Changing Temples – Pt. 10

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”
Dorothy, Wizard of Oz

I have run across several references to Venezia being a variation of Disneyland. If one lends a little credence to that notion, it can probably be argued that it has similarities to ‘Frontier Town’, ‘Main Street’, or ‘Adventure Land’ – which comprised the classic sections of Disneyland of old. I think what is meant by this is that Venezia, like Disneyland, is, in some ways, a replica experience – an amusement park for adults where you journey through antique ambiance. Main Street in Venezia is Piazza San Marco with it’s 13th C. grand palazzos, sculptures of exquisite beauty, and a grand basilica frescoed by some of the greatest artists of the Western world. Piazza San Marco in microcosm and Venezia in macrocosm offers a complete and total ‘otherness’ from one’s own individual world, much as Disneyland does I think.

As someone put it the other day, “Venice is a stage set; a clothes horse as shallow as its closet.” Disneyland could certainly be described similarly.

At first I took umbrage with these comparisons – hell, the food alone is better than anything Disneyland has to offer, even though the cost is certainly comparable, and the wine (do they even serve alcohol on ‘Main Street’?) is of course in a league of its own. However, in favor of the comparisons are at least two things I observed which made me laugh out loud and realize there’s always a bit of truth in anyone’s story (or comparison).

First, I was walking along the Venezian Lagoon (a part called the Canale Giudeca) just before where the Grande Canale joins it. There, anchored on the quay, was a . . . well, ostensibly, it presented itself as the “Jolly Roger” (that’s what the print on the side said). It even flew the appropriate skull and crossbones. It had masts and sails, and “sailors” dressed in what would legitimately be considered Venezian Pirate attire.

Believe me Venezia knows all about piracy – that which they inflicted on others and that inflicted upon them by Barbary Corsairs (predecessors of the Barbary Pirates, whom the United States sent the Marines after – as extolled in their phrase “. . . to the shores of Tripoli”), and by Spanish, English, and Dutch Privateers, etc. I ran across a map in my current favorite historian, Fernand Braudel’s, ‘The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II’, that showed the number of ships taken by pirates in the Adriatic in 10 years in the late 1500’s. Each dot represented a “piracy”; there were literally hundreds of dots, I mean it was practically more dots than Adriatic.

Well, the Jolly Roger was actually a ‘remodeled’ Venezian small trawler, of common occurrence, rigged up to grab a bit of the tourist trade. Their success, not to mention their “rigging” was certainly what one would experience in relative terms at Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship in Fantasy Land. In other words, they both draw the crowds.

The second trigger moment was one example among the countless hundreds of street vendors filling the quay sides of the Grande Canale. This instance was a man and a woman, whose very diminutive size, skin tone, and other aspects told you they were Peruvian Incan or of similar origin. The man was playing an instrument and they had a stand with CDs of Peruvian music – clearly not of their making, but bought wholesale with an eye toward retail. He was dressed in an admixture costume of splayed feather headdress, leggings of beaded work and feathers, and other “add-ons”. I have attended a good number of N. American Indian Pow-wows, and I would swear that the bead work and feather pattern were N. American. But, that sort of Margaret Mead conjecture aside, he was clearly a native of Peruvian Indian extraction. His wife was plainly dressed, but of one type as he. Then he took out a pan flute and began to play “Sounds of Silence”, by Simon and Garfunkle. I spontaneously laughed out loud. The total combination was certainly worthy of a Disneyland attribution if anything was.

Perhaps this comparison of Venezia makes better sense if viewed from a mercantile perspective: the surface economic enterprise of the city is, arguably, not different than the main goal of Disneyland – commerce. Venice was, during an exceptional period of nearly 500 years, one of the great trade centers of the Western world – spices, drugs, cloth, salt, slaves, rice, hides, and countless other commodities were required to be shipped through her port. A requirement enforced by her remarkable navy and necessary for the city as the taxes supported the Doge – Venetian for Duke. From her were shipped the gold and silver to pay for the imports as well as such things as Kersey’s from England, and, of course, the fine Venetian textiles demanded by Pashas, Caliphs, Kings, Queens, Dukes, and Nobles throughout the Mediterranean. Some argue that the Renaissance in Venice only occurred to the extent that it was generated by or subservient to commerce – in other words that she was not a center of inspiration for it.

Today, the trend is almost the same, except now Venice imports tourists and the goods to support them – Disneyland Mediterranean. There then is the comparison. More on that later.

Continued . . .