What’s It Like to Live in Venice?

Read “The Politics of Washing” to Find Out

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While I was surprised to learn that 16.5 million people visit Venice, Italy each year, I was even more surprised to learn that the city claims a mere 55,000 permanent residents, according to this article in The Guardian. That’s 300 tourists for every resident.

With numbers like those, I can see why Polly Coles, British author of The Politics of Washing may share the despair of native Venetians when she calls for moderation and sustainable solutions to the problems that unbridled tourism creates in a city many believe to be among the most beautiful in the world. Those sentiments are dispersed throughout Coles’ 206-page tome, an account of her year-long move to Venice with her Italian husband and four children.

Coincidentally, the title of the book refers to the unspoken rules of laundry etiquette in a city where everyone hangs their clothes out to dry. For example, if you’re sharing a line, and it’s full of your neighbor’s dry clothes, do you ask them to empty the line? What clothing items should you dry indoors? What if the skirt you wish to hang blocks your neighbor’s view?

Coles uses the drying of laundry as a symbol for the many rituals of daily Venetian life that, as a foreign-born resident, she was required to discover haphazardly, adapt to, accept, and ultimately appreciate about this unusual city. For example, she recounts enrolling her children in school, meeting with teachers to discuss school work and behavior issues, finding a home, getting lost, learning the social customs and morés, learning Italian, buying groceries, getting lost again, and visiting the hospital.

My daughter purchased Coles’ book on a whim a few days before she left Venice in early May after serving a semester-long internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum located on the Grand Canal.

My husband, our son, and I visited Venice for one week in March over spring break. While it was an all too brief vacation, we actually spent more time there than the day-trippers who take a gondola ride, visit St. Mark’s Square, call it good and leave. I feel that we were able to actually get to know the city, at least a little. (Read my lists of ten ordinary things I found in Venice in March here and here.)

 

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The approach to St. Mark’s Square and Basilica

 

We enjoyed winding through Venice’s maze of streets (actually walkways) and crossing its bridges to see cathedrals and numerous campi, those open squares that at one time served as city centers of the assorted islands that compose Venice. We visited the grocery store daily, shopped the pharmacy for an Ibuprofen equivalent, accompanied my daughter to get her hair cut and styled, ventured out at 5:45 a.m. for the train station, bought Clementine oranges at the Rialto Bridge markets, and shopped for Command strips that were never found.

If we had been able to stay a week longer, I would have sought out a library, found the local university, and asked someone what happens if one has a heart attack or other medical emergency. (Seriously, what’s the procedure in a city without cars, motorcycles, or even bicycles?)

So when I found The Politics of Washing on the kitchen table after my daughter had returned home, I grabbed it and read it in just a few sittings to learn about how native residents live in this “movie set” city.

Besides satisfying that curiosity, the book offers glimpses of Venice’s history as a wealthy trading link between East and West that reached its height in the late 1200s. It also recounts the city’s survival in the 1630s of the Black Death that’s still celebrated with an annual pilgrimage to the iconic and beautiful Santa Maria Della Salute.

 

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At end of the Grand Canal stands Santa Maria Della Salute. Photo: Katherine Yung

 

Coles balances this history by showing readers Venice’s contemporary citizenry and its “groups and committees promoting local events and activities. There are youth groups, community groups, dance companies, theatre companies, choirs, rowing clubs. There are associations working for residents to change policy on housing, transport, the environment. Events that come from outside are also, of course, part of the real life of the city. The rich influx of the arts is enthusiastically embraced by many of the people who live here; the Biennale exhibitions, visiting speakers, concerts, opera and theatre are all part of the lives of Venetians.”

Coles continues, “But the difference between Venice and any other city, the reason why there is so much sensitivity and debate about what is and is not Venetian, lies in the uniquely critical problem of numbers. The citizens of Venice are so vastly outnumbered by the visitors to Venice that there is no balanced relationship between the city and the world at large. There is no equal exchange in which the city offers up her history, and her beauty in return for the cultural riches brought in from the outside world. Not surprisingly, this leads to a deeply ambivalent, not to say confused, reaction to outsiders.” This is the delight and the quandary that Coles reveals in this captivating tale of her temporary life in Venice.

