Significant Otherness

I didn’t like Venice. Also, I’m single.

Gondola FleetI’m pretty sure the reason I didn’t like Venice is the same reason I wasn’t that impressed with Paris a few years ago: I’m not the target audience. There are cities that I’ve gone to by myself, as a single guy, and had a great time. Dublin, for instance. Tokyo or Manhattan, if “talking to other people” isn’t your goal. Orlando, if you dig roller coasters. But Venice is for couples and super-spies.

I got the worst possible first impression of the city. The biggest rainstorm I encountered the entire two weeks of my vacation started right as my train was pulling into Venice, so I got to stand in line for vaporetto tickets for about 45 minutes getting soaked. The delay put me into some kind of rush hour, and I was taking one of the non-tourist-dedicated lines, so I got to pile into the bottom of the boat with my luggage while the locals sat and glared at me, visibly inconvenienced by my existence. I had to keep asking someone to wipe the fog off the windows so I could see what stop we were approaching, and the reaction was as if I’d asked a stranger for a kidney.

After the rain stopped, though… the city was still kind of a drag. You’re constantly reminded of the area’s rich and storied history going back centuries, but it’s completely incongruous with everything you see. It simply comes across as a theme park, and a dirty, unfriendly, and inconvenient one at that. I didn’t get any particularly great views, because everything in the city was covered in scaffolding or advertising (presumably to pay for future scaffolding). The food was overpriced — the rule seemed to be “take the already expensive prices in Rome and then add 4 euros across the board” — and everything I had was the worst I’d had in Italy. And on account of my bad timing, many of the museums were closed.

Your transportation options are limited to “waterbus” and “walking,” and the city seems laid out specifically to discourage walking. Apparently it’s widely known that the city is hard to navigate — one of the most commonly-sold tourist shirts has signs pointing to St. Mark’s Square in opposite directions, much like the shirts with a picture of a giant cockroach or mosquito reading “actual size” that you find in Texas & Florida — but they underestimate just how much of a pain it is to get around. There were places in Rome and Florence that were within easy walking distance where the maps and tour guides advised me to take a bus; routes in Venice that were described in the books as “a pleasant and easy stroll” ended up being short-form Trails of Tears.

Still, I wanted to make a go of it, and just wander around, treat it as a historical place, and get as many good photos as I could. And that’s where the other problem started: I kept getting accosted, literally once an hour unless I was indoors, by dudes trying to sell me flowers. The first time it happened, another tourist couple spotted the incident and started laughing, and I laughed along and did my “get a load of that guy!” look and went on thinking it was a charming little anecdote. But it just wouldn’t stop, even though I was clearly there by myself and by the looks of me, was more than likely single back home as well. (I’d been out of the country for almost 2 weeks by that point, walking non-stop and still believing I had to eat 2 courses at every meal, so I was sweaty, fat, and beardy. I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to date me).

Finally, I decided I’d had enough. An older guy came up to me while I was listening to the bands at St. Mark’s Square and offered to sell me a rose. Instead of just saying the usual “No, grazie,” I did the universal gesture for “Seriously?” with an added, exaggerated look around me to show that I wasn’t there with anyone. Then:

Me: NO, GRAZIE. SOLO MIO.
Him: You don’t have wife?
Me: Nope. By myself.
Him: Girlfriend?
Me: Uh-uh.
Him: Nephew?
Me: [thinking] What?!? [out loud] Uh… no.
Him: Still… is nice rose? [gesturing around the square] It’s beautiful place, you enjoy it. Everybody like rose.
Me: Marry me!

I didn’t say the last part out loud, but the guy had definitely charmed his way through my defenses. But by the time I’d pulled out my wallet, he was already offering a rose to a nearby couple, and I ran back to the hotel room and cried myself to sleep.

I also got stopped by a woman with dark circles under her eyes carrying a clipboard asking, “Ontidrug? Ontidrug?” After a couple of repetition I realized she was saying “Anti-drug” and asking me to sign a petition to support a halfway house. She instantly identified me as American and asked where in the US I was from. I said “San Francisco,” she said, “Oh, games.” I was surprised that it had become common knowledge in Europe that so much of the American videogame industry was centered in the Bay Area, and I was about to offer that much of it had moved to Southern California and Seattle and Austin, but she said, “No, no. I think of Las Vegas.”

While I was filling out the petition and getting out my ten euro obligatory donation, she explained how she was a former heroin addict who’d been helped by the hopefully legitimate organization I was ostensibly supporting. She then asked who I was with, and I’d been so used to the question by that point, I just said “Just me. Solo mio.” She replied, “Oh, you came to Venezia alone.” There was a brief pause, and then she said with visible and audible disbelief and pity: “Why?

I’ve been asking myself the same question the last two days, I thought, and said, “I just wanted to see it.” I’m glad I saw it, and I’m glad I never have to go back.

My pictures from Venice are up on flickr. And technically, it was the last place I visited on my vacation, but I’m saving Florence for last because I didn’t want to end on such a whiny, negative note.

[And just so’s I’m not spreading misinformation over the internet: Be aware that “solo mio” isn’t correct Italian for “I’m alone.” It means “only mine,” if even that. My point was that most Italians’ English is better than my Italian.]

2 thoughts on “Significant Otherness”

  1. I laughed a lot reading this post, because I’ve been fearing Venice since I got my worst time in it.
    I visited Venice twice: the first time around it was summertime and the city was WET-HOT like Hell. I couldn’t breath, literally. Nightmare.
    The second time I went to Venice in january and it was WET-COLD like an iced version of Hell. Of course I got a flu and I even got my leg injured.
    Considering I’m Italian, I hope you won’t feel a stranger now. LOL.

  2. Ha, I’m glad to hear that not all my problems were on account of my being an ugly American. I’m sure some people like the city, and they can keep it.

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