I returned from Venice a day ago. While it remains for me an historic, mystical, romantic place, the times don’t auger well for it. And it’s not a matter of the sea rising, which they’ve handled well since the 14th Century, it’s a matter of the people disappearing, which is far more recent.
Once off the beaten path, the residential neighborhood piazzas, where scores of children once played soccer and filled the square with shouting and laughter, are empty. The butchers, bakers, laundries, and cobblers have mostly closed, their stores unpurchased and used only for storage. Vegetation grows through slabs once immaculate with rain cistern openings that provided water for the wells for hundreds of years. There are no clothes on the lines, but many boarded windows.
The apartments and houses have largely been purchased by non-residents, who spend a few weeks a year in town and then close their domiciles. Venice is becoming an adult theme park, with great restaurants, impressive history, and tourist excursions. But, like the centuries-old statues you can see propped up by iron bars in the back, the façade of the city is propped up by visitors’ euros. The tourist industry is not esurient. It is survival.
Long before rising waters truly threaten Venice, there may be no one left there to see it.
I am a man. I married. I had children. I bought a house. The whole catastrophe.
— paraphrased from Zorba the Greek
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