30 May, 2006

6. Washing day

There are six districts on the main island of Venice, known, not surprisingly, as the 'sestieri', or 'sixths'. They are: Canareggio, San Polo, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, San Marco, and Castello. Each sestiere has its own character, and it seems that each has its own 'washing day'.

This street in Castello (yes, it's a canal, but all the main streets of Venice are canals, and only the canals carry the name Rio, which means 'street'), like most of the streets in that 'sixth' on that day, was festooned with washing like festive bunting from almost every dwelling. On the same day in another sestiere, there was no washing to be seen anywhere. Is it a city rule? Or is it just a convention by community agreement? And what if it's raining on washing day, is there a stand-by washing day that everybody in that locale uses instead?

It's easy to forget sometimes that Venice is not a tourist museum, it is a real city, where people live and work. Admittedly, not so many Venetians live in Venice proper anymore, the pressure of tourists and rising property values have forced most of them to move out to the other lagoon islands, or to the mainland, or to somewhere else entirely, and in the main tourist-centred district of San Marco there are almost no Venetian residents left at all squeezed in amongst the hotels, eateries, and souvenir shops. But there are still pockets of real Venetians in some of the back streets furthest away from San Marco. The ratio is about 14 million visitors every year, to about 60,000 local residents. The first number is rising, the second still dropping.

Hang in there, Venetians. It would be a shame if ALL the dirty laundry created in Venice was taken back in travel bags to some other part of the world to be washed. We'd miss the street decorations.

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