Well in big news from last week Switzerland said to hell with neutrality. According to Swiss fable the neutral status of Switzerland dates back to the early 1500’s. For the most part, the rest of the world says the neutrality goes back to the fall of Napoleon. The last time the Swiss were in an armed conflict was during the time that Europe was getting out from under Napoleon’s thumb. Switzerland gave up their neutral status so that opposing armies could cross Switzerland on their way to defeat Napoleon.
Switzerland takes their neutrality so seriously, that it could be argued that apartheid in South Africa lasted longer than it should have because Switzerland ignored the rest of the world’s economic sanctions and helped the government of South Africa to function after the rest of the world shut off economic access. The only other times in recent history that anyone even questioned the neutrality status was in the early 2000’s when Switzerland took two actions. The first action was following the US lead in trying to cut off the funding for terrorists. The reality is the Government said they would be doing this, but many of the banks decided to turn a blind eye to terrorist money. This just came to light again in the last few weeks when one of the largest banks (Credit Suisse) got in trouble again for laundering money. The second action that had some people questioning the neutral status was when Switzerland became part of the United Nations.
So the news last week that Switzerland would not only abide by, but even put their own sanctions in place against Russia was a pretty big deal. I do not see Switzerland committing to donate weapons or ammunition as many other European countries have, but even the economic sanctions came as a big shock to a lot of people over here. Enough politics…
Venice has been one of the places on my lifetime bucket list pretty much as long as I have had a bucket list. When people dream of visiting a city outside their home country I would be willing to bet that Venice is in the top 10 wish list for almost everyone. I am very thankful that Julie and I were able to go last weekend.
Venice is a pretty small city. It only has about 51,000 residents. The amazing thing is that weekly, there about 500,000 people living there. Each year the city has around 30 million visitors. This leads to some really bad crowds. I will say, I am glad we went at a non peak season. I do not think I would have enjoyed the city at all if we had gone at the height of summer.
Venice is unique among the major cities in Italy. Venice was founded after the fall of the Roman Empire. Legend is that citizens were trying to escape the German Hordes that ransacked Italy. By moving to the islands right off the mainland, it made it harder to be pillaged. I am sure that played a big part in the initial settlement of the city, but the lagoon being easy to access for shipping is what really made the city grow. For centuries Venice was a stand alone City-State and at the end of the Napoleanic period it was governed by Austria. In 1866 Venice became part of Italy. Venice has been instrumental in the Arts. Venice is the birthplace of many artistic movements, and is also the home of two very famous baroque composers Vivaldi, and Albinoni.
Venice is known for Carnival (Mardi Gras if you are from the US) but even though Carnival was actually being held this year, it was still a subdued experience. Most of the free parties were still cancelled because of Covid. Julie and I decided to not attend any of the paid parties. One reason that the cheapest one we could find was still $50 per person. On top of that, we did not think it would be a good idea to be inside with everyone eating and drinking. Covid is on the way down, but it is still active. One thing that is unique to Venice is that people hang out around St Mark’s Basilica in costume. Most of the costumes are of 15th and 16th century men and women, but you see anything from simple masks to elaborate “halloween” style costumes. We ran across a couple of families that were all dressed like American Indians including carrying bow and arrows. Here is an example of one of the more elaborate costumes.
On Saturday evening we met two different couples from the UK. One of the couples was retired, and they have been coming to Venice the same week for years. The woman used to run a bridal shop and she made the costumes for them. I wish I had seen them on the square because the pictures we saw of the costumes were amazing. The couple explained that most of the people dressing up are not Venice residents, but instead are people just like them. They come and spend a few days to a week every year, and it is simply fun to go hang out on the plaza and meet people from all over the world.
Originally the canals in Venice were all natural. The proper english word for the canals in Venice would be channels. Over the years, though, construction has caused some changes to almost all of the canals. Today they all look more man made than natural. Especially some of the smaller ones.
The picture above shows a pretty good example of the canals looking man made. As the buildings went up, it was easier to change the flow of the water and make straight walls. The picture was taken closer to low tide. You can easily see the high tide level. It is also very easy to see the remains of past floods. The city used to do regular maintenance on the canals. Workmen would block off the ends and then pump the water out. This allowed them to clean the canal, as well as do maintenance on the foundations of the buildings. Now occasionally the small canals will be dredged, but even that does not happen often. The bigger problem concerns the larger canals. The problem is that these canals keep getting deeper. It has something to do with very large ship traffic. The ships are now so big, that as they come by the city into the lagoon, the bottom gets stirred up, and the mud gets taken out to sea. This in turn causes erosion, as the mud gets sucked out of the larger canals to replace what got stirred up by the ships. In fact Venice is now putting limits on the number of cruise ships that can visit.
Of course when you are in Venice you have to take a ride in a gondola. There was a gondola dock right outside our apartment, so it was easy to find one. The gondolier was very interesting. We learned that there about 425 gondoliers in the city. It is hard to become a gondolier unless someone in your family is one. Our gondolier is third generation. The boats require a TON of maintenance. Every quarter the boat has to be taken out of the water and the bottom is stripped and waxed. Every other year, the boat has to be pulled out of the water for a couple of weeks, and black finish is also stripped and re applied.
We also learned that “quarantine” was developed in Italy. The plague hit Venice particularly hard. Partly because the city is so condensed but also every time the plague started to subside another ship would visit the port and bring more rats. Venice learned that the only way trade could continue was to separate the sick from the well. Remember how at the start of COVID we were all told to buy our groceries and let them sit for a day or so in the garage in case the virus was on them? That practice was developed in Venice as part of the quarantine procedures. They tried to quarantine material as well as people.
I told you this, because according to our gondolier it is in remembrance of the plague that all gondolas are painted black. The plague began in Europe about 1350. Because Venice was the trade center of the world it kept coming back, and the last case of plague was around 1630. Just think almost 300 years, and we complain about two years of COVID!
I have way to many pictures so I will make one more post about Venice. This is about 1/2 of the pictures we took.