Monday, September 04, 2006

Final Thoughts From the Cradle of Art, Culture, Fiction, and High-End Retail

2:35 a.m.
Friday, September 1, 2006

I am awake because my 3:30 a.m. wakeup call isn’t coming. I know. I spent a sleepless night last week chatting with the desk clerk downstairs and I know that he’s guzzling Bellinis and watching Spice television right now and can't be trusted with something as mundane as my wakeup call. What I also know is a wakeup call or not I have at least a hundred pounds of baggage to drag across the stairs of the Grand Canal, all in an effort to make a 6:15 morning flight to Amsterdam where the connection to Houston is impossibly short. But I digress. This is not about the perks of travel in modernity.

No, we’ll end this dark little trilogy on the subject it began – why the Italians aren’t happier. The first two reports from Venice generated much speculation from readers on why Italians, and more specifically, Venetians, are unhappy considering the beauty of their country not to mention their own physical attributes which don’t go unnoticed by even casual observers.

On reflection, it may be nothing more than the nasty realization that Venice is scheduled to sink to the center of the earth sometime in the next fifty years. That could, understandably, put one in a poor mood, but if that’s the ticket the Venetians are not letting on. A modest two bedroom apartment in an area of the city you cannot find with two maps and a GPS will still set you back at least $750,000 U.S. dollars. Something on the Grand Canal, well, those prices aren’t listed or even discussed. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it and the real estate vendors here don’t mind expressing that in a language you can understand. No, it doesn’t sound like the Venetians are factoring imminent and final destruction in their collective mood.

The inquiry still remains a mystery but not for lack of trying.

Perhaps the most thoughtful observation came from an experienced, sensitive VP of HR who knows more than a little about collective human behavior. He speculated:

“I've met very few ‘beautiful’ people who've been satisfied with their lives. Perhaps it is because, as individuals, we don't have any say in how the media and marketers define "beauty" and that is more pressure than most can bear who aren't well grounded otherwise. The happiest people I know are those with great friends and family who care for them regardless of how they look to the outside world. They tend not to take themselves so seriously because their circle of friends and family keep them grounded, ‘beautiful’ or not.”

I think he has a point and he either hit the bulls-eye or missed the wall on which the target is hanging. There are too many alternatives to know with the degree of certainty you could take to the Sports Book in Vegas. It occurs to me, for example, that the problem could be the Espresso-Pinot Grigio Cycle that is endemic in Venice –black as night Ethiopian coffee shots that can only be cut by full liters of high octane Pinot Grigio. The net result is you are either wound tighter than a violin string or you want to take a nap in the gutter. It is an ever-tightening spiral of addiction and it took me less than a week to qualify for rehab. I can only imagine what this habit might do to a collective psyche repeated over decades, but my guess is nothing good.

In the end, the endemic dissatisfaction, if any, is probably not about geography, beauty, or even addiction. Maybe it is something more fundamental that pervades more than Italy, one that explains why most in the world are becoming less content by the year. Maybe Hunter Thompson was right when he observed the key is “[to find] a way to live out there where the real winds blow, to sleep late, have fun . . . and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested."

Maybe that is the ticket.


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