|My son's drawing of the tourist boat he plans to own some day|
It was probably inevitable, but that didn't prevent it from being distressing.
For years now our son has been obsessed with all kinds of work boats and water transportation. There were times when we quite literally could not cross our living room or open certain doors because he'd tied door handles to heavy cabinets and chairs to other chairs, their ropes criss-crossing what had once been open space: all in the course of pretending to be a marinaio hitching a vaporetto to a series of stops.
Other times he was the driver of a delivery mototopo (large workboat). For this play he'd gradually accumulated a quantity of large empty boxes that occupied about a 1/4 of his small room. He'd unfold the sofa-sleeper in the living room to serve as his mototopo, load his collection of boxes onto it, climb behind his controls (a wood crate to which he'd affixed a flat cheese grater whose movable U-shaped handle exactly mimicked the 180-degree arc of a workboat's--and vaporetto's--throttle) and with a convincing imitation of a rumbling, slowly-accelerating engine set off on his delivery route.
He talked about the mototopo he was planning to buy when he was old enough, the features it would have, the kinds of work he'd do (pretty much anything besides that of an espurgopozzineri, or sewage boat), and the livery and name of the transportation company he would found.
All of this, foreign as it was to me, I could take in stride. Then, a couple of days ago, came the drawing at the top of this post of the tourist boat he told me he was planning to buy.
I was careful to show no surprise when he brought it to me and told me about it, and I expressed only admiration for it and all its labeled features (the water exhaust port, the radar and steering wheel and throttle). But inside I couldn't help but feel that he'd turned a corner, from industry in general to the tourism industry in particular, and it was a narrowing of focus that somehow made me ill at ease.
As if his focus on water transportation in Venice hadn't been practical enough--and in this sense wasn't he simply being Venetian, those most practical-minded of people?--he'd adopted what's considered the very bedrock of practicality in Venice these days, the basis of all civic decision-making, the horizon beyond which our rapaciously neo-liberal mayor and his ilk can imagine nothing else: tourism.
Now there's nothing wrong with working in the tourism industry, and he most likely had tourist boats on his mind because of how much he'd enjoyed serving as a crew member on the tourist boat of a friend's father who was giving free tours around the basin of the Arsenale (to Venetians) during the recent Festa di San Pietro di Castello.
Still, at his age, eight years old, I don't like even the hint that his own imagination might be constrained by the lack of imagination of those making the decisions for Venice. I know too many Venetians who have been forced to leave their city because they've been unable to find anything other than low-paying tourism-based employment. I know a couple of others who left, and have stayed away, because they didn't and don't want to work in a completely unfettered industry that is destroying--or has already destroyed--their city. (The latest example: The Corriere del Veneto's confirmation yesterday that a building on the Riva used as a retirement home for Venetians is now slated--thanks to a cambio d'uso, or "change of use," or change of zoning--to become yet another hotel. Who needs housing for the city's sizable segment of senior citizens--around 25% of the total population--when you can have even more tourists!)
The question of the effect that a shift from a more diverse economy to one based solely upon tourism has upon a population is an interesting one. And though there are those who will say that Venice has been a tourism-based economy for two centuries, that's a broad viewpoint that overlooks so many particulars as to be almost meaningless. In contrast, our retired upstairs neighbor, who used to teach at the public elementary school on Via Garibaldi, will describe with dismay the distinct changes she saw in her students and their parents as the latter went from being artisans and locally-oriented business people to working in the tourism industry in the 1970s and beyond.
Of course when it comes to my son, Sandro, I remind myself not to worry. I can't imagine him leaving behind all the other kinds of transportation at which he likes to play to focus exclusively, narrowly, unimaginatively on a future in tourism.
I wish I could say the same for those who are now controlling Venice.