Venice rarely makes the national news over here. If it does, it's usually either on the cultural pages or the subject of gloomy articles about the future of the city asking “What Is To Be Done?”. Yet, last Saturday morning, I logged on to La Repubblica to find a front page article about an accident on the Grand Canal, near the Ponte Rialto. A tourist, it seemed, had been killed in a collision between a vaporetto and a gondola.
A family of five German tourists had been boarding a gondola. Any information beyond that is still contradictory – the vaporetto was out of control; it took evasive action to avoid collision with another boat; it was reversing; it hit the gondola side on; the gondola should not have been moored where it was. What we do know is that the vaporetto struck the gondola, pitching the passengers into the water. A university professor from Munich, a father of three, was crushed between the boat and the jetty.
The reaction was astonishing. The gondoliers staged a day of mourning, each ferro wrapped with a strip of black; and a brief ceremony of remembrance was held at the Rialto the very next day. It's a generation since someone was last killed in an accident involving a gondola, yet there is, perhaps, a feeling that this was an accident waiting to happen, with vaporetti, gondolas, taxis, and commercial boats all competing for space on one of the busiest stretches of the canal. Investigations are ongoing, but it wasn't long before recriminations started. La Nuova reported isolated incidents of gondoliers shouting Assassini at vaporetto crews.
As to what can be done : suggestions include limiting the number of vaporetti on the canal (impractical), prohibiting gondolas from operating during certain times of day (unthinkable), or severely restricting the number of moorings in the busiest parts of the canal. Not for the first time, Venice finds itself caught between the demands of a city that depends on mass tourism, and a city that needs to provide essential public services to its residents.
By Monday, the gondola service was back to normal. The occasional ferro was still banded in black, but, on the whole, tourists were being ferried around with songs and music as normal. Business, after all, is business.