Friday, May 22, 2020

Venice Emerges from Quarantine - And it is Divine

Venetian Cat sunbathing on the Grand Canal at Rialto - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) As Venice yawns, stretches and blinks her way into the sunlight, slowly coming out of quarantine, contrasting stories emerge -- a bit like the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. One individual's version of reality can depend on which part of town they see, and who they talk to -- if you go here, you will see the elephant's tusk. If you go there, you will see the elephant's trunk. Or the knee. Or the ear. Each person's subjective experience is true, but it is not the totality of the whole. Even when Venice is operating "normally," there are many different worlds that exist at the same time as you cross a bridge and step from one campo into another.

Yesterday afternoon, May 21, I took a little tour around town to see what type of Venice was emerging from the cocoon. In areas that catered to tourists, many shops and restaurants were still  closed and shuttered, and it felt isolated and abandoned. But in campi where Venetians and locals live, the ambience was vibrant and pulsing with life.

Even though the international press has misleadingly used images of Venice to illustrate the pandemic in all of Italy, reality inside the historic center is very different. The latest figures still show ZERO cases in Venice's main public hospital, the San Giovanni e Paolo Civil Hospital. Since the beginning of the outbreak, according to the latest statistics, 15 people have died, and 28 people were treated and released. In the entire province of Venice, which includes the mainland with a population of about 850,000, 281 have died. In the Veneto Region, there have been 1,841 deaths. In all of Italy, 32,486 people have died. However, there is always a disclaimer that the numbers may not be accurate.

On Monday, May 18, Italy declared we could finally travel once again between towns, as long as they were within the same region. Shops and businesses could open. Bars and restaurants could serve customers again, as long as safe distancing was maintained. Things started off a little bit rocky as we tried to find some kind of normalcy after such a long time in quarantine, but then slowly started to move. 

Rialto Bridge - Photo: Cat Bauer
In Venice at Rialto, there were plenty of locals out and about, with everyone wearing masks. I saw about six or eight photographers, who were clearly not from Venice. I wondered if they were part of a group, so I spoke to one of them. He told me that he was from a town in the north of the Veneto Region, and that he was alone. He said he could not miss the opportunity to photograph Venice at this special moment in time. I was surprised. "I thought you were all together!" So, it seems that some of the first arrivals from the outside world are photographers hoping to capture some of the remaining silent beauty with their lens. 

At the top of the Rialto Bridge, I found more people who were not residents of Venice. I asked one couple if they were tourists, and they said yes. "Where are you from?" "Verona," they said. I smiled. "Well, you're not really tourists."

Two middle-aged women were also taking photographs. One was from Vicenza, and the other was from Padua. They said that they just had to see Venice in all her glory. "Venice is the capital of our region," said the woman from Padua. "Now is a great opportunity for Venetians from all over the Veneto to have Venice to ourselves. Be sure to write that down."

Instead of "tourist menus" that once catered to tourists, many eateries are offering a "daily menu" with a first (usually pasta) along with a second (usually fish) for around €15-€20, with discerning Venetian appetites in mind.

Even the boat taxis have come up with special (temporary) rates  to certain destinations -- for example, you can go from Piazzale Roma to Rialto for €20 -- still pricey, but a lot less than they were charging before. Since the vaporettos are still not running as frequently as they used to, perhaps they hope to capitalize from people eager to get somewhere in a hurry who don't have the stamina to walk?

Frankly, Venice is a lot more pleasant without the boat taxis churning up the water in the canals. Wouldn't it be nice if the gondoliers could offer special rates for the same service? A set price to go from Piazzale Roma or the train station to Rialto? A throwback to when gondolas were actually used as a method of transportation to move around town?

Leo - the next generation - Photo: Cat Bauer
At Sant' Aponal, I ran into Leo, a young woman I know from the gym. She's 22-years-old, and very smart -- she majors in law and economics at Bocconi University in Milan. I asked what she thought about the situation in Venice, and what she wanted to do after completing her studies. She felt the atmosphere was positive, and that Venice would bounce back. She was still not sure about a specific career (but had decided it was not law -- I told you she was smart). One thing she was sure about is that she wanted to stay in Venice, and do something "to help my city."

Giovanni Pelizzato of Libreria Toletta - Photo: Cat Bauer
One of my touchstones is Giovanni Pelizzato, owner of the Libreria Toletta bookstore in Dorosoduro. Giovanni became a social media star when he created his own home delivery service during the pandemic -- you could order books and he would deliver them himself to your house, better and faster than Amazon. Giovanni said he had done well enough during quarantine because "Venetians like to read." What he misses are the students. Actually, I think much of Venice will have a new appreciation for the students, and all their zippy, youthful energy that spices up the air.

