There is no use pretending that the tourist Venice is not the real Venice, which is possible with other cities -- Rome or Florence or Naples. The tourist Veniceis Venice: the gondolas, the sunsets, the changing light, Florian's, Quadri's, Torcello, Harry's Bar, Murano, Burano, the pigeons, the glass beads, the vaporetto. Venice is a folding picture-postcard of itself. And though it is true (as is sometimes said, sententiously) that nearly two hundred thousand people live their ordinary working lives in Venice, they too exist in it as tourists or guides. Nearly every Venetian is an artappreciator, a connoisseur of Venice, ready to talk of Tintoretto or to show you, at his own suggestion, the spiral staircase (said to challenge the void), to demonstrate the Venetian dialect or identify the sound of the Marangona, the bell of the Campanile, when it rings out at midnight.
A count shows the Tiepolo on the ceiling of his wife's bedroom; a dentist shows his sittingroom, which was formerly a ridotto. Everything has been catalogued, with a pride that is more in the knowledge than in the thing itself. "A fake," genially says a gentleman, pointing to his Tintoretto. "Réjane's," says a houseowner, pointing to the broken-down bed in the apartment she wants to let. The vanity of displaying knowledge can outweigh commercial motives or the vanity of ownership. " Eighteenth century?" you say hopefully to an antiquedealer, as you look at a set of china. "No, nineteenth," he answers with firmness, losing the sale. In my apartment, I wish everything to be Venetian, but "No," says the landlady, as I ask about a cabinet: "Florentine." We stare at a big enthroned Madonna in the bedroom -very bad. She would like me to think it a Bellini and she measures the possibility against the art knowledge she estimates me to possess. "School of Giovanni Bellini," she announces, nonchalantly, extricating herself from the dilemma.
A Venetian nobleman has made a study of plants peculiar to Venice and shows slides on a projector. He has a library of thirty thousand volumes, mainly devoted to Venetian history. In the public libraries, in the winter-time, the same set of loungers pores over Venetian archives or illustrated books on Venetian art; they move from the Correr library, when it closes, to the heatless Marciana, where they sit huddled in their overcoats, and finally to the Querini-Stampaglia, which stays open until late at night.
Almost any Venetian, even a child, will abandon whatever he is doing in order to show you something. They do not merely give directions; they lead, or in some cases follow, to make sure you are still on the right way. Their great fear is that you will miss an artistic or "typical" sight. A sacristan, who has already been tipped, will not let you leave until you have seen the last Palma Giovane. The "pope" of the Chiesa dei Greci calls up to his housekeeper to throw his black hat out the window and settles it firmly on his broad brow so that he can lead us personally to the Archaeological Museum in the Piazza San Marco; he is afraid that, if he does not see to it, we will miss the Greek statuary there.
This is Venetian courtesy. Foreigners who have lived here a long time dismiss it with the observation: "They have nothing else to do." But idleness here is alert, on the qui vive for the opportunity of sightseeing; nothing delights a born Venetian so much as a free gondola ride. When the funeral gondola, a great black-andgold ornate hearse, draws up beside a fondamenta, it is an occasion for aesthetic pleasure. My neighborhood was especially favored in this way, because across the campo was the Old Men's Home. Everyone has noticed the Venetian taste in shop-displays, which extends down to the poorest bargeman, who cuts his watermelons in half and shows them, pale pink, with green rims against the green side-canal, in which a pink palace with oleanders is reflected. Che bello, che magnifico, che luce, che colore! -- they are all professori di Belle Arti. And throughout the Veneto, in the old Venetian possessions, this internal tourism, this expertise, is rife. In Bassano, at the Civic Museum, I took the Mayor for the local art-critic until he interrupted his discourse on the jewel-tones ("like Murano glass") in the Bassani pastorals to look at his watch and cry out: "My citizens are calling me." Nearby, in a Palladian villa, a Venetian lady suspired, "Ah, bellissima," on being shown a hearthstool in the shape of a life-sized stuffed leather pig. Harry's Bar has a drink called a Tiziano, made of grapefruit juice and champagne and colored pink with grenadine or bitters. "You ought to have a Tintoretto," someone remonstrated, and the proprietor regretted that he had not yet invented that drink, but he had a Bellini and a Giorgione.