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Cluster index: Robin Saikia

Spritz at the villa.

Robin Saikia: ‘Friuli was, in the old days, one of the furthest-flung mainland dominions of the Venetian empire — and therefore its cities, towns, villas and churches bear unmistakeable traces of Venice. Yet since Friuli is in the north-east and close to what are now the borders of Austria and Slovenia, the Venetian leitmotiv in everything from architecture to cuisine is fused with other, non-Italian, influences.’

The Feast of the Redentore.

Robin Saikia: ‘We followed lunch with a walk back to Santa Croce and a quick drink at Rivetta, another spit-and-sawdust establishment that serves drinkable country wine for 90 cents a glass. I mention all this because it is easy to forget that real people on modest incomes live in and are the backbone of this city. Go where they go, eat where they eat, drink where they drink — and soon the myth of Venice as a hell of overpriced food and booze will be dispelled.’

City for sale.

Robin Saikia: ‘Venetians themselves contributed vigorously to the new hell: magnificent palaces and houses were carved up into rentable apartments or cut-price alberghi; restaurants began to serve cheap, anaemic and barely edible versions of local cuisine; the cost of everything from coffee to public transport was set at astronomic levels in the sure knowledge that the dazed visitor was faced with no option but to pay up; commercial premises in Rialto and San Marco were and are progressively sold or rented to the highest bidders, most often the Chinese; the Venice Carnival, in the eighteenth century a spectacular and beautifully-styled piece of civic theatre, has become a sorry example of gimcrack design and disappointing events: a perfect example of a hit-and-run operation designed to remove money from unwary tourists. It comes as no surprise that for over twenty years, in the wake of this vandalism, there has been a deadening sense of paralysis and resignation in the city.’