The streets are rammed. Passage through the alleys is gruelling – so many tourists are gazing into shop windows that the space left for getting through amounts to just a third of the alley’s width. Down in St Mark’s Square only vertical gazing is possible – the panoramic options are blocked out by thick clusters of camera-wielding snappers. Tour guides are present in their dozens, each marshalling groups of twenty or thirty followers. To combat the incessant hubbub the guides speak into microphones attached to small P.A. systems that they carry round their necks. There is little individual movement, people shuffle in packs from place to legendary place. It’s the last week in May. The season hasn’t started yet.
So proud is Venice of its unique heritage provision that even building works, such as those currently being extensively carried out on the giant Biblioteca Marciana – the Library of St Mark’s – have been enhanced in order to deliver a seamless viewing experience. In the case of the Biblioteca the local council, or whoever ‘manages’ these operations, has suspended from the top of one side of the building a samesize photorealistic backcloth depicting the pillars and masonry you would have seen had they not been obscured by scaffolding and the backcloth itself. Not only that, it has placed a gigantic and colourful advertisement for Rolex golden watches in the centre of the cloth, as if the building works at the Biblioteca Marciana were obscuring not only elegant colonnades but a portal to a marvellous chronometer opportunity featuring uniformed men in a technologised futurescape.
A very rudimentary piece of theatrecraft is being essayed here. The Men from the Veneto clearly view the eager hordes as unsophisticated hut-dwelling folk who will welcome bigness and boldness in any context. Having completely taken us in with the realism of the colonnade megaphotos they will now entice us into a domain every bit as magical as the fabled architecture of Venice itself. Rolexworld is presented as continuous with the splendour and sublimity of the highest of the high arts. It is, furthermore, accessed via the olden fabric of the Library. The building works, as sometimes is their wont, have uncovered an unsuspected trove at the heart of an already valued site. For a few weeks only we may gaze into the timeless moonscapes that appear to be the habitat of the timerich Rolex Perpetual Explorer.