are back to using quarantine to limit the spread of the disease from human contact until an antidote can be developed.

 Venice Carnival 2020 - Revelers from England - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice caught the eye of the world when it cancelled the last two days of Carnival -- Monday and Fat Tuesday, Martedì Grosso -- news that blared across the headlines of the international press and thrust COVIT-19 into the spotlight. Some people thought it was too harsh a decision. Others thought Carnival should have been cancelled on Sunday morning when health officials first learned there were two cases of the coronavirus inside the historic center -- two elderly Venetians in their 80s who didn't know each other and had no contact with the Chinese community ended up in the Civic Hospital. Later, a third female case was included. So inside the historic center of Venice itself there are three cases.

I thought the decision was just right. Sunday at noon was the Flight of the Eagle in Piazza San Marco, an event that I did not attend, but attracted about 20,000 people -- far lower than previous years, but still substantial. There was not enough time to turn that many people away without causing chaos and panic. I was notified by the press office about the cancellation of Carnival on Sunday, February 23 at 5:24pm, something I would have found out sooner if I watched TV.

But what I found outrageous was the immediate level of panic and misinformation about Venice being generated on social media by accounts that were not even based in Italy, and had no first-hand knowledge of what they were talking about. I have wondered repeatedly about the abnormal interest in Venice by professional marketers posing as simple bloggers and self-published booksellers who try to control the English-language narrative by giving "expert" advice as if they were actually on the ground. What's up with that?

Venice Carnival 2020 - Performers from Korea - Photo: Cat Bauer
Before the cancellation of Carnival, I was having a very good time, zipping all over the city. This year's Carnival had a different vibe under the new direction of Massimo Checchetto, the scenographer of Teatro La Fenice, with many projects nurtured by Venice residents. I came into contact with people from all over the world, including China and South Korea.

Right now, I feel healthy and fine. In Venice, children play in the courtyards and people go about their everyday business. The only difference is the lack of tourists, which to me is a good thing.

Marietta Barovier - Woman of Fire
Pioneer of Venetian Glass Beads
Project by Chiarastella Seravalle
As I've said repeatedly, Venice is a microcosm of the macrocosm. There were way too many tourists tripping through Venice, clogging up the calli and campi, feasting on junk food and buying fake souvenirs made in China. It would be nice if educated, civilized tourists who appreciate real Venetian artisans and fresh, local food came and supported the city. It would be wonderful if AirBnB tourist rentals were diminished, and landlords rented their properties to people who actually live in Venice, bringing life to the city. It would be great if the cruise ship industry was hit with a wake-up call, causing them to rethink and evaluate how they operate, not just in Venice but all over the world.

The entire mass-market tourism industry must take responsibility for the state of travel today, from airlines, to hotels, to cruise ships, to AirBnBs. The travel business is out of control, profiting with quantity not quality, and destroying the beauty and ecosystem of the whole planet.

In the past, Venice built churches, thanking Christ the Redeemer (Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore) and the Madonna of the Salute (Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute) for delivering them from the plague, which was believed to be a punishment from God. These days, instead of trying to squeeze another buck out of Venice, the focus should be on what can be done to create an environment where the citizens of Venice can thrive.

Isadora Duncan Dance Co. from USA at Palazzo Contarini Polignac - Photo: Cat Bauer
Should you come to Venice? That is an individual decision. As panic spreads across the world, there is no place that is "safe." Italy has been very aggressive about testing for the coronavirus, as well as closing schools, postponing soccer matches -- even religious ceremonies for the beginning of Lent were cancelled.

Emma Thompson and Greg Wise have just moved to Venice, and I hope they inspire a new colony of like-minded people to make Venice their home. Artists like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, who were valued by the Venetian Republic, allowed Venice to thrive in the past. With a solid base of creative people, Venice can flourish once again today. The November 12, 2019 flood and the current coronavirus epidemic can be a blessing, not a curse.

To me, Venice is especially beautiful when it is mostly full of residents, living everyday lives. Personally, I don't know a single person who is afflicted with the coronavirus, and neither do any of my friends. Just walking around Venice is magical, sitting in a campo and enjoying a leisurely lunch, or seeking out genuine Venetian artisans. When it comes to Carnival, everyone agrees that next year's Carnevale will be better than ever.

Italy is ranked number 2 in the world after Spain in the 2019 Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index. The U.S. is in 35th place. Italy's healthcare system is ranked number 2 in the world by population after France, according to the World Population Review.

So, if you're feeling healthy, flexible and ready for reflection, now is a great time to take a deep breath and come to Venice, and confront the present by embracing the knowledge of the past.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Caffè Florian Celebrates Venice Carnival 2020

Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Caffè Florian has always been the place to be and be seen during the Venice Carnival. Thousands of people all over the world expressed their love and concern about the plight of Caffè Florian when images of the flooded cafè spread across social media after the November 12 aqua granda in Venice. The situation seemed bleak.

Happily, life goes on: I am glad to report that Carnival revelers have once again flocked to the beloved coffeehouse decked out in all their Carnevale regalia, as they have done for centuries.

Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer
The word "coffee" comes from the Venetian word "caveé." Venetians were introduced to coffee through their trade with the Islamic world, importing the exotic brew from the East. The first coffeehouses appeared in Venice between 1629 and 1645, and became gathering places for writers, intellectuals and artists.

Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer
Caffè Florian was established in Piazza San Marco in 1720 and celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. It is the world's oldest coffeehouse in continuous operation.

It was the only coffeehouse that served women, making it one of Casanova's favorite hunting grounds. The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni was a regular.

Since its early years, it has attracted everybody who is anybody -- Lord Byron, Goethe, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Richard Wagner and D'Annunzio were some of the notable clientele.

Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer
Caffè Florian's original name was "Venezia Trionfante," or "Triumphant Venice," but it soon became known as Caffè Florian, after its owner Floriano Francesconi. It was a place where history was written. Inside its rooms, plots were devised to overthrow French and Austrian rule after the Napoleonic conquest of the Republic of Venice in 1797.

Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Carnival Revelers at Caffè Florian - Photo: Cat Bauer
The idea for the very first Venice Art Biennale was hatched at the Florian. In 1893, Riccardo Selvatico, the mayor of Venice, together with a group of artists and intellectuals, decided to hold an illustrious art exhibition in honor of the silver anniversary of King Umberto and Margherita of Savoy. Beneath the paintings of The Age of Enlightenment and Civilization Educating the Nations in the Senate Room, the first international art festival in the world was born.

Through the window of Caffè Florian, Venice Carnival - Photo: Cat Bauer
Through the window of Caffè Florian - Venice Carnival - Photo: Cat Bauer
Throughout the years, celebrating the Carnival of Venice inside the rooms of Caffè Florian became a staunch tradition. To this day, revelers wearing elaborate costumes walk through the door and into another dimension, sipping hot chocolate and dreaming up adventures along with the spirits of Carnevale past.

Those who do not love life do not deserve it.
---Giacomo Casanova 

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