I came to Venezia expecting it to be a slightly less polished version of EuroDisney, a Hogwarts-styled theme park caught in a flood, inhabited only by visitors brandishing iPhones and Instagram accounts named “Eat-Pray-Love89”. As it turned out, that wasn’t to be the case and we found the delicate, sing-along sounding Venetian accent echoing pretty much everywhere we went.
Please note I’ve written sounding. Venetians – and the Veneti, those from the wider Veneto region – are amongst Italy’s most prolific swearers, so much so that cursing could be considered a form of art over there. Pets, uncles, deities, mothers, retarded nephews; nothing is safe from a torrential burst of profanities in Veneto, and it’s done with such naturalness, spontaneity and flair that even the most upright of the toffs wouldn’t be able to take offence at that. And if he did, then he’d better return whence he’d come from.
Epithets aside, people-watching in Venezia turned out to be remarkably more interesting than I’d ever thought, and it took us along routes we’d never thought. We might’ve been sitting in Calle Scaleta, looking at the house whence one Marco Polo left for his China, and we’d casually eavesdrop on the conversation taking place in the cicchetteria where we were drinking spritz, about the acqua alta SMS not being sent, or the app not sending notifications for yesterday’s tide surge.
We took the poor man’s gondola, the No. 1 ACTV vaporetto along the Canal Grande, after having witnessed, amongst hysteric bursts of laughter, a blonde youth cursing the helmsman of the boat he’d just missed (together with his dog, the boat and the omnipotent) in a remarkably feat of freestyle dissing. We chugged along the Canale, past manors where Mazzini, Wagner and Byron lived, died or both. Around us, city life took to the waters: gondole, speedboats, even the fire brigade cruised along the Canale. At the helm of their boats Venetians developed even more swagger, more savoir-faire, than the impressive amount already displayed by their countrymen whilst at the wheel of an Audi – on the fast lane, that goes without saying – of the A4 motorway.
Once back on the ground we stalked a Romanian couple’s nuptial photoshoot. It turned out the groom wasn’t too keen on being photographed by anyone but the contracted artist.
Terra firma – as firm as it could be on these islands made of tree trunks stuck into the lagoon – was also where the water commuters ended when they weren’t busy sailing, smooth and cool like Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Even without their feet wet, I had to concede, they looked no less at ease.
Murano and Burano, off Venezia proper, were provincial Italy meets the lagoon. Men stopped for an impromptu chat whilst their dogs sniffed around at their feet. Suited and booted art dealers stood outside their gallerias, awaiting the impending stream of tourist to come. Pensioners stood on the doorstep of their homes, whilst tourists snapped photos of one another on the bridges linking one pavement to the other. In the corners, tacky adverts – because all ads in smalltown Italy have an element of tackiness in them – flapped in the wind together with the day’s laundry.
Back in Venezia, men ambled along the windswept walkways running besides the Canale della Giudecca. Kids, too, made an appearance; free from the day’s lessons at school they ran around on hoverboards or, more traditionally, they played football in the square.
In the meantime, by the fish market, a small dog was finding all this way too dramatic.