Friday, August 31, 2012

So you went to Venice, Italy this summer. We all wish we were with you and if we weren’t able to be there we can all be there in our thoughts. It is a magical place a city built on water streets with beautiful architecture perched next to the water canals. The home to Vivaldi string classical music. Masterpieces of Renaissance Art and Casinos and great food and lots of ands are in this beautiful city. The focal point is St. Marks Square where all Venetians seem to congregate.
In the center is a situation you can’t ignore. A ritual of feeding and photographing thousands of pigeons has become a habit among tourists. When rich people treat their young children to a magical vacation to Europe, a 10 year old child will not remember the famous paintings or beautiful buildings they will remember feeding the pigeons as the highlight of their trip. You could have let them do that anywhere for thousands of dollars less by just taking the kid to any inner city where pigeons seem to multiply.
Tourists flock as well to the magnificent Piazza San Marco not to see the unbelievable clock that is so large it takes over an entire wall, no, to pose with the pigeons. They even go so far as to say, “If you were not feeding the pigeons, you were not in Venice.” Katharine Hepburn marveled the birds in the 1950 classic movie called Summertime. There are paintings of the famous Square that go back to 1875 in watercolor that depict pigeons everywhere on the ground.

Some people think pigeons are disgusting and call them flying rats. Others believe they are very smart. During World War II it was the pigeons that were the favorite form of secret communication. A message was written on paper that was rolled around the leg and the trained bird would travel back and forth between locations undetected by the enemy.
There is an author who wrote a book with a story set in Venice called The City of Falling Angels by John Blrendt who spent a considerable amount of time talking about the pigeons in his novel. He remembers seeing men trapping the birds off into nets to kill them. So, he went to see the Commissioner of Animals who said that usually they deny that they trap and kill but since you saw it happening, I can’t deny it.

It is estimated that 20,000 pigeons live in Venice and it is disgusting. The birds outnumber Venitians two to one. The bird droppings are caroding the historic architecture and can spread diseases. But cracking down on the pigeon problem is a challenge for town officials. A system was installed to emit high pitched sounds that terrorize the birds but that just made them fly in crazy patterns. Then they wanted to sterilize them but the easiest way to irradicate them would be to just stop feeding them.
Today Venice has banned the sale of feed in the square but it is hard to stop tourists to stop sharing lunch and it is still easy to find folks still selling feed out of bags in plain sight. At one point licenses to legally sell feed meant big money for the city and vendors who traded them on the black market for half a Million dollars. That doesn’t happen any more.
So, why have the city governments in Venice had such a hard time cracking down on the pigeon problem? Well, the fact of the matter is that the tourists are there and the birds amuse the tourists and the tourists represent a major source of income for the city. So, why upset the balance. Hey, money talks even if the price of the tourism trade will mean the distruction of their beautiful buildings.

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