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The water in the canals, for the first time in a generation, are free from the wave movement that rowers and activists in the city denounce.
Italy – Andrea Lamponi and eight other crew members row through the southern lagoon of Venice in a sandolo and a caorlina, two typical local boats.
“We pretend to be pirates who are going to conquer, but we do not disembark: we only take possession of the islands with our eyes and our hearts,” he says.
After passing through Crevan, a private island, they descend into San Francesco del Deserto, a leafy island with a monastery where Francisco de Asís would have been confined on his return from the East in 1220.
The Venetian crew is greeted by Fray Alberto and, before sunset, they return to Venice.
“It was five in the afternoon,” says Lamponi, 55, an employee of the Veneto Carlo Goldoni stable theater.
“There was not the usual chaotic and constant movement in the lagoon, it was absolutely calm and unpublished: since I was born I don’t remember it like that.”
It was Saturday, March 7, a day before the total quarantine ordered by the Italian Government.
The tourist crowds had vanished, and with them most of the motorized traffic from water buses or vaporettos, large ships, and taxi boats had contracted.
The waters, for the first time in a generation, were free of the undulatory movement – in Italian, a wavy motorcycle – that rowers and activists of the city denounce.
In less than six months, two calamities hit the city and exposed the fragility of an economy almost exclusively dependent on tourism.
On November 12 of last year, an extraordinary tide of almost two meters paralyzed the city and caused the first exodus of tourists.
Later, with the coronavirus quarantine, Venice took on the appearance of a ghost town.
Upon their return through the lagoon and deserted canals of Venice, Andrea and the other paddlers also note the silence and the spectral tranquility of its streets and the promenades parallel to the canals.
Hardly any passers-by, the windows of palaces and buildings closed. They are beginning to wonder if the historic center of Venice really has that many inhabitants.
According to official data cited by the La Nuova di Venezia newspaper, the city is home to 53,976 inhabitants, not counting the metropolitan area of the mainland.
The Statistical and Research Service of the municipality of Venice cannot be consulted when it is closed due to the health emergency.
“Since I settled here in 2000, the city has visibly changed,” says Vera Mantengoli, a journalist who writes for La Nuova di Venezia and La Repubblica.
“The most obvious signs of depopulation are the closed windows of abandoned houses and buildings transformed into hotels, not to mention the number of supermarkets to satisfy tourists that has forced many small grocery stores to close.”
And he mentions the adverse effect of the MOSE (Italian acronym for Electromechanical Experimental Module and an allusion to the prophet Moses who separated the waters of the Red Sea): an unfinished system of levees whose construction began in 2003 and which has been plagued by irregularities -with false invoices that would amount to more than 33 million euros- and complaints about its viability.
“Before MOSE, the government allocated funds for the maintenance of the city,” says Mantengoli.
“Later, with the promise that MOSE would solve many problems, that money was derived from the great work that, as is now known, was the subject of a shameful bribery scandal.”
Silence in the maze
In the silence of deserted streets and still waters, the beauty of Venice is exposed in its magnificence and desolation.
The walls speak a Byzantine language, from marble sculptures stolen from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade between 1204 and 1261, embedded whole or fragmented into the outer walls of palaces and common buildings: peacocks drinking from the fountain of eternal life, or a stork that fights with a snake, in iconography sometimes worn and of lost meaning.
Stone heads that preside over porticos, sometimes of deliberate ugliness, take on improbable beauty. Many buildings have their shutters closed.
In almost all of them there is an open window, and rarely more than three or four. A 15-minute walk begins on the Accademia Bridge.
There is nobody in one of the most popular places for its views of the Canal Grande and the Salute Cathedral. A woman passes in the opposite direction with her head down.
Until the Plaza de San Marcos only four people are seen: a man accompanied by his dog; two policemen, man and woman, who greet and continue a lively conversation, and a fleeting figure that is lost in a side alley of the maze that is Venice.
The church of San Moisés is open and uninhabited. A lone candle burns. And San Marcos, perhaps for the first time in centuries, has been deserted for weeks.
All their cafes are closed. Even the pigeons have disappeared. “Do you have your permit?” Asks a group of police officers to the reporter, who also asks for their credentials. Every person in Italy must justify going outside.
