I have nothing but the loveliest memories of Venice. Its such a magical city, almost dreamlike in its allure. How can I not adore a city that has produced so much of those wonderful antique beads I now have the pleasure of working with? And I am only one among its many admirers, Byron perhaps being one of its more lyrical ones. So I was devastated when I came across an article on the New York Review of Books titled The Coming Death of Venice?
The article lists down the ills that beset the city and to say that its troubling is an understatement. Venice was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Since then, the number of tourists have risen in staggering numbers. A big number of these tourists come in those gigantic cruise ships that ply the route in the Mediterranean. They come into the city and disgorged literally thousands of people onto St. Marks Square. Unfortunately these great numbers have taken a heavy toll on the city because Venice simply wasn’t built to accommodate such numbers. And because there is, as yet, not firm plan to handle such massive numbers, nor a plan to make tourism support the city, the problem is greatly aggravated.
As a tourist myself (though the closest we ever got to a boat was a water taxi), it was disturbing to read how much our mere presence could endanger this lovely city. I imagine that you dear readers, much as I, are never really quite aware when visiting other places, that our presence could take a toll. We are there to enjoy its newness, discover its charms and partake of local culture. We chafe at the lines outside the museums and historical sites but respect nonetheless the limits it sets. We try to blend in with locals and do our best to avoid being that obnoxious traveller. But, do we ever ask ourselves, at what price we enjoy all this? All this newness and wonder of discovery?
Venice seems to tells us that our mere presence exacts a heavy toll. Because of the way it was built, all these big numbers cause pollution levels to skyrocket, it disturbs the fragile moorings of those beautiful buildings we so admire and worse, cause the water levels to rise above what the city is prepared to handle. The problem of flooding is now only a matter of when, not if.
But if there were no people like you and I visiting the City, then there would also be much less jobs for the people who rely heavily on tourism not to mention much less money generated by all the tourists buying souvenirs and enjoying the delicious restaurants. What would all those gondoliers do if we were to all stop visiting? Like it or not, there are lots of lives that depend on the visitors. The city would still be lost if the people who live in it have no means to live.
The answer may lie in the fact that Venice needs us and we need Venice. We need to be aware of the toll it takes for the city to welcome us. So let’s be light footed visitors and travelers doing our bit to save this city (or for that matter any other city we find ourselves in). We need to preserve this magical city full of gorgeous color saturated buildings and wonderful art work, the least of which are those wonderful beads, some of which are still being blown the old traditional way. And we need to actively support those who would fight, yes fight, to preserve Venice.
See all these pictures I took? I want to be able to go back to Venice and show these sights to my children. I want to share with them the beauty that so enchanted me and make new memories. And if to preserve Venice, there comes a day when limits are set on the number who can come and when, then I will follow. Because at least then, I will know that Venice still exists and not only in faded old dreams.