Not drowning but suffocating

Edward Lucas in More Intelligent Life:

VeniceSome cities you go to for the galleries, some for the restaurants, some for the nightlife. You visit Venice to stroll through the alleys, bridges and squares that make up the most beautiful public space in the world. The walk that is richest in architectural delights and historical significance follows the route from the Rialto Bridge to St Mark’s Square. The bridge was the hub of the trading empire that brought in the booty and paid for the city’s unique concentration of artistic masterpieces. The merchants of Venice hung around the bridge for information on promising deals and lost cargoes. “What news on the Rialto?” asks Shylock. Wiggle eastwards from the business district of the ancient city through the narrow passageways and sotoporteghi (alleys that pass through buildings) and you emerge through the great arch at the base of the 15th-century clock tower and into Venice’s political and religious heart – St Mark’s Square. The walk is a little more than half a mile, and shouldn’t take you longer than ten minutes. It will, though. Much longer. For during the warm months of the year the route is jammed with a slow-moving flotilla of tourists. Many are oblivious to those around them, having tuned out to listen to their guide through their headsets. You become wedged, unable to go forwards or back.

When rain falls and umbrellas sprout, which is often, new problems arise. Venetian alleys are wide enough to allow two people to pass comfortably – but not two umbrellas. Someone must give way. Venetians have rules for this: an informal arrangement whereby people drop and tilt their umbrellas in unison. But visitors don’t know these rules, so tourist umbrellas lock and fight. The pushing and shoving, the bags and the body odour quickly dispel the thrill of being in Venice. The city’s delicate mystery cannot survive the crush.

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