In Venice gondolas float silently beside you, spreading ripples in the stream like a car would spread exhaust. At night, the small burning street lights twinkle on the water at all sides, stars shining above and below. The sound of music and the clinking of glasses pour from homes and street corners alike, mixing with the bustling of evening dinners to be had and street performances to be seen.
It sounds magical, doesn’t it? I was in Venice for only a day and a night and saw all this, the city really is beautiful. But this isn’t really Venice. These words alone only describe a fantasy that brings people to this floating place, not all that I saw bumbling into a city I knew nothing about.
Emerging from the city’s train station, the first thing I see are signs for water tours lining the walk beside the river, one after the other as if any could be any different from the other. Across the first bridge, I step between peddlers selling sunglasses to tourists.
Entering the twisting alleys I pass a Burger King, somehow among all this culture and food, it has customers. Between ancient sidewalks I see metal scaffolding keeping walls and undersides of buildings from falling and I dodge rolling suitcases and tempered words.
Architecture made for the few I see over trodden with the many. Skinny alleyways crumbling as people shove by to get to the next shop, no one seeing the crushed brick by their hurrying feet. Gondola rides cost $120, and there are lines. People take photos of each other feeding pigeons in Piazza San Marco.
This city exists, now, to entertain, feed, and profit from tourists, not for the people of the city. Most who live there either go to the college there or work in the tourist industry. The city itself suffers from these tourists, its culture perverted for profit, the physical structure of the city falling apart from the foot traffic.
Venice is old.
It’s a fantastical city, breathtaking at night with its warm glowing streetlights and reflections on the water, but look closely and you see the cracks between everything. The sellers, the tour guides, the shops, the magnets, the postcards, the sunglasses, the luggage, the hotels — Venice is not a city with tourism, Venice is a tourist city.
This is what I saw when I stumbled into Venice, how I felt as I walked its alleys for a day, what I thought about sitting beside the river. At one point Venice was grand with its masquerade balls and rich culture. Now, those masks are sold in shops beside mass-produced plastic knick-knacks.
Its soul is depraved, its personality now perverted into just another tourist city. A beautiful one, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but in the end, a tourist city nonetheless.