The Venetian approach to tourism was set by a couple of ninth century, local business men who stole the rotting corpse of St Mark so that it might be brought back home for a basilica which attracts tourists to Venice to this day. At least in those days, Venice had real industries; even if it was trade with the Orient, which generated fantastic profits after Venice left its Christian business rivals in Byzantium to be exterminated by the Turks.
Venice today is a beautiful theme park, where even the locals can’t afford their own prices and commute in daily from the mainland. Instead of wearing Mickey Mouse suits, they dress up as gondoliers, itinerant artists or marble statues.
They only have one thing in common. They want your Euros.
Take the case of the rather rude granddad and grand mum, who according to the guide book, run an authentic family eatery. They shout at you, “No restaurant!” which means there is no menu with set prices so that the tapas they sell you cost as much as a full meal.
Modest restaurants that do have a menu, serve even more modest meals, with entree size, main course servings. Tiny glasses of wine there, cost as much as a whole bottle of the same dubious vintage sold at a nearby store. The store meanwhile sells cans of coke which cost three times as much as at the hard to find supermarket. At least the store sells things you can consume or use, which is more than the hundreds of stalls which offer identical paper Venetian Masks and innumerable coloured glass bottles allegedly crafted on the little island of Murano.
Murano itself is a carefully sprung tourist trap. Most new visitors to Venice head straight for Saint Marco Square of saintly corpse fame. Before they have made it half way across the square they are approached by a nice man offering a free water taxi ride to Murano where, as a special, one day only tourist attraction, one can see the famous Venetian glass being made. This seems a great deal because the water taxis, driven by muscular men wearing gold chains, are far too expensive to be hired as taxis, and seem to be mostly the preserve fat Americans rubbernecking at the apparently deserted palazzos. At Murano, the newbies are ushered straight into a Fornace (furnace factory) where they can see a worker making a glass dolphin. After depositing a “tip” for the maestro, the tourists are ushered upstairs to see the unique masterpieces. Only today, (presumably today is saintly stolen corpse day) the glass can be bought at a special forty percent discount. At this point, I realised I had seen similar, unique masterpieces before… back in rural Australia for a sixth of the price! The “guide” who was wearing a very snappy, Italian linen suit, could see I was hesitating. I was thinking that a man who wore such a suit , crease free, could not be working too hard making too much glass.
“We can ship your Murano glass anywhere in the world for free!,” he said. This did not seem to be particularly efficient to me, rather like flying bricks to Australia.
As I headed for the door, our new friend the “guide” was offering even more special discounts. Too late!! Outside I discovered a row of little shops selling “similar, unique masterpieces”. In fact, the further one got from the Fornace, the cheaper they got. Indeed it seems that the really unique feature of Murano glass, is that the further one gets from Murano, the cheaper it gets.
The same goes for Venice. The further you get a way from it, the more you can afford being a tourist.