Walter Mutti of Edicola fame - Photo: Cat Bauer
Walter Mutti is another fixture in Venice who leapt into the spotlight when his newspaper kiosk was swept into the Giudecca Canal during the November 12, 2009 flood. Walter's edicola was its own little world -- not only a place to buy newspapers, but a place to leave messages and somewhere to go for advice. Walter now works out of a space on the Zattare just across from where the news stand was, and he, too, has managed to survive because of the curiosity of Venetians and their desire for news in print.

Cat Bauer in Campo Santo Stefano, Venice - Photo: Silvana Di Puorto
Cat Bauer in Campo Santo Stefano - Photo: Silvana Di Puorto
Since I've gained about 3 kilograms (around 6 lbs.) from eating way too many sweets during quarantine, I've cut out carbohydrates (it works -- after about a week, I've already lost 2.5 lbs.) and, therefore, forced myself not have a spritz, the greatest Fine della Qarantena reward. It took all my willpower not to succumb, but I settled for a glass of Pinot Grigio in Campo Santo Stefano. It was divine. I actually enjoy my solitude, and have worked at home for decades, so the quarantine was not a big upheaval for me. I didn't realize how starved I was for human companionship until I tip-toed out into familiar spaces.

It was pure bliss to sit once again in a campo, chatting and watching people go by, comparing masks and gloves (I opted for a black mask and white gloves -- in fact, I'm hoping white gloves make a comeback). It's so nice to be able to see each other again without the blur of tourists blocking the view. If a tour guide had barged through the scene followed by a herd of tourists, they might have gotten pelted with peanuts.

Venice and the Veneto are united when it comes to reopening an economy not based on mass tourism, but on respectful, intelligent travelers. Some of you regular readers of this blog, who have been traveling to Venice for years, have written to me saying that you have already made reservations for later in the year. This is wonderful news. Venice is eager to welcome you back again. For there are chunks of Venice that focus on the quality traveler -- and not mass tourism -- that cannot recover without you.

This type of traveler is loyal to certain hotels and pensiones and has become part of the Venetian family and community, another necessary ingredient that gives Venice its special flavor. They support local artisans and eateries, museums and art galleries, and are an integral spoke in the wheel that turns Venice's economy. One artisan told me, "When the regular visitors return, they will find Venetians so happy to seen them, and with a joyful attitude... We will be able to give them the time they deserve because we won't be so stressed from the over-tourism."

As Venice opens one door, and then another, it will be fascinating to see if the people who enter the lagoon can help the Queen of the Adriatic get back up on her feet with dignity.

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

Friday, May 8, 2020

Venice Royal Gardens Reopen (Again)

Iris Dalmatica - Photo courtesy of Venice Gardens Foundation
(Venice, Italy) Tomorrow, Saturday, May 9th, Venice's Royal Gardens come out of quarantine, ready to welcome Venetians back into its lush embrace. Since its conception back in the times of Napoleon, the Gardens have faced many challenges, but like true royalty, they have always managed to bounce back, more charming than before.

The Royal Gardens had reopened on December 19, 2019 after undergoing a dramatic restoration headed by Adele Re Rebaudengo, President of the Venice Gardens Foundation. Then, all the green spaces in the Veneto were closed in March due to the health pandemic. I wrote a detailed post  about the opening at the time, including some history:

Good News from Venice: The Royal Gardens have Re-Opened!

Grand Canal seen from Accademia Bridge during Venice quarantine - Photo: Cat Bauer
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic prevented the public from enjoying a normal spring surrounded by sunshine and blooming flowers, birds and bees. But while human beings remained closed inside their homes, nature thrived. The Internet was full of images and videos of the calm, clear water in Venice's canals, so clear that jellyfish, octopuses and even a seahorse were spotted frolicking in the water, undisturbed by boat traffic.

Tulips - Holland's Glory - Photo courtesy of Venice Gardens Foundation
Even after being challenged by several bouts of acqua alta in the winter, followed by a dry and windy spring, the Royal Gardens still produced many beautiful blooms. Yellow Daffodils burst forth during the first week of March, along with red-orange Tulips and the violet Redbud tree.

Tetrapanax and General Schablikine Rose - Photo courtesy of Venice Gardens Foundation
In April, different shades of Wisteria brightened up the Gardens, along with Irises and Lavender. The Tetrapanax evergreen shrubs have thrived, creating exotic islands between the four central flower beds. The Gardens are not only colorful, but fragrant, attracting many desirable insects, especially bees. A colony of wise sparrows has never left the Royal Gardens, knowing a good home when they see one.

As humanity takes its first tentative steps back out into the world, hopefully we will come out of this surreal experience stronger, wiser and more dignified. The transformation of Venice's Royal Gardens from a neglected jungle into an oasis for contemplation is a prime example to follow. Venice's Royal Gardens are now open and waiting for you.

Note to subscribers: Feedburner recently sent out several old posts as if they had been recently published. My apologies for any confusion.

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