On Coming to Terms with the Contradictions of Venice

Venice - Fondamenta San Felice

Venice, perhaps more so than any other place I have visited, is the spot where, as a traveller, utter despair and unbelievable thrills most coalesce. It’s a city with one huge contradiction: it’s both the easiest place in the world to love, AND the most impossible.

It’s easy to love because, obviously, it is gorgeous, beautiful, picture perfect, and any other superlative you want to throw its way. The buildings in rich, warm tones, set against the sparkling water, the tiny alleyways that dead end into canals that feel like they’ve only ever been discovered by you, the peeling paint and exposed bricks, features that somehow look stately and elegant instead of shabby: these are a few bits of the city’s magic. It is romantic and venerable, breath-taking and jaw-dropping.

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And yet, it is often impossible to love the city because, well, because tourists. Venice’s lifeblood is tourism, and these days, these temporary interlopers tend to far outnumber the locals. Of course, I cannot pretend to hold the moral high ground: after all, I’m a visitor myself. It’s hard for me to begrudge anyone wanting to come Venice; my presence here makes it clear that I understand the impulse. And yet…no place has made me want to claw out my own eyeballs, to scream in frustration, or to curl up in the fetal position in my hotel room quite like Venice has. The city is jam-packed with sightseers, and walking to any of the main sights becomes an exercise in frustration and a litmus test for patience. The magic of the canals becomes obscured when you have to elbow your way past a pack of people to even catch a glimpse of them.

With all these tourists – and the ever-increasing dearth of locals – the question I’m left with is: what, exactly, is Venice becoming, and do I want to be a part of it? The comparison I kept hearing thrown around, and one I cannot say I disagree with, is Disneyworld: a Venetian theme park, if you will, packed with tourists but devoid of any real life, any true soul. As I walked among Venice’s streets, as I admired its canals, I had to wonder: who are these canals for, really, the locals or the tourists? And if it’s the latter, isn’t that just a bit depressing?

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The questions that I’ve posed are simply that: questions, because I can’t pretend to have any answers, any magic way to solve Venice’s problems, to keep the city afloat (figuratively and literally, at times) without ruining its charm. I don’t know how to make it a better place, or if that’s possible, or if that’s even what people should desire. All I can do is acknowledge the contradictions of traveling there, the highs and lows, the triumphs and the frustrations. It’s wonderful and it’s awful, it’s beautiful and it’s ugly, it’s crowded in some spots and utterly serene in others. It’s Venice, pure and simple, and sometimes I think it’s overrated and skippable, but other times I think: it is a complete fairytale, and I’m lucky to have been a part of it, if only fleetingly.

NB: these photos are all from Fondamenta San Felice and the nearby back streets, an area of Venice I fell completely in love with: there are fewer crowds, and yet the streets and buildings are no less awe-inspiring than some of the Venice’s most visited spots. I would definitely recommend heading to the area for an evening stroll or a dinner (or, preferably, an evening stroll before a dinner).

6 thoughts on “On Coming to Terms with the Contradictions of Venice

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