For ordinary Venetians, life is no gondola ride

Tue Sep 20, 2011 12:35pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VENICE (Reuters) - Lidia Fersuoch remembers as a child growing up in Venice's San Samuele neighborhood, there were two butchers, several grocery stores, two bakeries, a sewing goods store and even a cobbler.

"Alas, they're all gone now," said Fersuoch, director of the Venice branch of the national conservation group Italia Nostra(Our Italy), sighing with nostalgia.

Venice's resident population has sunk to little more than 59,000, down from about 175,000 at the end of World War Two.

Lagoon die-hards are finding it ever more difficult to live normal lives as the city's infrastructure and stores are increasingly morphed to cater to tourists instead of residents.

Any attentive visitor who leaves the beaten tourist path and ventures through the meandering alleys that give way to the sublime, seductive but eerily silent tiny squares will ask: Where are all the real Venetians?

"This is not a normal place anymore," said Fersuoch, a sprightly woman with an easy laugh, looking wistfully out from a flat-bottomed skiff plying the choppy waters of the lagoon.

"Some people have to take a vaporetto (water bus) if they want to buy fresh vegetables but they can buy a $2,000 watch or a $400 carnival mask within meters of their homes," she said.

Venice's majestic palaces and churches are built on low-lying islands, mud piles and stilts, and while much time and money has been spent on plans to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site from water, many residents say the issues that are eroding their way of life have been neglected.   Continued...

<p>A canal in Venice is clogged with some of tourist-laden gondolas on a recent summer day, September 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>