October 12th, 2006

Conbadge

Italy (part 5 of N)

>>> Venice

So ... first full day in Venice. On the whole, my feelings about it are a bit mixed. When I arrived, I was expecting to find a clean, vibrant city, and instead I found a dirty tourist trap with a major pidgeon infestation.

But we took a few different tours today, and it's quite obvious from the museums and suchlike that Venice was once a thriving city full of many different kinds of wealth. At one time, it would have been a city very much worth living in. Now, I'm not so sure.

We toured the Doge's Palace, which was the seat of Venetian government (back when Venice was a city-state, and Italy wasn't yet a country). The Venetians clearly had a very unique form of government, and the palace itself was beautiful to the point of opulence. I wish there had been more time for me to dig in and do some research into their system of government and way of life -- the references to it I found make me think it was quite different from any other system I've studied.

For those of you who live under a rock, Venice is the city where there are no roads, only canals and alleys. One can see boats everywhere, of every shape and size -- they have garbage boats, police boats, postal boats and even ambulance boats. Everywhere a normal city would use cars, Venice uses boats.

The city itself is on an archipelago off the Northeastern coast of Italy. There is a water shuttle, called the Vaperatto, that ferries people to and from Mestre airport, and between various terminals on the Venetian islands. The islands themselves have been almost completely paved (or cobbled) over -- I've seen maybe 10 square feet of natural, dirty ground since I've arrived. Everything else is either buildings, walkways or canals.

Most of the buildings are several stories high, and most of the first floors of those buildings is storefront. Buildings butted up against a canal usually have two entrances -- one on the alleyway side, and one opening directly onto the water (occasionally with a dock, or at least a mooring place for boats). As far as I can tell, people live in the upper stories of the buildings. Land (especially canal-front property) must be very expensive here.

Probably the only other interesting feature of note is the pidgeons. In San Marcos square (in front of the basilica), one has to literally wade through the sea of pidgeons to get anywhere. There are several vendors in the square selling pidgeon feed, and if you buy some, you can get the pidgeons to jump up onto your arm or your shoulders, and even climb through your hair to get to the food. The pidgeons here are not the least bit afraid of humans. Indeed, I wonder if humans are their primary source of sustenance.

>>> Thoughts thus far...

I think this trip is finally cementing a bit for me. I was talking with my Dad over dinner about the Venetian culture and government, and talking about how I felt like I didn't have enough time to really explore and get to know the Venetian way of life.

I very much love to go somewhere and immerse myself for a while -- go really deep and get to know the culture and the people of an area very well. Unfortunately, that's a process that takes years, not days, and there isn't nearly enough time here for that. Hell, I've only recently started really getting into SLO, and I've lived there for 5 years now.

This trip is mostly about "getting a taste" -- opening myself to the other people and cultures that exist in the world. But I wonder if that taste is really enough for me, or if I will need to really immerse myself before the trip will have become truly worth it.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not considering moving to Italy. For one, I don't even speak the language. But this trip has also given me a greater appreciation for what exists in the States. In California, especially, we take open space for granted. My parents live on a half-acre plot of land -- in Italy, probably the only things anywhere near that big are the churches. In some parts of California, we can get on a freeway and drive for hours between towns. In Italy, "back country" means there are only towns about every 10-15 kilometers.

Really ... except for the stupid people and the government, I'm very happy with the United States. (And I have no idea how stupid governments are over here. The people--or at least, the drivers--are noticeably more intelligent, however. :p)

This has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But I'm quite ready to go home, I think. I just want to accomplish the last of my objectives (find a shot glass for Venice, and drive), and then head back. I find myself increasingly thinking of the things I want to/have to do when I get home, and wishing I could go do them. I'm getting increasingly frustrated with just sitting in front of the computer at night and frantically typing into an unresponsive Notepad window before bed, trying to get down all my thoughts -- and yet not having anybody there to read them.

But it's only half-over. We have nine more days.

I don't know if I can limit myself to a text window as my sole means of honest self-expression for the next nine days. I've already slipped up a couple of times in front of my parents, and said or done things that made them do a double-take and give me very strange looks. (Or caused my mother to exclaim, "Joshua!" in a very shocked voice.)

Sometimes I wonder just what mental image they have of me, and how closely it matches reality. Do they realize that the "real me" when I'm out with others is silly, goofy and sometimes wildly inappropriate?

(Speaking of which, I want a T-shirt that says "I'm with sexy", with an arrow that points to a drawing of a hand.)

I suspect that if any of you saw me out with my parents, you'd probably pull me aside and ask me who died, and why am I so upset? :p

Anyway, shitty Windows on this shitty laptop just crashed again (fortunately right after I saved), and I forgot what else I was going to say.

So on that note, off to bed.