There are prosaic happinesses. One of them is to find yourself invited by friends to Venice and to come and stay in a house on the lagoon, to live the life of a normal Venetian, to go out during the day of “the house” and not of a hotel, to say hello to one’s neighbours, to go shopping at the grocer’s, to buy vegetables and daily necessities, for meals, and then to go to a concert or to the theater and come back for dinner, or to book seats for lunch at a restaurant that welcomes you as regulars, and as it would naturally do in Naples or Palermo. This somewhat silly joy comes from this cliché which states that there are no more Venetians in Venice, that the city is nothing more than a large, somewhat artificial theatrical stage, a setting for tourists and that one does not You don’t live there anymore, unless you’re a remnant of an old aristocratic family clinging to its old palace falling into ruin, exhausted by water leaks and worm-eaten walls that you can’t get repaired.
The fact remains that when you go out for a walk in Venice, you find yourself faced with the same and permanent dilemma. When we walk along the streets or the quays; when you cross a bridge and look in the distance at a facade with three trefoil windows; when you find yourself in front of a row of canals into the water of which sometimes yellow, sometimes ochre, sometimes black and decrepit walls throw themselves; when you come out on a square and suddenly discover a church and its steeple always slightly leaning; when on a river, in the deep silence which is one of the marks of movement in the winding and liquid mazes of the city, gaping doors, gates and muddy pontoons pass by and when suddenly, at a bifurcation, several perspectives open which unfold facades like objects taken out of a marvelous box: in short, when you are in the heart of Venice, the question that arises is whether what you see and what you love, whether the emotions aesthetics that we experience in the face of all these shows come from the contemplation of the city and its beauties, or rather from the multiple representations of the city with which we are constantly confronted and which end up interposing themselves between it and us.
In other words, looking at Venice, are we not the object of an operation of involuntary mystification, which means that we no longer see the reality of the city but rather the thousands of images that we have already seen of them, the billions of photos, the sequences of films where it appears, the books, the stories, the legends which describe it? Every moment, every moment of wonder in Venice, I ask myself the same question: does my emotion come from what I discover, there, in front of me, this succession of slightly askew facades and their gothic windows over the water, that little palazzo on the other side of a camel-back bridge? Do I really have a taste for it or does my emotion come rather from the fact that what I see corresponds to the representation of a series of facades that I have seen in photos, to the representation of a number of palazzos and camel-back bridges that I have seen in films, that I have imagined in novels and which therefore orient my gaze after having shaped it in advance? Which would then indicate that I would no longer be marveling at what I see but at what I have become familiar with thanks to my culture, in other words the image of Venice more than of Venice. herself.
Venice teaches us how often our gaze is domesticated. This is illustrated by the incredible series of received ideas about what it symbolizes. City of budding loves or deceased loves, city of decadence and death or city of joy and celebration: so many definitions which are only constructions, but which stick to the skin of the Serenissima and which parasitize our way to apprehend it. Also, I sometimes try an exercise which consists in imagining how this rich lakeside city appeared to travelers who discovered it in the past, arriving from the East or from the countries of the North and who had no idea a priori of what she was. What strange monster or what ineffable and unexpected marvel was then unfolding under their still virgin gaze? This is an exercise on my part like any other, to try, under the tinsel of a priori meanings and representations, to find the essence of a place.
Leave a Reply