Three floors up and across the narrow Venetian street called Corte de Ca’ Serasina an older woman pulls the clothes in off the line stretched across the Corte. A light rain has interrupted the routine of her drying laundry day. As she pulls pins and lifts clothes, she calls across to her neighbor on my side so as to alert her to the problem at hand. I sit in the doorway of my ground floor apartment just in and out of the rain. She notices me noticing her and exchanges a bit of brief pleasantry which, because of my paucity of Italian, goes generally, but not totally, uncomprehended – context is everything. So the best possible smile is extended in return, along with a good natured, good humored wave of the hand at the rain, and she delightedly talks on.
Her laundry, her neighbor’s laundry, the laundry of at least a dozen people creates a visual kaleidoscope of colored shirts and sheets, intimates and towels, pants and patterned socks. The scene is a perfect replica of those innumerable, almost prototypical photos of village streets with just such an assemblage. The ubiquity of such photos indicates some powerful, intrinsic appeal. That appeal certainly existed on that day at that time. Is it the merging of domesticity into the public arena? What is so deeply satisfying about such a scene? Is it iconic – reflective of a tradition or practice that bespeaks presence in the public space now lost to the laundry room? Is it an aspect of social intercourse that is more subtle than the rather obvious interchange that occurred between she and I and that occurs neighbor to neighbor as they are doing those particular chores?
Is it because domesticity is present and right smack dab in the middle of public space? Is it reassurance that people inhabit this street, that these small palazzos are homes, that the exteriors are thinner in a way, that the front yards of modern life are more often buffer and landscaped isolator – rarely, rarely inviting and even more rarely evocative of the domesticity that lies within?
If clothes and the lines upon which they dangle are a domestic version of public space, then the Venetian Campo is a public square reflecting the very essence of social intercourse in public space. Life there is both more and less than that found in a city park, an engineered and designed replica of the evolutionary ancestor of public space. The Campo is generally a rare dynamic of both commerce and leisure. The leisure of casual humanity – not New York City, Fifth Avenue at high tide humanity – but a humanity of children chasing children with their delightful din of fun; adults visiting, watching children, drinking Spritz, reading papers, traversing with purpose or strollers or friends; young adults grouped as they “must’, constantly circling, changing, moving, communicating, watching, wanting. There emanates a quiet poetry of daily life that elicits that same pull and attraction that the clothes over hanging streets create. The commerce merely accentuates the social. It is commerce of pizza by the slice eaten on benches; it is outdoor tables generating wine and spritz socializing; it is fruit and vegetable stands attracting a grandmother or two; it is tobacco shops, each with their unique specialty, be it miniature cars, fancy pipes, children’s dolls and toys, small Mirano glass figures and bottles, or high water boots and umbrellas; it is bakeries and restaurants and countless other variations on the theme.
There is a mythic quality to this combination of commerce and leisure that appeals to an evolutionary nature within – perhaps merely survival as necessity, but, also, the deeply satisfying essence of community, that most necessary prerequisite for survival: “Where ever two or more are gathered”, sort of thing. Our delight in the illustrations of social intercourse reflected in Campos or lines of clothes strung across our vision reflects an all too common diminishment in that necessary component of life – a lack of the social community. Narcissus drowned because the only social intercourse he could accept was with himself. FaceBook and Twitter are separate species evolved as Electronic Campos containing symbiotic systems stimulating a reasonable approximation both of being lost in the self and of interaction with others. Television, a not very distant cousin of Electronic Campos, shows similar genetic traits. Think of Dallas, Downton Abbey, or any of the slew of New Age soap operas which not so obscurely satisfy what is lost by stimulating envy, lust, pathos, and other interactive dreams that replace the missing. With flaunt-able wealth, a touch of the highbrow, and contrast with “just folks”, these sirens calling to our prime time appeal to us because they are replicas of lives and dramas that are realized in a Campo, they are immersion in our need to be connected to others – as if these almost people were merely bringing their laundry in out of the rain and we are watching from our doorway while trying to communicate across a type of linguistic barrier. It is a one way barrier in that it lacks the very heart of community, the essence of social interchange.
Vital, imperative. Instinctive. Genetic. Evolutionary. Fundamental. No matter the form of adaptation to its lack, such interchange is an essence of our humanity. The lack of it defines the social loner who violently demands interaction no matter the cost in school children, runners, co-workers, family, non-believers. The cost of failing to socialize is extraordinarily high both for the individual and the community. Electronic Campos are small failures and small successes in that socialization. Clothes lines strung across our vision and Venetian Campos remind us of that to which such successes strive.
Continued . . . .