La Serenissima & Bella Mara

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader hasn’t blogged much recently due to a chronic case of TV viewing. Of course when you have a new Panasonic Viera 54 inch Plasma TV you may want to spend your time watching it. If you want to know your Maximum Leader’s thoughts on his new TV here they come: this TV is awesome. Yup. This TV is completely awesome.

FYI… The first film he watched on his new TV, on BlueRay, in true 1080p HD was Zombieland.

Well my minions…

Your Maximum Leader has been completely infected by the bug again. The Venice bug. It has been in the forefront of his mind quite a bit over the past few weeks. He doesn’t recall if there was a particular trigger for the bug, but it is all-consuming.

For a city to which your Maximum Leader has never traveled Venice holds a strange manic fixation for him. He reads about Venice, he thinks about what he’ll do in Venice, he thinks about the future and past of Venice. This year he actually started worrying that when he finally does get to Venice that he’ll hate it or find something to dislike about it. But even those thoughts can’t keep him from thinking about visiting La Serenissima. He worries that Venice’s problems will ruin the image of the city he has in his mind.

Venice has so many problems and so few viable solutions to any of them. The first problem is, well, the water. As your Maximum Leader has highlighted on this blog many times (and he’ll do so again now), the acqua alta (or high water) is affecting the city more and more frequently and is getting higher and higher with each passing year. The high water yesterday was reportedly over a meter deep in St. Mark’s square.

Another problem is the over-commericalization of Venice. People (Venitians and outsiders) think that the city is becoming “Veniceland” and ceasing to be a city. They contend that the 20 million tourists that flood the city by day in the warm weather months are driving out reasonably priced apartments, grocers, and many of the people and businesses that make a city a city. The population of Venice has declined to between 50,000-60,000 (from a late 1950s popluation of nearly 130,000). Without some way of keeping prices down in the city more citizens will leave and eventually Venice could become a tourist city with the workers coming in by train or boat from their homes on terra firma and leaving after the tourists in the evening.

In the over-commericalization vein, the costs of keeping up the city continue to skyrocket. Many people are complaining about how the city is auctioning off advertising space on scaffolding around historic buildings in Venice (including this ghastly ad for Coke - a product your Maximum Leader completely endorses - on the side of the Doge’s Palace). Sadly, your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that there are many other choices for preserving the city. With a dwindling tax-base you have to sell the assests you can to raise money to preserve the landmarks that draw in the tourists. The mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, earlier this year proposed a tax on tourists. The proposal was that every tourist who enters the city, but does not spend the night in the city, should pay a 10 Euro tax. The city would then spend the tax on keeping up the city buildings and services. Frankly, your Maximum Leader is all for this proposal. 10 Euros a person and 20 million tourists. Let’s say that 2 million of those tourists spend the night (which seems a little high, but he’s going with it anyway) that is still 180 million Euros in revenue gained. That seems like a reasonable visitation tax with a worthwhile purpose.

But even with all the talk of overcommericalization, sinking and crowds of tourists, your Maximum Leader feels the city is pulling at his soul. The city calls him to visit. He hopes that his visit will be like the one he recently read about on-line in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (although the piece is orginally from the New York Times - your Maximum Leader doesn’t read the NY Times as a matter of policy, unless he is in New York City). In the piece Rachel Donadio relates her first visit to Venice in many years. It is a great travel piece that your Maximum Leader will commend to you. Here is a taste:

I HADN’T been back to Venice in years when I found myself there on assignment. It was November; the city’s scattered trees had begun to turn brown. The light, as always, was beyond compare and there was a watery chill in the air. I loved it immediately.

Or rather, I remembered how much I loved it. Italy can do strange things to your perspective. Memories of a place become more real than the place itself. I had lived for years with the Venice of my recollections — traveling there at 19, drinking peach iced tea in the July heat, discovering Giorgione — and then last November I was back. I was older, so was Venice.

The visit whetted my appetite, and not long afterward I returned one freezing January weekend, armed with several sweaters, boots and a well-worn copy of “Watermark,” Joseph Brodsky’s marvelous prose poem about Venice in winter, which would be my guide. It is an emotional guidebook more than a practical one, but, I would argue, just as reliable. In Venice, maps fail. As everyone knows, to be in that floating city is to be forever lost and disoriented, as if in a labyrinth.

On that November foray, I had listened to a group of American college students talking as they wandered around near the Rialto Bridge. “I don’t mind if we’re, like, lost all day,” one told his friends. “Dude,” another replied, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

Goethe could not have put it better. Venice, as he famously wrote, can be compared only to itself. So many wonderful writers have captured Venice, from Goethe to Henry James to Evelyn Waugh, that it is all the more remarkable that in 1992 Brodsky, in “Watermark,” managed to create a truly original piece of writing about this clichĂ©-worn city.

Your Maximum Leader read “Watermark” last Christmas. It is one of the most lyrical short books he’s ever read. Brodsky could really turn a phrase and capture a moment in poetic prose. If you can, pick up a copy and read it. It will take you a short afternoon (or a long one if you savor the words).

Anyhoo… Venice is on your Maximum Leader’s mind.

You know what other Italian thing is on your Maximum Leader’s mind? No? Well let him tell you. Mara Carfagna. Yes, the beautiful and talented Minister for Equal Opportunity in the Berlusconi government. Your Maximum Leader has read over the past year that Minister Carfagna had gotten a lot of press for trying to outlaw street prostitution and provide more protection for homosexuals and victims of rape. Right around Thanksgiving in the US your Maximum Leader read that Mara Carfagna (Bella Mara as the Italian papers seem to call her) was going to resign from her position. Your Maximum Leader had read about the ongoing garbage collector strike in Naples and the growing mountains of refuse in the city; but now that crisis had real impact to him. Carfagna was going to resign over the government’s inability to resolve that situation. Your Maximum Leader was going to lament that the world’s most beautiful government minister was going to resign over garbage. Apparently, and luckily for all involved, Carfagna and Berlusconi must have worked something out because she is going to stay on (for a while at least). If you would like a little news analysis on Mara Carfagna here is a nice piece in Spiegel International called: Neither Saints Nor Whores.

Well, that is about all the Italian stuff brewing around in your Maximum Leader’s brain right now. He’ll leave the blog now and check out some college football. Today he’s rooting for the USC Gamecocks to put the smackdown on Auburn (mainly because he wants to see TCU try for the National Championship) and the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC championship.

Carry on.

2 Comments »
Kevin Kim said:

“This year he actually started worrying that when he finally does get to Venice that he’ll hate it or find something to dislike about it. But even those thoughts can’t keep him from thinking about visiting La Serenissima. He worries that Venice’s problems will ruin the image of the city he has in his mind.”

I hope you don’t suffer your own form of Paris Syndrome if Venice proves not to be up to your expectations.

Kevin



I hadn’t heard of Paris Syndrome per se. I don’t know that I’ll fall victim to Venice Syndrome so to speak. While Venetians don’t have a repuation for rudeness, I know the city has a reputation for being horribly overpriced, restaurants being bad, and everyone running slow or behind schedule. I know that in the summer months the canals are prone to being smelly. You can choke on diesel fumes while on the vaporetti. And most gondoliers don’t sing. I think I understand the many pitfalls that await a person in Venice. My fear is that it is something unexpected that will disappoint me.



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