“For darkness restores what light cannot repair.”
― Joseph Brodsky
At night when its magnificent palaces are reflected in the shimmering water, Venice, in all its unreal beauty does look like a movie set.
Venice is a difficult city to live in, normally. Difficult too, to make an appointment on time because public transportation is so crowded that you have to fight your way onto the vaporetto. The whole infrastructure is geared toward tourists, from the prices in the stores and restaurants to the theatre performances in English and concerts of classical music in churches where the musicians wear Baroque costume. Property is absurdly expensive, and there are fewer and fewer markets, schools, kindergartens, clinics, and hospitals.
In the past fifty years Venice has lost 65 per cent of its population and only 23 per cent, mostly older people, live in the city's historical centre. Just a few decades ago, 150,000 people lived in the old part of town, but today that number is barely 40,000, and it is steadily declining: partly because Venice is too expensive to live in and people are moving to outlying areas, to Mestre for instance, and partly because there is no work for the young and educated. Venice has an excellent university, lots of young people come here to study, but they don't stay. If you don't want to be a waiter or a maid or to help the elderly, you don't have much of a choice.
Many Venetians are renting out apartments others have sold their property and are nibbling away at their capital. The fact remains, however, that for those who live here – and it is an aging population – life is becoming increasingly hard. One has to survive the onslaught of millions of tourists every year, that mass of people pouring through the streets of this magnificent city of canals and little alleyways that are rarely more than three or four metres wide. Venetians know only too well that they are living not in a city but a museum.
And that Venice is becoming less and less a real, living city, and more and more a museum of Europe's past, embodying all the glory, wealth, power, beauty and art of times long past. That is precisely why millions of tourists come to see it. The mass tourism industry was the first to realize that there was money to be made.