I have often heard that travel is insufficient for experiencing other places. To truly know a place, a person needs to live there. British author Polly Coles had been to Venice numerous times as a child and adult before she moved there with her Venetian husband and four children. She recounts a somewhat difficult but rewarding year in which she became well acquainted with the city's backstreets in The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice.
Not as many people actually live in Venice as you might suppose in a historic city. Only 60,000, according to Coles. Many Venetians from long-established families have vacated the city, as landlords have turned their apartments into more profitable tourist accommodations. Many of the city's workers have to commute every day, walking across the canal bridges or riding the train or water buses. They also have to wear their Wellingtons to wade through the frequently flooded streets. As a result, many Venetians resent tourists and outsiders who settle in the city which they themselves can no longer afford.
Coles strives to befriend Venetians and succeeds with most of her daily contacts, but everyday is a challenge. She pays frequent visits to teachers and school officials with requests concerning the education of her children. She also has to think quickly to get proper service from appliance delivery men. Up and down four flights of stairs, sometimes with children who have sprained tendons or broken ankles, life is not easy in Venice.
Readers who enjoy Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti Mysteries will recognize the Venetian weather and some of the places that Coles describes in The Politics of Washing. They will also recognize Italian words, such as carabinieri, imbarcadero, and pasticceria. Coles provides a helpful glossary of such terms at the beginning of the book. Few libraries have this recent British memoir, but it is worth seeking out.
Coles, Polly. The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice. Robert Hales, 2013. 206p. ISBN 9780719808784.