Venice and the cost of tourism
Venice is bit of a dream, with the canals, the richness, colours, opulence, the food, people and boats. It’s at once incredibly busy, but very serene. Despite all the published imagery, first time visitors will be overwhelmed from the moment they step foot on their first boat on the canals, for repeat visitors it’s a journey of continuous discovery and memories. The vast amount of tourists and subsequent industry around it are overwhelming, but turn a corner and a solitary artisan is there, moulding wood or fixing a boat singing to himself. All across Italy’s main cities you have this incongruity of the hectic hold which tourists have on the local economies and the people who serve this economy – in Venice more so: you can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them.
This has built a mutual distrust: “the tourist don’t really care, and all the locals want is to charge as much as possible without consideration of quality”. This is wrong and built on perceptions that are not true. Take a Gondola ride for example, at the cost of 80 euros for 30 minutes, which seems rather high. This is until you learn about the skills and work involved in making and riding a Gondola. To begin with, each boat is bespoke made for the gondolier who will be riding it (adjusted to their height and weight). There are over 280 single pieces, from 8 types of wood, including oak, elm, cherry and mahogany. There are the metal front and back curls, there is the forcola (the oar support), which is made out of one single piece of walnut and taking three days to carve. The oars themselves are also made by hand, as are the decorations on the boat. Making a gondola is a true piece of craftsmanship with only very few people still practicing it.
A gondola costs in excess of 100 thousand euros, the licence even more and there is a lot of maintenance since every few months the boats needs to be taken out of the water for cleaning, repairs and repainting. The gondoliers themselves have to know the city and its history intimately, speak foreign languages, and sing (not mandatory). Craftsmanship in wood carving, boat building, just like in olive oil making, should be encouraged and rewarded. Knowing precisely what has gone in to crafting something of such quality makes your journey more rewarding and allows you to perceive the true value of the experience.
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