My wife, Alison, and I fell in love with Venice on our first visit to the city many years ago. We returned numerous times after that, experiencing all four seasons in the birthplace of Vivaldi. It was there that we celebrated the coming of the New Millennium, wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the fireworks burst and cascaded over the laguna.
There was so much that we loved about the city. Its fading beauty. Its fragility. Its gentility. The air. Those wide, bright skies. Invariably, we would find ourselves drawn to Piazza San Marco, Napoleon’s “drawing room of Europe”, where we could sit at Caffè Quadri, or Caffè Florian opposite, people-watching and listening to the magical music of the string quartets: the swooping violins of Vivaldi, the tinkling laughter of Mozart, the fairytale strains of Tchaikovsky.
As the years passed, the thought of coming to live permanently in Venice grew stronger. Yes, we knew the city was decaying. It was sinking back into the sea. It would be gone soon, they said. But we didn’t care. We would grow old and fade and decay with it, eventually sinking gracefully away.
As the time for our retirement grew closer, we decided to introduce some practicality into our dream. Could we actually live there? Could we do all the mundane things, like shopping and cooking and making ourselves understood? We spent six glorious summer weeks finding out, and the answer was a resounding yes. But perhaps we were too busy enjoying the life, travelling across the island, exploring its nooks and crannies, to see the darkness forming.
Retirement came a year later, but we were still not completely ready to sell up and move to Venice. So we decided to give the city another trial, for six months this time, before making that final commitment. We flew over towards the end of summer, found a little apartmento, became Venetian residents, signed up at a language school and settled down to spend autumn and winter in our beautiful city.
Then the darkness fell. It came in the form of tourists. There were droves of them, all day, every day, disgorged by the budget airlines on the mainland. They travelled in by bus or train for a day-trip or a one-night stay in a budget hotel, clogging the narrow streets as they came and went. They resembled a herd of migrating buffalo, rolling in from the plains, thundering across the cobblestones, grazing on the hoof and leaving their detritus in their wake. There were too many of them, far too many for our fragile little island. It was in danger of sinking rapidly beneath the weight of them.
The effect on daily life in Venice was disastrous. In cafes and restaurants, previously polite, smiling waiters became sullen, all too often the target of mean, complaining customers. In the shops and on the streets and vaporetti, local people became surly, jostled constantly by the invading hordes. And in our beloved Piazza San Marco, the music died, the enchanting music of Vivaldi and Mozart and Tchaikovsky replaced by unrelenting rounds of populist waltzes; The Blue Danube done to death for the masses!
Shortly after we returned to Edinburgh, I penned some short stories about characters we met during our six-month stay. You can find those stories in a wee collection called Venetian Lives, which happens to be FREE to download all weekend. If you do take a punt on the collection, I hope you enjoy the stories. Not surprisingly, you’ll find that those infernal turisti crop up throughout them!