Bridge Eighty-Seven - Ponte de l'Ogio

The Ponte de l'Ogio - bridge of oil - is a busy stone bridge en-route from the Ponte di Rialto to the station area. Quite fittingly for a bridge on one of the most popular shopping routes in the city, the one end of the bridge opens up into Coin, Venice's largest department store, housed in a grand old canal-side palace. Dimly-lit second-floor shop-windows in elegant gothic frames shine from where aristocracy once gazed down on the bridge. We must have seen this asynchronous co-existence of the ancient and the contemporary dozens of times today, but it still strikes me every time I see it.

Ponte de l'Ogio

We stood on the bridge for a few moments surrounded by end-of-the-day tourists taking photos of the cityscape. At that moment I noticed three vertical white fabric banners hanging from a row of upper floor windows a hundred metres or so along the canal. The hand-written messages on the banners scribbled in Italian in large, uneven black letters were clear in their message in any language: We want the Chinese out of Venice. We want Russians and the Mafia out of Venice. Venice is for Venetians. In a city that has through all the ages - and particularly during its heyday as a trading centre - welcomed all cultures, languages and religions from across the world, this rather crude expression of xenophobia came as a surprise. Not many passers-by were noticing it, but I'm quite sure they made an impact on those who did. Back home in South Africa racism and xenophobia is a sensitive issue, and for us such blatant, in-your-face ugliness came as a quite a shock.

Update: Since I wrote this, I had a chat with my friend Enrico, a Sicilian native living in South Africa. I showed the two photographs to him over coffee, and he gave me his interpretation. Basically the poster on the right is a response to the one on the left. The left-hand one says 'No Chinese mafia in Venice', the right-hand one says 'No Italian no Russian mafia either'. Now, there's no discernable mafia of Italian of Russian kinds in Venice, so perhaps it's a touch of sarcasm or perhaps a clever-dick answer. But obviously my take on it is wrong, as can also be seen from the comment below. Note to self: Research these kind of 'Italianisms' a bit more before writing about them, in future...

1 comment:

  1. Hi! this has nothing to do with xenofobia. The problem is how our town is managed, which does not look so legal. In addition there is no room nor respect for the Venetians forced to survive with unbearable prices, crowds and actually in the backyard. You should try what is everyday life here, especially when your income is low or you're ill and have to reach the hospital through crowded roads while reaching the ambulance on boats......