REPOSTING from three years ago, now that the weather in Seattle's a little better.
VENICE--What you notice first is the discrete vroom-voom of a motor launch easing its way through the quiet neighborhood canals, the muted sounds echoing off the walls of an 18th century palazzo. Nothing like the semis, the half-ton delivery trucks, the roaring Metro diesels buses, not to mention the incessant drone of rubber on concrete throughout even the more remote Seattle neighhborhoods. No, you realize, Venice is quiet. Hushed, reverential.
And Venice is crowded! Tourists from Lithuania, tourists from Brazil. Nikon-wielding Japanese, Gucci-wielding Chinese, .gelato-wielding Texans. They jostle one another along fondamento, calle, campo, and ponte. They compete for passage with deliverymen pushing rubber-wheeled carts and dollies. Venice, city of maybe 200,000 iinhabitants, is overrun by visitors. And then you realize why: no cars.
Instead of driving to McDonald's or Starbucks, Venetians (and tourists) walk to the caffè:, walk to the corner bar, walk to the market, walk to the square; They walk because water taxis are not only slow but prohibitively expensive. If you're heading to the fish market at the Rialto bridge, just take the local vaporetto.
A gondola? Sure. For romance, not for point-to-point You see the gondoliers at strategic intersections, in their black or red striped shirts, calling out to tourists, "Gondola, gondola!" with a practiced rhythm in between drags on their cigarettes, taking off their beribboned straw hats to wipe their brows when the traffic slows. On one boat, a balding businessman ignores the other passengers (three stout women in red jackets) and speaks loudly into a cellphone. Another businessman in a green tie and carrying a briefcase alights from a traghetto (a gondola devoted only to crossing the Grand Canal) and pays the ferry man his 50 cent ransom. If he's a lawyer or a banker, he's got style, la bella figura.
The North Africans have returned to the piazzas; no umbrellas today since it's sunny at last, but with a panoply of "designer" (illegal counterfeit) bags and purses. And some weird flying doodads that light up, zoom skyward and drop slowly to the ground. Nothing like that in Seattle any more.
And the pigeons have returned to the Piazza San Marco. Thousands of them. I read last year that pigeon shit does enormous damage to the fragile underpinnings of San Marco, so the city fathers banned the sale of pigeon feed. Don't know what magic potion the Japanese tourists are scattering on the stones, but pigeons are everywhere. More pigeons, many more, than dogs (for example). Reverse of Seattle.
A gaggle of teeny-boppers interrupts the stately scene in front of the Frari church. Giggling American schoolgirls. One would think their chaperones had warned them that halter tops and obscenely short jeans were inappropriate. One would be wrong. But Americans don't have a monopoly on provocatve dress or boorish behavior. Shlubs from all nations, it seems, converge on La Serenissima, armed with water bottles, cargo pants, combat boots, oversize fanny packs, outsize cameras, huge jackets tied around their ample waists. The locals arrive dressed for the office (briefcase, jacket & tie) or pulling a lightweight shopping cart as they head to the ancient fish markets.
Tourists don't visit the market to buy food but to gawk, The markets are surrounded by storefont booths hawking gew-gaws and cheap souvenirs. 8.99 for a "hand-painted" mask. They eat in cheap restaurants where the flavorless pizza crust comes out of a box, sauce and toppings well dusted with a magic flavor-removing powder called "MancaSapori." (Just kidding.)
Spring is coming. It's warmer, and it stays light longer. On the other hand, just like Seattle's it's supposed to rain again tomorrow.