03 July, 2006

39. Napoleon go home!

Venice has hundreds of little backstreets and small campos where tourists rarely go except by accident. I was surprised during my last visit to Venice by how many wellheads and walls in these less frequented residential areas had been defaced by spray paint graffiti. There was so much of it, that it seemed like half the dwindling population of this magical city must have turned into graffiti artists – until I saw this classic piece of sloganeering, at which point I felt much less pessimistic.

The author of this two-word insult is either the most ill-informed political animal in Christendom, which is highly unlikely, or this is a very old piece of vandalism. Ronald Reagan completed his two-term presidency in 1988, so my guess is that this fading graffito is at least 18 years old, possibly more. Once I had figured that out, my next reaction was "why doesn't someone get a bucket of paint and get rid of it?" but then it dawned on me that Venetians must have a much more sanguine and practical view of this kind of transient damage.

Nothing attracts graffiti artists like a blank canvas. Once freshly painted, this wall is an open invitation to any other moron with a two-dollar can of paint. But if you take a longer and more tolerant view, and just leave it, you might be able to accept it as just one more visual texture no worse than most of the natural defacement around it.

If Venetians were obsessed with clean unblemished perfection, they wouldn't live in Venice, where every damp salt-sprayed surface is eroding, flaking, fading, discolouring, and falling off anyway. Eventually, this graffito will no longer be where it is, because it will either crumble away with the rest of the stucco behind it, or it will be plastered and painted over next time the owners of the building get enthusiastic enough to perform some renovating maintenance.

I like the idea that underneath the surface of some of the walls in Venice there are still 500 year old protests against Papal ordinances or Ducal decrees, or 200 year old insults against the invasion of Napoleon, that the people of Venice had the pleasure of reading for 20 years or more before they were finally hidden forever.


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