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The great escape

I’ve got a sinking feeling about Venice

“Overcrowded, beautiful, expensive.” Getty

Last week, says Pravina Rudra in The New Statesman, Venice announced plans to charge day-trippers €5 to enter the city, in a bid to deter some of the 20 million tourists who turn up each year. Visitors who happily pay €120 for a half-hour gondola ride, Venetian authorities seem to believe, will be put off by a levy worth less than the price of a coffee in St Mark’s Square. It’s just the latest in a series of hopeless efforts by locals to reclaim their city. Repeated attempts to ban cruise ships have failed, as have more modest bids to ban wheelie suitcases. “Venice’s tourists are an unstoppable stream.”

It wasn’t always like this. When Charles Dickens visited in 1844, before mass tourism, he was overwhelmed, writing: “Opium couldn’t build such a place.” Truman Capote said it was like “eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go”. Today, everyone says the same thing: “overcrowded, beautiful, expensive” – a “homogenised response to a homogenised place”. Every tourist is competing for a “walking path, a view, a spot at a table”. Ancient-looking shops sell chintzy masks and “Murano glass” imported from China; even upmarket restaurants serve “barely defrosted squid and dry cannoli”. And underlying everything is a simple fact: “Venice is sinking.” It’s built on wooden stilts atop a muddy lagoon – “even if sea levels weren’t rising, its foundations would be dissolving”. And you know what? I think it’s time. “Just let Venice sink.”