Author: Joyce

The Black and White Shirts of Venice

The Black and White Shirts of Venice

In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

From time to time, one of the most distinctive things about Venice is the way the city’s citizens seem to know where everything is.

On the top floor of the Hotel Lago it’s easy to spot a person wearing the black and white striped shirt of the Venetian republic. The hotel has a balcony that offers the best views of the city: “a balcony that is often overlooked,” writes British author Peter Matthiessen, “because the city is so densely built over its boundaries that most of a person’s horizon is his or her own.”

On the ground floor there are a dozen of these black and white shirts standing guard at the bank. The shirts represent the seven boroughs of Venice and have been chosen for their ability to spot a person at distance in their native language, all in the name of security.

Across San Marco and across the Bridge of Sighs, every other building—from a shop selling wine and olive oils to a café—is festooned with a similar black and white shirt. Every other shirt in the city identifies its owner by name.

“They’re all Venetians, all the time,” says Francesco De Caro, the mayor of Venice. “I think it’s just an effort to make people feel welcome.”

It’s a feeling that De Caro shares with many of his constituents. While many outsiders have been drawn to Venice by the beauty of its canals, the city’s original reason for existence has always been to welcome its citizens. Over the centuries, Venice has been home to the families and students of its great architects, artists, writers, and musicians. Today, the city is also a place of refuge and love for those who live in the shadows of the most famous buildings in the world.

“It is a big love affair,” says John Fusco, a filmmaker who has traveled the world and has studied Venice’s people and buildings for years. “Everywhere you go, Venice is everywhere.”

The city is home to a population estimated to be half a million

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