As rushed tourists ease away from the magical city on their mammoth cruise ships, I hope that they will have spent at least enough time there to cause them to wonder, What’s it like to actually live in Venice? When those tourists read The Politics of Washing, they’ll learn just that, as well as gain an appreciation of the benefits and costs of tourism to this ancient, sparkling city on the Adriatic Sea.

T-shirts Work, Too: Ed Sheeran’s Divide Concert

 

 

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Photo Credit: Katherine Yung

 

I’ve seen Ed Sheeran twice in concert and neither time was he wearing a plaid flannel shirt. What’s going on, universe?! Two years ago, at his Multiply concert in St. Louis, he wore a red t-shirt sporting the logo of his opening act, Hanson. Read about that experience here. On June 29, at his Divide concert at Sprint Center in Kansas City, he wore a black t-shirt sporting the logo of Hoax, a British surf and skateboard maker. (Ed, you’re such a marketer.) The black was definitely a better choice, since it didn’t clash with his ginger coif, but I’m still a little annoyed that I haven’t seen Ed in his quintessential attire. Oh well, I’m being shallow, and Ed, the king of acoustic sounds, and lovely romantic ballads, would not be pleased with that.

But maybe he’s just branching out with his clothing choices. Kind of like he’s done musically with his Divide album released last March. When compared with his two previous albums, Divide contains a bewilderingly diverse array of musical styles, and exhibits a long leap from when he quietly made his mark with Plus and then followed that with Multiply, where he solidified his status on the world stage as arguably today’s most popular male solo artist.

Divide was such a diversion from his normal fare that I was confused at first. I mean, don’t tell anyone, especially Ed, but I didn’t really care for his song, “Castle on the Hill,” until I saw it performed in concert. The song sounded like something by U2. And even though I’m a big U2 fan, I like my Ed Sheeran to sound like Ed Sheeran.

However, seeing him stride purposefully onstage while strumming the introductory frenetic chords, approaching his loop pedal, then layering the various instrumental parts, sealed the deal for me and I thought to myself: Enjoy this moment. Take it all in. You’re at another Ed Sheeran concert and this is gonna be so great.

And it was. The opening number began after show-opener James Blunt left the stage at 8:30 p.m. It was an enthusiastic audience that contained more men and couples in attendance than I remember two years ago on Mother’s Day when it was clearly a girls-night-out crowd. As he began his second number, Ed even mentioned that he could tell he was now in the States because “everyone smiles here.”

That made Sprint Center erupt in an ear-splitting roar as it settled in for the concert it had waited two long years for. Two long years, people, including one when Ed disappeared from social media and high-publicity events. One long, cold year that would be marked on world history timelines as the dark age devoid of life’s most basic need: cute pictures of Ed’s cats. Sheerios (and mom-fans like me) were ready for this show.

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Photo: Ed Sheeran Updates on Twitter

The set list then included the following in this order:

  1. Castle on the Hill (perfect show-starter, love it now)
  2. Eraser (lots of rap, sweeping chorus)
  3. The A Team (the song, crumbling pastries and other sadness)
  4. Don’t (keep hands and feet in the car at all times)
  5. New Man (those lyrics!)
  6. Dive (soulful, bluesy, awesome)
  7. Bloodstream (drug reference, dang it)
  8. Happier (how-can-I-go-on-living reference),
  9. Galway Girl (Ireland reference)
  10. Feeling Good (yes, we are)
  11. I See Fire (from The Hobbit— I can play this on my guitar, kind of)
  12. Supermarket Flowers (ode to his grandmother, beautiful)
  13. Photograph (again, and of course)
  14. Perfect (someone proposed– Ed advised “Say yes!”)
  15. Thinking Out Loud (required on setlist for duration of career)
  16. Nancy Mulligan (Sheeran genealogy lesson)
  17. Sing! (okay, if we must)

Around 9:50, he said something along the lines of “Kansas City, you’ve been great!”  My daughter and I looked at each other, and then at our phones to catch the time. What?! It’s over already??

We couldn’t take him too seriously, of course, because we knew he still hadn’t performed one certain song. So, toying with our emotions, he strode off the stage, and the whole place yelled in a panic. And then in true Ed style, he sheepishly returned and finished the show with:

18. Shape of You (something like a billion streams and counting) and

19. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (a reference to “the industry,” not his fans)

As usual, the stage contained one person: Ed. He performed below a mammoth video projection apparatus that resembled the shape of a carousel. It combined giant, crystal-clear live images of Ed interwoven with colorful animations and photography for each song in the concert. So even though our seats were in the upper reaches of the venue, we watched Ed perform in close-up. Totally cool.

