Anyone live on San Clemente Island

Lockdown in Venice: has expired, am expired. And now? (2)

What a return to the most disease-tested city in the world, where quarantine was invented centuries ago. During the train journey, after every stop, the announcement is made that every passenger must get off at the next stop if they do not wear their face mask or wear it incorrectly. Many could not be hit, hardly anyone is on the way. In the self-declaration, which must be carried, I state the reason for my trip: “Feel Venice”. Nobody controls.

Last June, the corona virus seemed to have been just another episode in the plague history of the Serenissima. After the first lockdown, the summer was very big in this “beautiful counterweight of the world”. Many tourists flocked to the lagoon city again until the autumn days, but never too many. No overtourism. Rainer Maria Rilke became an unconscious companion when it was felt again that young nights lay like a cool scent on the canals.

Towards the end of the year, however, the next lockdown followed without poetry. A brief flourishing of the city in February led to what is now the third stoppage that has been ordered. The curfew applies from 10 p.m. Two hours beforehand, when I arrive, I find the Grand Canal strangely dreary. Just a feeling

Nobody anywhere.Paused for quarantine, I take line 1 directly to the hotel. It is closed. Nevertheless, the manager, who became a friend since my walk-in in June, gives me the encoded card for "Room 304", the room of all rooms. The next morning he puts a package of food in front of the door. Fresh in tons of plastic. I have the wine in my luggage.For days I can immerse myself in dreams, let myself go in my gray, plush bower, alone in the hotel with the world-famous view. No false noises. Just read, read, read and write. Venice calling.Only one seagull visits me.Steps on the sweeping quay of the Riva degli Schiavoni echo to the room on the third floor. I can follow conversations word for word, they are so isolated.


After a week I can go out with the vaporetto for the mandatory corona test in the Poliambulatorio Bielo Hub next to the train and police station. A winding path. Thorny, literally.

Rebecca records my data and instructs me. She is a dotoressa and experienced in dealing with visitors. Until the first lockdown, she headed the reception of the now top hotel "San Clemente Palace" on an island in front of the Lido in a former monastery and a later feared psychiatric institution. World stars were her guests. Rebecca studied tourism management, not medicine.Now she has no prospects, the hotel has not been in operation for countless months. A historical irony: four hundred years ago, an outbreak of plague struck the Serenissima from the island of San Clemente. Rebecca and her colleagues are now corona victims, especially since flights from the guests' main countries of origin are not planned this summer. No luxury, no job.

“At least I can do something in the test station,” she says. She is fluent in English, French and Spanish. It is currently worthless like banknotes after hyperinflation. “The Germans still have money and there may be work there too,” she says. But she doesn't speak German of all things. Maybe she wants to learn that now too.

I move freely through the alleys. And another feeling of shock. Shops that were still luring with special offers six months ago have since given up in series, even in posh areas.Advertising space that was so popular in the past remains white.At “La Coupole” almost 40 years ago I bought a scarf that was hardly affordable for me at the time and cherished it for a long time. I was back last fall, hesitating over a special coat. Now I wanted to treat myself to it. Too late. Too many customers thought about it for too long and didn't buy.In front of the “Florian” café of the century, older Venetians sit on the indestructible wooden benches and gossip.But not for long. Security guards expel them.At the front of the water they find distraction. Russian women are models.

Venice celebrates its 1600th birthday this year. I can only find one hint.The empty squares and streets no longer seem invigorating, but frighteningly bare. Leaden.Bars, restaurants, museums and most shops will remain closed. An extremely polite antique dealer is in his shop right now, his eyes wishing I could buy a print. When he learns that I am Austrian, he offers me a map of Westphalia from the early 18th century. With a pencil he has reduced the previous price to a quarter on the edge. A "please" without words.

After all, the sales pavilions full of tourist junk are also locked. A glimpse of hope.

Blanket for the soul

Friends and acquaintances invite me to their home. As a journalist I am allowed to visit them, as a citizen who is merely looking for contact I am not allowed to. But I also feel the heartiness of such encounters. As a northerner who has become a global nomad, I feel the warmth and generosity inherent in them as a blanket for my soul. Wherever I come from and have looked for home again, scarcity is a virtue. In words and in deeds.


Gustavo picks me up. On the way he points to a wall. “A Banksy?” He asks.Gustavo has finished. He is an outstanding sommelier. The guests often clap their hands during the main course, so well does he choose the wines that go well with everyone - with the guests and with the meal.

Gustavo still managed the first lockdown. The second him. In the turmoil of loneliness and stress relief, he reached for more drugs than usual. "Don't ask myself what I took, better what I didn't." Heroin? “Not that, I'm still that smart.” But otherwise: LSD, amphetamines, exstasy, cocaine, as far as affordable, and of course, marijuana. He demonstratively lets some plants sprout on his tiny terrace. "I want a pot like this to be on every window ledge soon."

