Friday, May 25, 2007

Venice didn't die

It's very strange to read an old-fashioned "history" of Venice, such as John Julius Norwich's. It ends with the "Death of Venice", by which Lord Norwich means the end of a particular form of government ... Doges, councils and the like. Given that this type of history is really just a long, opinionated editorial on "leadership", "legacy", "credibility" and other hypnotic political hyperbole, of course the "end of the age of the Doge" must seem like the end of Venetian history.

But it's not, of course. Venice didn't die. (Actually, cities do not die easily ... look at Hiroshima.)

And from almost any viewpoint, Venice is living closer to its 18th-century self, than any other city on the planet. After all, it's the people that matter in a city. In Venice, it's addtionally important that the City is still structured around people's needs. Its leaders, and its particular government, are far less important. Of course, no one wants to live under occupation, or without human rights, but these are issues determined by the mass of people, who are only given the rights that they decide to fight for. Those people, and indeed their opinions, were not destroyed by Napolean in 1797. They may have mourned a bit, but life continued. The City did not die. Even its political life continues, uninterrupted -- with major events to be sure -- as it has for 1,500 years.

In one sense, Venice wasn't even colonized -- despite many ocupations, and despite the modern colonizing push known as "globalization". Most Venetian buildings and businesses seem to be owned by Venetians ... and if you ask, they will tell you that, as far as they know, Venice is owned and run by Venetians. And they all seem to know each other, more or less.

In fact, if you compare Venice to other cities -- torn apart first by carriages, then trains, then cars -- reducing people to "markets" and "workforces", moving from the community-feeling of a city to a more anonymous "society"-style interaction -- then, I believe, Venice may be the only city still alive. The rest are only neighborhoods straining to stay alive in the midst of economic development that is anti-city, and anti-people.


Blogger Tobia Tesan said...

Dear Greg, I deem this post worthy of being printed on large sheets of paper and hung on every Venetian door.

Makes lots of sense, every bit.
(I especially liked the "rights they fought for" bit, some self-styled democrats think that "rights" are something granted by some kind of holy power).

Greetings from Venice.

4:05 AM  

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