It was even cooler when he noticed a child about ten rows back crying apparently over the noise level. He then located a set of headphones for the boy or girl and even ventured down into the audience and adjusted them for the child. The five-minute act of kindness earned a lot of “Awwws!” and Ed likely did it because he knew what was coming: an especially raucous, loud, and long version of “Bloodstream.” That Ed. What a guy.  As thoughtful as ever… even if he’s moved on from his flannel-wearing days. It’s okay, I’m over it. T-shirts work, too.

 

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Photo: Impose Magazine

 

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I’ll See Him Again Tonight in KC, but for Now… The First Time I Met Ed Sheeran

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“Ed Sheeran @ Wembley 2” by Flickr user Mark Kent used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Okay, I didn’t meet him meet him. I just met him, and by that I mean I saw him in concert on May 10, 2015. From across the enormous Scottrade Center arena in St. Louis, to be exact, I met the artist who I have since learned is one of the hardest-working musicians performing today. And that’s the main reason why I’m an Ed Sheeran fan.

Even though Ed and I met on Mother’s Day two years ago, going to see his Multiply concert wasn’t originally intended to be a Mother’s Day outing for my daughter and I. Several months before, my daughter had purchased two tickets for herself and a friend without realizing that the day of the concert was also the day of her college’s graduation exercises. So the friend she had originally asked couldn’t go. Turns out her friend just had to graduate or something. So I went instead. It was Mother’s Day after all, we both agreed as we took the four-hour drive.

Before going to the concert, I really wasn’t familiar with Ed. Even though I had given my daughter his Plus and Multiply CDs as Christmas gifts, I didn’t understand his music or his performing style. I didn’t understand that when you went to an Ed Sheeran concert, you were going to a concert starring Ed Sheeran. And no one else. There is no band, no backup singers, no other musicians. There is one exception: his guitar technician, who would, after each song, walk out to Ed, take his guitar and hand him a new one with the capo placed, or the strings tuned, for the next song. Sometimes the guitar tech just handed Ed a new guitar in exchange for the one he had just destroyed. Yes, Ed Sheeran, king of the exquisitely-worded love ballad, can destroy a guitar. Into several pieces.

This happened onstage, in the heat of the concert. Ed transformed many songs from their original three- to four-minute length to 15- to 20-minutes. And this is when Ed revealed his alter-ego, when his guitar also functioned as a drum and he beat on it with his fists and the palms of his hands to take any song and morph it into a raucous, mind-blowingly loud tour de force accompanied by giant backdrops that exploded with psychedelic patterns, colors, and images to add a visual element to the audible. He did this with “Runaway”, “Bloodstream”, “I See Fire” and other numbers.

Still, the Ed that everybody knows and loves does dominate the show. But he returned smartly  and consistently to his specialty: the songs that first come to mind when you think of Ed Sheeran: “Thinking Out Loud,” “Photograph,” “The A Team,” and “Lego House.” These songs surprisingly thrive in the presence of thousands. Maybe it’s because of the darkened arena when Ed asks everyone to turn on their smartphone lights. Thousands of lights dot the arena like the starriest sky as seen from an isolated prairie.  The stars gently sway in rhythm to the music, and to the one man singing alone onstage.

To accomplish his one-man band, Ed uses a loop pedal, a device that records and layers chord progressions, riffs, vocals, beats, and other musical components until the song, in all its complexity, is pulsing out of the speakers while, all alone on that big stage, Ed plays the last layer of guitar live and sings his beautiful songs.

So, thanks to my daughter, I’m a big fan of Ed Sheeran. It’s fun to attempt to play some of his songs, the tabs for which I find online or on Youtube.  Thankfully, some arrangements are doable for a guitar novice like me. Some, clearly, are not. Ed Sheeran definitely has a gift for songwriting and guitar playing. He would tell you, as he does in his book A Visual Journey, that it’s not so much a gift as simply a product of hard work and practice. Ahhh… music to my motherly ears. An artist with the work ethic to match his ambition.

Now that’s an artist that I, as an adult, can admire. I really like Ed Sheeran. I mean, I don’t like him like him. I just like him.


My daughter and I will see Ed again tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. I’ll fill you in on how things go in an upcoming post.