29 July, 2006

65. Growing old in Venice

You have to assume that this elderly lady was either born in Venice, or has lived here most of her life, because Venice is not the sort of place that you would choose to retire to and live out your final days. Life here is very demanding for old people, and not at all kind to them. In fact, growing old in Venice would suck.

Take something basic like shopping. In most cities, you could drive a car, or get someone else to drive you, and do a week's shopping in one trip. Not in Venice. Here, you buy only what you can carry, or what you can trundle behind you if your shopping bag has wheels. Which means you have to shop just about every day. That may be the best way to take advantage of the fresh produce at the markets, but you have to be reasonably fit and active to do that every day. Here, it becomes a daily chore, if, like this old lady carrying her distinctive Billa bag, you have to stop every few paces to cough into your handkerchief.

In most cities, you could get a cab to the supermarket if you were not that mobile. Here, there are only water taxis, which are very expensive, and anyway you would need to live on a canal to get door to door service.

Then there are the bridges. At least 400 of them, and there are always at least a few of them between you and wherever you want to get to, and no way to avoid them. Nearly all of the bridges have sides to them, but they don't all have handrails to hang on to or even steps with a non-slip surface.

Could Venice install wheelchair access ramps to all the old buildings; fit motorized tubular steel chair rails to all the ancient bridges; subsidise shopping delivery services; fit inside or outside elevators to all apartment blocks? It could, but it won't.

There has to be a tradeoff between the needs of the permanent residents and the needs of the temporary residents – the tourists – and the reality is that the tourists pay the bills. If Venice stopped being La Serenissima – the 'most serene one' – if it stopped being a cultural and temporal anachronism, a singularly unique and relatively unspoiled medieval city, and started looking more like a modern nursing home, the tourists would stop coming.

In the meantime, the old residents struggle on until their life in Venice becomes impossibly impractical. And then, I suppose, they leave.

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