Q: Italy is a very social country, and the walking nature of Venice makes that city even more particularly social. How are you maintaining your Italian sociability from your apartment?
The coronavirus cannot stifle the way we are. Venetians are sociable people, and as such, continue to be so. Not being able to have all the physical contact you had before, you instead make a few more calls, take a longer look at social media where someone publishes a few photos and make some comments. I call my dad who, looking out the window in front of the Giudecca Canal, informs me about the progress of the island. My aunt who practically lived in the streets of Venice and is updated on everything, not that she even goes out, but the news arrives the same as a tam-tam from house to house, faster than Facebook.
Q: What do you miss the most about Venetian life? What will you do first when things reopen?
I miss hearing my name called out as I walk the streets. The greeting of friends, of the people you meet, makes you feel part of a whole, of something that gives you serenity and security. You feel more at home out and about than at home. For us Venetians, the lagoon and the calle are life. It is on the street that we make friends, where we play from an early age. It is on the street that you engage in conversations and also build business contacts. Whether in front of a bacaro or on a bench in a square or standing on the shore overlooking a canal, for us the outdoors are everything, and at this moment we are missing our way of life. We are just spectators who hope sooner or later to enter the scene again.
The first thing I will do when the distancing is lifted is go and hug my father who for his health has remained alone exiled on the island, like a “lighthouse keeper,” he says. Then a walk through the streets, but this time enjoying every step, without the haste with which we usually cross the city. Finally, a ferry to the cemetery island of San Michele to greet and bring flowers to those who are no longer with us.
Q: What do you feel is different with respect to nature in Venice?
The city seems bigger. We can finally see all the parts previously hidden by the crowd. Venice manifests itself in all its beauty. What strikes me most is the calm of the Giudecca Canal. I was born in Giudecca and the canal has been a part of my life for more than 30 years. Seeing it so calm and without waves reminds me of my parents’ stories about swimming in the canal, or my father and his friends who crossed the canal small rowboats, swells, and ships as boys– little daredevils. Seeing the fish in the small canals brought me back to my own childhood when this was normal. We tried to catch them with improvised reeds. Until recently, the water was so cloudy that nothing was visible. It seemed impossible that there was life below.
Then there are the noises … before there was a continuous indefinite background–the engines of the boats, the speakers of the tourist boats, the overlapping of the voices– now we can distinguish every single sound. I hear the cry of the seagulls, the singing of the birds, the engine of the only Vaporetto that runs every 20 minutes, and the footsteps of the few people going out to shop.
The scents are also now more intense, cleaner. The morning breeze brings with it the smell of algae washed up on the white marble banks, the scent of flowers in bloom. Some mornings I can recognize the wind of Scirocco with its typical warm and brackish smell that envelops you as if in a hug.
Q: What do you think is next for our city?
My hope is that this experience brings Venice back to its true splendor, no longer viewed as an amusement park, a carousel ride (as the song goes). We are faced with a bivio (fork in the road): do we continue on this path or do we take a step back? Nature is teaching us that there are second chances. Venice was once the center of many cultures. Here trade, production, customs, and religions all intertwined. We were a city of craftsmen, navigators, fishermen, and of this there is far too little left. This was not carried away by the coronavirus, but by technology and greed. Everything for the tourists, and very little for the Venetians. I miss the shoemakers, the fishermen devoted with patience and care to weave the cogolo, (fish nets), the haberdashers that sold buttons, the small grocery shops that have been replaced by supermarkets and a thousand souvenir stalls. Even the relationship with people is changing. People sat outside on the street on summer evenings to talk, the children playing in the campos. There was more unity, more availability for each other among the people. We still need all this, and I am hopeful Venice and its people will find it again.