Wherever I go I like to talk to young people. The waitress, the guide, a person on a terrace, in a conference, in the evening in the bar. Not so much the student, but better still the young boy or girl in – his or her – first or second job. Especially when you can see immediately that they come from somewhere else. “Why are you here?”, “What do you like here? Where do you want to go, what are your plans. What about you friends, your parents, your home.” These are the questions that interest me. If you want to know about history talk to old people. (Like me. I’m past fityfive). But if you want to know more about the future, talk to young people. They are the ones to create that future.
This fall I went with my family (which is my wife and my daughter) to Venice to see the Art Biennale. It was great to be back on the island. Always loved that city even though it is not a city at all. This time we went for fun. I had been there earlier, several times for a conference, or just on a one day trip. But this time we decided to stay in an apartment. To be among the Venetians. Assuming Venetians still exist. Venice makes you really think about the concept of a city: What is a city, what does it need to be a city. There are no cars, that’s clear, but there are no bikes either. It’s very easy to get lost in Venice. But somehow you always get back to where you came from. There is an enormous amount of art and history in that city. And plenty of water.
It rained the first days. I loved to walk in the evening alone in that rain along the canals. Further and further, getting wetter and wetter. Then to go inside a bar and have a beer. And after that to find my way home.
We went to see the Venice Biennale. My personal opinion: interesting but too much. It’s impossible to see or feel the idea of the curator behind everything that you experience. But I always enjoy the pavilions, the general atmosphere, just like I enjoy the city that is not a city.
I can completely understand why Venice has the Biennale. Visitors. Venice needs as many visitors as possible to survive. There is almost no other economy. That makes it quite difficult to stay an attractive city. With 60.000 inhabitants on the island and 3 million visitors per year (compare: Amsterdam has 800.000 inhabitants and 4 million visitors each year; London and Paris with around 10 million inhabitants, get 16 million visitors each year). If you want the monuments to survive the city needs the tourists. Someone has to pay for it. There is not enough local mass to secure a basis. So, much more important for a city to survive is a local economy and local inhabitants. That’s at least what I think. Lucky enough the city hosts three different universities and that alone takes care of the fact that you can find young people in the local bars and on the street in the evenings. I wonder how many of these students stay after they have finished their studies.
We went to one of the very expensive fashion shops near the St Marks Plaza. Louis Vuitton had announced that they were having an art space on the third floor. Giving something back to the city. I don’t think there had been many visitors there. The video didn’t work. But there was a pretty young girl, who told us she is an art student in Venice and who told us the idea behind the exposition. After her story I asked her what she thought about Venice and what were her plans there. She told me: “It’s not so much about Venice. It’s about Italy. I can see no future here.”
What kind of future does a country have when their brightest and most talented young people want to leave?
So when you read this blog. Especially when you’re Italian or have been to Venice lately. Please tell me what do you think about the local economy in Venice. What would be possible in addition to the tourist industry? What could be thought of to create a cluster that makes it possible for young people to stay? Or is it really true that it’s not about Venice but about Italy?