At 32, Gustavo seems extraordinarily vulnerable and caring. This sensitivity has reliably paid off on the job. We have a drink together and he talks about his "explosion". Between the lockdowns, when the place filled with "ombra" calls, the Venetian desire for more wine, he fell in love with a work colleague. With all your senses. He says: "Unconscious". Gustavo confessed his new emotional world to his long-time girlfriend, and they separated. She has made a career ever since, he moved to the other end of town, fell victim to his colleague and hoped and waited and waited and hoped. "But there was never more than one hug."The emotions ate their way. At night, in a bar that doesn't even exist, under the drugs that are everywhere in Venice in these times of low visitor numbers, he reached out. “I didn't meet her, but her soul was hit.” The boss fired him, “what else should he have done?” Gustavo is now unemployed. Maybe, maybe he'll get another chance in one of the restaurants that overflowed before Corona and stole the employees instead of piling them up in them. However, nobody knows yet whether too many restaurants will open again at all. So Gustavo, a Venetian through and through, considers leaving. Where? "No idea."The void solidifies. Day after day, evening after evening. This is what it would look like if a neutron bomb had been dropped. The buildings remain intact, the people have disappeared.

Is Venice falling into disrepair? Barely. Am I addicted to Venice? Yes. That's not original, but mine. What hurts? Nothing so far.

It is by no means by chance that I pass the house in which Joseph Brodsky stayed longer, I remember his “Shore of the Lost”. In the Catholic bookstore near my hotel I buy the ribbon, along with “With Rilke in Venice”. I had ordered Peter Handke's “My Day in Another Country”. The apt titles are a coincidence. With Gianni, the bookseller, land is under. He shows me how high the last flood was in his shop and gives me a discount. For three little books? “People rarely buy three now,” he says.

Gondoliers and Giorgio "Il Galeon"

On the Riva dei Sette Martiri, whose name recalls seven political prisoners who were shot by the Nazis in 1944, I meet some men from the neighborhood in front of a bar.“We have never experienced a crisis like this,” says Fabio Zanetti, the man in black. “The 2008 financial crisis wasn't that bad, nor was the Gulf War when the airport was closed to NATO planes. Venice has never been so quiet, not even during the Spanish flu. ”He knows that because he is concerned with history. Zanetti is a gondolier and his regular customers live in South America. He has been unemployed for 19 months, since the flood on September 12, 2019. “At this point we were really up to our necks,” he begins to say, “The customs house has been washed into the Biennale Park. After two days the situation had calmed down again, but television crews from all over the world reported on it for 40 days. Your exaggerations were the real disaster. ”Until the virus outperformed everything.

A nervous muscle weakness has forced his friend into a wheelchair since last summer. He introduces himself as “Giorgio il Galeon”, “like the restaurant. The Belgian royal family also came to me for dinner once a year. ”In December he had to sell,“ well below the price, but at least to a Venetian ”. The tax office wanted money, he had advanced a lot to the employees, the state subsidies just trickled and came too late. His wife has no job, neither does his daughter or son-in-law. The small aid money from the state has to be enough somehow. The steadfast restaurant owner Giorgio il Galeon becomes the handicapped alms recipient Giorgio Gallardi with the authorities.

Massimo Veronesi, who pushes his wheelchair, is a singer on gondola rides. In one and a half years he received 7,000 euros in government support. "I'm lucky that my two children work, one is a secretary, the other travels on a vaporetto."

And now, what about the major reconstruction program of the European Union? “Oh,” says Fabio Zanetti, “what are the politicians really going to pass on? We say: 'You're gay with my butt'. "

They are amazed at my interest. "Italian journalists should come over and ask us exactly."


The next day I am drawn to the CoVino restaurant, this previous total work of art.
Ronny comes over. "Well, I'm close to the poverty line". It can be seen that he is serious. “But I'm used to that.” He was born in the GDR, his parents were with the Stasi. Because he “only ate junk in Germany”, he soon weighed 120 kilos and became a character himself - in a Rammstein parody band.He signed on for SAT1 breakfast television and is still justifying himself for it today: "I really wanted to get to know Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre." That succeeded and other things.Then he moved to the inconspicuous Alpenkaff Belluno, learned Italian and almost halved his weight. His passion for natural wines brought him to the CoVino. After the first lockdown, he lost his job and practiced the guitar. He's been back since the summer. The team keeps afloat with a creative takeaway, and Chef Andrea also deals with the wine trade, specializing in orange wines. Anna photographs him for a new website.And now? "It will go off like a rocket as soon as enough people are vaccinated and the quarantine requirement is lifted," says Andrea. “Venice is the first place people want to visit. It will hit here like a bomb. ”He is alone with this opinion.

The skepticism outweighs the numerous other interlocutors I meet during these quiet weeks. My hotel manager observes how hesitantly the reservations for the time after the lockdown start, unlike in the previous early summer: "The mood is desperate."


The Venetian owner family wants to sell the house. Then what will become of room 304, whose magic I believed I could enjoy for a long time to come? Countless restaurants and other hotels are flooding the property market, although the Mose flood protection system finally seems to be working since last autumn. To some extent.

"How long will you stay?" Ronny asks me.

"Until I'm dead."

“Wonderful,” he says. Well then.

Since the beginning of this week, bars and restaurants have been allowed to reopen outdoors. The curfew remains. Let's see.P.S .: Gustavo's real name is different and he also does something different professionally. But in this blog he has to be protected from others. Hopefully he'll be able to do it for himself again soon.