Barely a few days after our arrival - still dizzy from the tourist crowds, the glistening waters of the lagoon, the sizzling heat and adrenaline rush of the beginning of our fellowship - we met Jane da Mosto on an early Monday morning in front of Santi Paolo e Giovani.
Jane is the founder of We Are Here Venice, an activist and Venetian for over 25 years. Her vision was straightforward: she wanted to teach us how to approach the city as residents, and not tourists. Too many of us, as Giulia Foscari wrote in Elements of Venice for the 2014 Biennale, " the name alone conjures up centuries of history, rivers of ink, and tons of books. Seeing the reality of Venice through this cultural barrier has become an almost impossible task. […] the city is being drowned by a flood of clichés, merchandising, and sentimentalism ".Jane believes that this can be countered by the education of foreigners by Venetians on what their living, daily city looks like.
To do so, she armed us with essential tools: sharp insights into the city’s history all the way to its current socio-political landscape, full of underlying tensions. She invited us to look everywhere around: from the subtle changes in materials to the raised doors and curved pavements indicating the changes of ground levels over the years, pushed by the threatening rise in water levels.
She showed us how the local architecture tectonics were bearers of a deep tension that has been a concern of the city for centuries: how to make a city modern without loosing what makes it singular? How do you preserve such a delicate network of structures, cultural emblems and activities against tourism, capitalism, water level barriers and the installation of wifi?
Venetians have been concerned as to how to preserve a place which is subject to such brutal and changing conditions, and all these modern constraints have represented major challenges which need to be be addressed and tackled, by locals, politicians and temporary residents all alike. We Are Here Venice is taking this fight with all its strength, triggering new points of the city which had seemed hidden and concealed away from the foreigner’s eye for too long: elements that remind us that Venice needs to be taken care of.
Jane, walking us through the city’s most unexpected streets, showing us how you build, study, work and revolt in Venice, helped us gain a knowledge of the city that could have been grasped in no other way. We came out of it invigorated, inspired and keen to experience the city with new eyes.