Cultural Venice: here for a good time, not a Guggenheim


Venice during the Biennale.

There are definitely a lot of Americans; mainly those ones made famous in Woody Allen’s later films (you know, the ones even French people hate), congregating in groups around exit and entry points to restaurants, hotels and bridges.

The girls are all called Mea-ghan, the boys wear fluroscent backpacks, and the fathers wear comfortable shoes, chinos and tucked-in polo shirts nabbed from corporate trade fairs. The mothers always seem away buying gelati.

Then there are the ones from the Square States, typically younger, who stumble around trashed and yelling, their first time abroad (excluding armed service): “I’m a modest guy; I’ve killed a guy or two,” wailed one outside my window at 4.30am.

Well, he was murdering my good night’s sleep.

“Go home buddy or I’ll call the police,” threatened an older New Zealand gentleman, standing in his hotel doorway in the national uniform of pyjamas and a Hawaiian shirt.

“Scuzi, szuzi,” the suddenly quiet American said, scurrying away to his modest digs – though the police should probably check the canal in the morning to be sure.

Yesterday on the plane, the attendant asked if I’d had the cast on my arm for a long time.

“Oh, it shows, does it?” I asked, aware the once-luminescent fiberglass now resembled a dirty white basketball sock.

“No. But we’d have to cut it off if it’s new, or your arm might blow up,” she replied humourlessly. No-one wants to make a bomb joke now…

Saturday morning, outside the Hotel Agli Alboretti a busker was attacking a violin. It’s said that busking is the best way to get paid to practice, but in this case, he could have done a bit more behind doors.

We head to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. It’s the Biennale, but even so this perennial fixture is always worth a look.

Virtually every artist – who. was. anyone. – from the 20th Century is represented. I did my usual gallery routine of standing silently in front of each work for 30 seconds, waiting either for something magical to happen, or get swarmed by a group with a tour guide.

Out back you can see the gallery’s most famous member: a horse carry a boy with a brass erection.

For locals, Venice must be either an exhilarating or demeaning place to work. Exhilarating to have a job in Italy, but demeaning to be forced to wear a costume, be it the striped T-shirt and boater of the Gondoliers, or the 17th Century-esque polyester Snow White dress worn by the woman promoting the Accademia di Belle Arti.

The Piazza San Marco at night? Think a place with as much soul as a 9th century Bourke St Mall in Melbourne though without the Christmas windows. A village meeting place overrun with touts selling roses, glow-in-the-dark toys, and flashing glasses that you never see anyone wearing BUT SOMEONE MUST SOMEWHERE, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALWAYS BEING SOLD.

There we walk to the aid of a horrifically drunk woman who was so completely out to lunch that it impossible to determine her nationality or hotel address; but easy to see her lunch.

Nightlife? Try the ubiquitous hotel bars for a glimpse of what life could be if you’re rich and don’t play your cards right.

The Hotel Gritti does a mean Long Island Iced Tea – “for 20 euros, make mine longer, thanks”. With an authentic black rat only adding to the grittiness.

Daniele’s Bar is still opulent: once the accommodation for liberating US troops, and today accommodating only to the middle-aged wishing to be seen farewelling their youth.

At 6pm, the canals are brought to a standstill as the Norwegian Star bellows silently into town. At more than 300 metres long, watching it pass is akin to watching the evil star ship at the start of Spaceballs.

Witnessing the incongruous cruise ship bearing down on millennia old canals can squeeze the life out of you like the panini toaster in the artisanal “snack bar”.

Later, off the beaten canal, I see a mini-golf course where players must navigate the ball around the upturned hull of the Costa Concordia. No guessing what the locals think of the cruise ship culture, then…

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