Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Original Venetian Glass, Made in China

Sometimes I really, really love my job. This is especially true when I get to leave it. It is ultimately true when I get to leave it for a place like Italy for a conference that they pay for. So here I am, in Venice, for 2 days before heading to the first annual European Zebrafish Primary Investigator Meeting in Padua.

I will gracefully omit the beginning part of the trip where I took the bus to the wrong train station and spent about an hour in some piazza turning in a slow circle staring at my Stupid iPhone. They say that getting lost in Venice is part of the whole experience, and boy, they do make it easy for you. About half of the streets dead end, the other half plunge you into the canal (the exposure risk of which, if I read correctly, is about equivalent of eating the brains of the Outbreak monkey).

I've been to Italy before, and can without hesitation say that this is pretty much exactly like the other trips magnified by an order of about ten thousand. There are hardly any Italian people here. Americans, check. You can spot an American in Europe without even seeing them, you just need to listen to any sentence that uses the word "like" 40 times. My favorite overheard Americans today were the couple of women looking into a store window, "Ooohh!! Helen! Wasn't that, like, the same one you bought at like, that other little store?" (it was a stressed-out grappa bottle), and the guy wearing the jester hat with bells loudly telling his friends about the last time he had a gun pulled on him. We are definitely a most unique breed. When living in Spain I often found myself speaking French so I wouldn't be confused with one of them, but I'm really not sure who I thought I was kidding.

So Venice is Tourist Town. Like no other. The insulation of the lagoon and surrounding waters has made it possible to strangle any indigenous anything out of the city and has left it a maze of boutiques selling carnival masks, glass baubles, and handbags. The masks are all made in China. Some of the glass baubles I saw, necklaces and paperweights and such, had "Murano Glass" printed on them, despite that fact that if they actually were real Murano glass the price would be about five hundred times the €10 tag. And the handbag stores, with their "Real Italian Leather" stamps were all run by, you guessed it, Chinese women.

This isn't a new development for me. In January I spent a week in Dahab, Egypt, and every little mosaic Persian-looking trinket in every shop was shipped from China. The only authentic souvenir I bought back from that trip was a rock I found on the beach. This fact was not half as disheartening as the traditional Bedouin desert party I went to with the Bedouin fire-grilled food, the Bedouin rebab music, and the guy dressed in the traditional Bedouin robes dancing with some chick wearing a red Nebraska Huskers sweatshirt.

And don't think for a moment that I don't know how outrageously selfish and silly it is for me to barge into a culture fresh from a Ryanair flight and expect it to be unaffected. Even Iraq and Azerbaijan have a McDonalds.

That said, I happen to be in a very lovely place. Lovely because it is old. And being one of above said Americans, I still jump up and down excitedly clapping my hands if presented with a building over 50 years old (maybe that's why we're all here). It's old, decrepit, and gorgeous. Seriously, I have never seen a city in more dire need of a re-pointing job than Venice.

But since I don't have to pony up the condo fee to pay for it, I can just admire it. Just like the rest of the like, tourists.