Last summer I spent a month in Venice and one night, as a rain storm approached (la tempesta), I had to go out on the tiny balcony and retrieve my laundry. Yes, that's my laundry in the foto below, the line with the long sheet and blue towel.
The wind was blowing and howling, but over the sound of nature I also realized that someone was speaking to me. Looking across the courtyard I saw a man in an apartment at the same level as mine. He was at his window offering me his opinion about the storm. So we chatted.
This was one of my best moments in Venice, something I will always remember because I live in a culture where a stranger wouldn't dare converse with someone across the courtyard, or street, especially at night, in a storm, and especially if you were a woman and he was a man. It would seem creepy instead of normal and friendly.
Why is it like that in Venice? Sure, this tiny city is more tightly packed than my town, and everyone knows every else because they walk everywhere and stop and talk. But Venice is also special because it has a very long history of community spirit.
From the time Venice was established in the lagoon in the 800s to the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, its citizens have banded together for the greater good of La Serenissima, The Republic of Venice.
Although there were social classes from patricians to servants, everyone operated within an interwoven network of neighborhoods, classes, churches, and service clubs. And they did so, made a cohesive dedicated social whole, because this was a vulnerable nation surrounded by water.
But more important, Venice was a city based on commerce and everyone worked hard, even the aristocracy, to make money.
That history of banding together to make money informs everything in Venice today, from the gondolieri hawking rides to the cost of public toilets for non-Veneitians. It also informs the friendliness of Venetians if you make an effort to see the city and be part of the life.
For one quick moment as I took in my laundry, I felt just a little bit Venetian. It was so cool.