Even in summer, when tourists outnumber locals more than two to one, Venice is a city where people live. In any place where people live, stuff needs to happen day-to-day. This stuff can get complicated when everything needs to happen by boat or on foot.
In Hampton, we have three big bins – one for recyclables, one for garden stuff and one for everything else. At the right time, you roll it out to the nature strip. Super convenient and easy to understand. Across European, the system for dealing with rubbish is a long way from Melbourne’s well oiled machine.
In Venice, things are arranged for maximum mess and confusion. First, sort your crap into the right piles (glass, plastic, metal, paper, indifferenziata). Then, dump it on your doorstep in the early morning. Someone comes each day to collect it. Unfortunately it is a race between that person and the rats and pigeons. If the vermin win, your neat rubbish bag will be torn open and the contents scattered across the sidewalk.
The ambulance service is all boat based. The emergency entrance to the hospital is only accessible from a boat. The good thing is that the ambulance rarely get stuck in traffic. The main canals are wide enough for several “lanes”. On the smaller canals both directions of traffic can easily squash against one side.
The fire engines are also floating. And have ready access to water.
My favourite? They have speed cameras. I don’t know why this surprised me the first time I saw it. There are speed limits on the canals. This both reduces accidents and limits the waves crashing on 500 year old foundations. Where there are rules, there are people breaking them. So of course there are cameras.
When we built our house in Hampton, large trucks did the hauling. Bricks, timber, tiles, concrete. If you renovate, everything that gets ripped out of the old house is thrown into the back of a dump truck.
In Venice, the best a boat can do is get as close as possible. There are large boats with cranes to on- and off-load onto a fondamenta. Then it gets carried. Not much new building happens, but water is waging a constant battle against the existing buildings. Renovation and restoration is constant. And hard.
Moving stuff around
This is the big one. Restaurants and shops need to restock each day. Internet shopping means plenty of packages to deliver. If you need a new mattress, it gets carried.
The result is a constant stream of porters zooming along alleys. All day they yell “permisso” and “attenzione” at people blocking their path. They have adapted their trolleys to deal with bridges they will inevitably meet.
One grocer famously cuts out hauling. They park outside their building, with fresh daily produce sold straight off the boat and everything else from the shop.
Paying the price
The level of manual labour that goes into everyday life in Venice is a big driver of the famously high prices. The beans for your overpriced coffee were carried from a truck to a boat, from a boat to an alleyway and dragged on a trolley via two bridges. The mortar to repoint the brickwork on the crumbling facade of your villa came also thus.
Being a Melburnian means we aren’t shocked by the cost of living here. Melbourne is super expensive, so most other places – even Venice – look reasonable by comparison. It sucks for Venetians though. They get Italian wages and Paris prices.
One more thing
Venice has a lot of dogs, a lot of concrete and very little grass. I will say no more.