The 11 o’clock chimes ring out, sounding pristine and unhurried in the Basilica of San Marcos and the enormity of the square.
The royal Venice
One of the curious effects of the Venice emptied of tourists is that now only the local inhabitants are seen.
On Saturday morning, a large group of Venetians congregate at the Fish Market, a gallery of neo-Gothic arches in the Rialto area, choosing between seafood, sea bass, sea bream and other varieties.
“He survives, we come here only to barely get the expenses,” says Dario Naccari, a fishmonger who has worked in this place for forty years.
“After the big tide in November, the sale had dropped a lot, and now it has fallen between 70 and 80 percent.”
Perhaps because of the melodies of Italian and Venetian, the voices of the people gathered sound happy despite the coronavirus, the only and dreary topic of conversation in recent weeks.
“I don’t compare anywhere near the war period, it is very different, but now we are truly terrified,” admits Anna Lazaris, one of the few people found on the street.
“When this emergency is over, and we hope it will end, the city must rethink its way of being. Tourism monoculture must end, and I hope it will. Sacrifices must be made and the city must be conceived not only and exclusively as a hotel, earning money with tourist rents. Why do you see it? This: a city that no longer has residents, “adds local accountant Antonella Baretton, who has also approached the market.
Fabio Carrera, a Venetian academic specializing in urban technology, tries to promote the repopulation of the city through the creation of highly qualified jobs not linked to tourism with remunerations that allow living in Venice.
In 2017, Carrera, a professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, United States, created SerenDPT, a charitable corporation in Venice to encourage the creation of new technology companies. With his project he seeks to create “ten startups of ten people in ten years”.
“The main obstacle in Italy is finance,” he says. “In Italy there are no risk capitals as there are in the United States.” Sandro Franchini, from the Veneto Institute of Literary Sciences and Arts, adds: “The fact is that conditions have drastically changed due to the fact that, in truth, there are one hundred thousand residents missing.
For the future, I hope that it is understood that not everything can be based on tourism, that it is also necessary to encourage different activities.
It is a great lesson not only for Venice but for the whole world, it is a situation that occurs on a global level. “For many, Venice is not only a vestige of the past, but a creative reality.
Venetian writer Tiziano Scarpa vehemently defends the city’s cultural vitality, but delves into the disproportion between inhabitants and tourists. “Venice is the city of the Biennale, where the most innovative creations of cinema, theater, music, art, dance converge; and then the La Fenice theater, the Academy of Fine Arts and so many other institutions that produce culture.”
However, his hopes falter: “After the double disaster, I don’t know what will be left of all this.”
The evil of the stone
“The Venetians cannot live here. Those who do not have economic possibilities have gone to Mestre, only a few lucky ones remain here,” complains Lazaris.
“House rentals, sales, business rentals, people cannot and are forced to leave. When I was a boy, 40 years ago, Venice was beautiful, full of people, full of businesses, there were no supermarkets .
There was tourism and there were also the Venetians, “says a merchant on the street. Those who remain, despite everything, use unappealable reasons.
Lamponi, the rower, tries to explain his attachment. “The water in Venice is like the circulation of blood through the veins,” he says.
“For decades, water has ceased to be seen as a connecting space. It is understood as an obstacle to overcome as quickly as possible.
So it runs. So there are so many propellers and so many motorized ships. By rowing, all the elements really come into contact. “
Anna Marin, his wife and also a Venetian rower, remembers his youth in the 1970s, when he frequented the Il Cavallino gallery and it was possible to rub shoulders with artists like Marina Abramovic without any problem, “a cultural reality unthinkable now”.
The niece of Giuseppe Mazzariol, a Venetian art historian and friend of the architect Carlo Scarpa, Marin recalls that her uncle, who died in 1989, “had an incredibly modern city idea for the time: he already guessed in the 1960s about a city that is now we could call digital. “
Despite everything, she stays. “Venice is a great love for me.” “Ho mal de dea piera”, he says in Venetian, “I have the evil of stone”. In his family, it is the expression they use to describe the roots of this city.
Source: Debate MX