17.11.2011 - UNESCO Office in Venice

Living in a postcard. A literary introduction to Venice

©Collezione cartoline Albertomos - Old postcard of Venice

Venice looks much like a postcard; needless to say that we venetians at first have transformed it into what others wished to see, a sort of adjustment to our own rhetoric. But, to give an idea of how it could have been only a few decades ago, you first of all need to know that it was full of children.

That it had greengrocer’s and toys’ shops; there was the electrician, the photographer, the barber, the mechanic for outboard motors and each other thing which could be needed for those living in it. The kids used to plunge from the bridges and - in general - one could see many more rowing boats as the ones we can count today. Towards the evening, the women used to sit in the calle, to exchange a few words and take some cool air. 

I do realize that also this is an image of a postcard; and I do realize it all the more as I stray from those times. 

The signals of revival are there, represented by new venetians, who though not originating from Venice live and work in the city. They’ve come from every city in Italia and Europe. Many do not have an Italian passport. They are coming from all continents, Africa and Oceania included. In Venice they practise their profession, hardly ever connected to the touristic sector; they send their children to school and have bought their house.  They row alla veneta and speak venetian. They love the city, they are its life force. They are more venetian than many persons born in Venice. They defend this city with body and soul (or: with all their strength / their teeth, nails and liver-sic). In spite of this, the turnover between the citizens of yesterday and today is still too slow for maintaining a recognized venetian identity twenty or thirty years to come.

The millions of visitors pouring in every year are somehow faster, and everything - or almost – rotates around what they eat, what they buy and what they want to see. Excluding the possibility of denying excess to more than twenty million persons, making most of them “venetian” is the only choice. “Teaching” them Venice, and make them sense the city as a living body with a very delicate texture, that needs to be preserved as a unicum - monuments fountains children dogs palaces laundry lines gondolas millenary history - and only lives when all pieces are there. A vaguely rhetoric message, but unfortunately truthful; if we succeed in instilling (sowing) a seed of conscience of what Venice and its civilization represents in world history, it is unlikely that who comes to visit us will act against it, be it during their stay or once returned home.   And we will have every year millions of “venetians” committed (driven) to become the best instruments of defense and diffusion of venetian culture worldwide.

A challenge on the verge of the impossible:  tourists as cultural resource in favour of the city, to preserve its identity. Meanwhile, we need to increase the number of resident venetians, irrespective of the place in the world where they were born or where they grew up. Hasn’t it always been this way? When the plague took away one-hundred thousand of them, the venetians opened their doors and invited newcomers to live in the city and make it their own. Or maybe these times are not as worrying as those of the plague?

Literary introduction by Alberto Toso Fei - historian, journalist and author on Venice - for the UNESCO Concert "Music to Soothe a Savage Planet" (13 November 2011, Gran Teatro La Fenice)

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