Harsh punishment meted out to two German backpackers for the ‘crime’ of brewing their own coffee at the Rialto Bridge in Venice is symptomatic of the way that public space is being eroded and profit being put before humanity.
Don’t smell the coffee in Venice, at least not if you brewed it yourself on a portable mini-stove in the center of the historic city instead of paying for it at a coffee shop or café, or you could be in big, big trouble.
Two German tourists who did that recently were fined a total of €950 ($1000) and asked to leave the city.
The tourists made no mess. They caused no obstruction, but they were clobbered under regulations from Venice’s city council. These regulations (detailed here) include a €200 fine for sitting down outside to consume food or drinks, except within designated areas. Can you imagine the mentality of the ‘passer-by’ who reported them to the police?
Venice employs white-vested ‘stewards’ to enforce its rules. These have been dubbed ‘the sandwich police.’
“Sitting down is forbidden but sitting down and eating is doubly forbidden,” one person told the Observer last summer. There are no special concessions for the old or infirm. When I tweeted about the coffee brewing incident one of my followers replied: “Venice is one of the most unfriendly places I’ve ever been. There’s no respect for people whatsoever. In a 40 degree heat wave a couple of weeks ago, teams of local volunteers were hassling old ladies for sitting on steps in St Mark’s Square, insisting that we ‘respect’ the city.”
Elsewhere in Italy it’s even worse. In Florence, you can be fined €500 for eating al fresco in parts of the city center in ‘peak hours‘. Two years ago, Florence banned non-local food from the city center, with the mayor even threatening to turn hoses on people who ate on the cathedral steps. So if you’re going there this summer and plan to make your own sandwiches, beware.
Regrettably, it’s not just Italy where this anti-human stuff is going on. It’s happening all over.
At a public meeting to save local authority libraries in Britain from closure, which I attended in 2011, the author Philip Pullman referred to the ‘greedy ghost’ which was taking over. “The Greedy Ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money, tear it down and put up a block of flats… The flats aren’t making enough money, rip them apart and put a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money, smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money, demolish it and put up a shopping mall.”
While ostensibly about ‘protecting historic cities’ from ‘mass tourism’, the measures being introduced across Europe can be seen as part of a wider trend to restrict free use of public spaces in order to get us to spend more money. The ‘greedy ghost’ is haunting us everywhere, particularly when we’re on holiday.