Thurs 1st Aug.
I got the train early to Venice from Treviso. It was a full train with tourists eager to see the legendary city. It took roughly an hour to get there and the ride from Mestre went across the sea to the island was special.
Once off the train, I was out on the street and straight into the chaos of the city. A lot of tourists, a lot of tourist shops and a sun hanging in the sky getting ready to shift gears for the day. I picked up some decent street food and started looking around and familiarising myself with the parts of the city.
I soon realised that Venice is a complex labyrinth and unless you know where you are going, you can quickly become lost. Being on the bike I had got used to using the sun to estimate my bearings, north, east, south etc. But here, down an alley there are no bearings and you soon become disoriented. I also thought Venice was quite small and it shouldn’t be a problem getting around. Given the island is 416km² walking around was no picnic.
I stopped for coffee and made plans. Venice had been a place of such inspiration and mystery to me for so long, that just setting foot here made me happy. But now I was here, I had a day here to experience it. Marco and Isabella said I could stay longer if I liked and return to Venice a second day, but after being here a while I knew one day would be enough.
I couldn’t think of anything in particular I wanted to see, other than the Venice Biennale which was on this year. Being a follower of art, I’d known about it for years and never been, hey presto.
Once I got there, I was uncertain about going in as the price was around €30 for a day pass, but I managed to blag a student entry for two-thirds of the price and sauntered in.
I had no idea of the scale of the show. It’s huge. I took my time going through the first large sections of work. Very good, interesting ideas and good subjects that seemed to be accessible. Then two hours later, I made it to the start of the international rooms just as gallery fatigue was starting to kick in, where a few artists are given a space to represent their country through their art. Given that there are around sixty countries involved here, this is no minor feat. I had seen about a fifth of the site and there were two sites.
I scanned through international work, which for the first few rooms seemed childish and of much lower standard to the previous. There were power-cuts too that didn’t help when trying to experience someones work. I began to feel nauseous in the heat and after a few more hours I wanted to leave. This proved to be extremely difficult as the exit isn’t sign posted and you can’t go out the way you came it. I got pointed in several different directions, uncertain if I’d have to climb a wall to get out. I eventually found the exit, but left a broken man.
I had some ice cream (what day out in Italy would be complete without) and lots of water. The sun had really kicked it up a notch and made it difficult to be out in exposed areas, it was like being in Morocco. I decided to quickly see the second garden section of the Biennale, just to look around and get a feel for it’s like. I knew a bit more about this section, which continued the international themed exhibits.
I had an hour left to look around. I saw Belgium, Spain, Germany, Japan and then realised I should check the British site. After having looked at art all day and come close to dehydration I could barely think, but tried to have a meaningful experience here. Being a closet art sceptic I wasn’t blown away by anything and didn’t have the capacity to be at this stage, although the ambition of the festival itself is monumental and there is a lot of good work offering a great insight into the current status of contemporary art like no other.
There was also art projects dotted all over the city. So if you didn’t get your fix in the two giant sectors devoted to art, you could spend days popping around from place to place seeing the work of Andorran and Venezuelan artists. My prediction was it would take about four days to see everything. Hence you pick what you like. When it wasn’t an art exhibition, it would change over the following year to architecture. Alternating ever two years.
I left and headed for the centre of Venice, the tourist beehive. It was horrendous. For someone who had spent most of this trip (and my life) trying to avoid tourism to gain authentic experiences, I’d come to the wrong place. People were queueing to get to their photo taken on a bridge with a pretty canal backdrop, next to swarms of others doing the same thing. This was on every bridge that passed a canal.
To add to the ludicrous nature of the place, on my way to the centre I saw a giant Disney cruise ship leaving. I didn’t know Disney did cruises it was as though the world had gone bonkers and I got left behind.
It’s not that I hate tourism or tourists exactly, but it’s just the notion of doing the same thing as everyone else to gain an ‘authentic’ experience seems intrinsically false. People don’t live in the moment, or ever try to, they get documented in the moment so they can show other people. Since the advent of digital cameras photography has lost a lot of its meaning. Furthermore since the unfortunate boom of social media, these results can be published in seconds for shameless attention as part of the daily mass of images and information that compete for our attention via a myriad of platforms. Changing the way we are and interact with things. This is what I tend to see when I see people jumping in front of national icons, over and over again to capture that perfect freeze frame beacon with the legs tucked up and the arms up spread in the air to capture a idealised notion of Western aspiration, probably to bump the current profile picture of the top spot until something better comes along.
This brand of hyper-tourism you could call it is obsessed with capturing and people rarely engage with the cultural icons they visit, which is the reason they’re there in the first place.
I was completely free from this fake digital world on the bike between cities, then got dropped right back in it coming into famous cities with different people documenting the same things. Not to dump on people enjoying themselves or documenting their trips, just make sure your present in your mind and not trying to bump up kudos in a cultural popularity contest. I’m basically a Luddite.
Back through the square I fought through the masses of couples and families trying to have a good time among the other couples and families and headed back to the station, passing couples taking selfie-kisses. When the four horsemen of the apocalypse come, I’ll ask them what took so long.
Dipping back into the maze I got lost and struggled to find a path to the station. I had a train I needed to catch to get back for a decent time to have dinner with my hosts. I had to backtrack and recalculate and with some luck, I came out near the station and had to run for the train. I caught the sunset from the train while crossing over the sea back to mainland Italy.