As I wandered through Venice on Monday 25th April I felt like a kid in a Venetian candy store. Not only was I back in my spiritual homeland but I’d managed to coincide my visit with the Festival of Saint Mark, an annual celebration to commemorate Venice’s patron saint.
The air was certainly full of festivities throughout the whole day. There was a celebration with music and speeches by public figures in St. Mark’s Square in the morning, and Venetians roamed the narrowed streets of the city bearing the Venetian flag of San Marco, their numbers so great that it became hard to determine who was a local patriot enjoying the Holiday Monday or a tour guide leading a group of tourists. The bars were also filled in the afternoon with young Venetians enjoying one or two or five beers in the local drinking establishments. It was lovely to be part of the celebrations and a real treat to see it, especially given that I’ve always managed to just miss local festivities like this.
The festival of St. Mark’s is also known as Rosebud Day because of the tradition of giving the woman you love a single rose on this day. As such, many women of Venice can be seen walking throughout the town carrying a rose. It’s a romantic notion, although I’m fairly sure that the rose given to me by my waiter whilst dining out that evening was not so much an indication of his feelings for me as it was an indication of his thanks for my tip.
The giving of a rose goes back to the 700s when a local poor man fell for a Venetian noblewoman. To prove how he felt for her he joined the war endeavours abroad. As you do. It didn’t end well for our Romeo (does it ever for Italian-based love stories?). He was fatally wounded and as he lay dying he grasped out for a nearby rose, which was promptly delivered to his love.
Disturbing love story aside, it nevertheless felt slightly odd to be walking through Venice clutching my rose, given that usually the only people you see holding a rose in Venice are tourists who have been coerced into buying one from an illegal street vendor.
The festivities were, however, marred by the political protest that also happened in St. Mark’s Square. Local protesters gathered to use the festival as a platform to demonstrate their desire for independence for the Veneto, a longed-for ideal by Venetian nationalists (and traditionalists, perhaps, harking back to the glory days of the Veneto republic).
What was most controversial about the protesters demonstration, though, was that it took place in the historic St. Mark’s Square. The Piazza is legally regarded as a neutral place and it is prohibited to hold any political rallies, not that this stopped the protesters. Organisers of the Festival were somewhat dismayed by the demonstration and commented that the celebrations were ‘not a political event, but a manifestation of belonging.’ (source: Il Gazzettino online).
Given that the Venetian republic stood for over a thousand years I can understand why it can be hard to let go of old ideals, particularly for a city that is cocooned in its own little bubble to the extent that the outside modern world is often shut out (instantaneous internet access sadly included at times). It must be strange for some Venetians that there are people intent on forging ahead with the outside political status quo when it goes against the grain of what Venice stood for so many hundreds of years.
As the old saying goes, the people are Venice are Venetians first, and Italians second. It really is a city that stands between the old world and the new.