For a change, it was the Venetians who crowded the square. Days before Italy lifted the coronavirus travel restrictions this week that had prevented the usual crush of international visitors from entering the city, hundreds of locals gathered on chalk asterisks drawn several feet apart.

They had come to protest a new dock that would bring boatloads of tourists through one of Venice's last livable neighborhoods and also to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show that another, less tourist-addled future was viable.

''This can be a working city, not just place for people to visit,'' said the protest's organizer, Andrea Zorzi, a 45-year-old law professor who frantically handed out hundreds of signs reading : ''Nothing Changes if You Don't Change Anything.''

He argued that the virus, as tragic as it was, had demonstrated that Venice could be a better place. ''It can be normal,'' he said.

The Coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-19, has laid bare underlying weaknesses of the societies it has ravaged, whether economic or racial inequality, an overdependence on global production chains or rickety health care systems.

In Italy, all those problems have emerged, but the virus has also revealed that a country blessed with a stunning artistic patrimony has developed an addiction to tourism that has priced many residents out of historic centers and crowded out creativity, entrepreneurialism and authentic Italian life. 

During the lockdown, Rome's center became as sleepy as a ruin, while the surrounding neighborhoods remained vibrant.

The mayor of Florence said he would tour the world, starting in China, to raise private funds for a city followed by the lack of tourists.

But it is Venice, a city threatened by inundations of tens of millions of tourists as much as it is by high water, where things changed most drastically. 

For months, the alleys, porticoes and campos reverberated with Italian, and even with Venetian dialect. The lack of big boats reduced the waves on the canals, allowing locals to take their small boats and kayaks out on cleaner water. Residents even ventured to St. Mark's Square, which they usually avoid.

Venice, would give the first quarantine during a prior pandemic, has undergone many transformations in its roughly 1,500-year history. It started as a hide-out for refugees and became a powerful republic, mercantile force and artistic hub.

Now, it's a destination that largely lives off its history and tourism cash cow worth 3 Billion euros, or about $3.3 billion. But with the money comes hordes of day trippers, giant cruise ships, growing colonies of Airbnb apartments, souvenir shops, tourist-trap restaurants and high rents that have increasingly pushed out Venetians.

The dearth of tourists during lockdowns has locals dreaming of last change.

The honor and serving of the latest changes towards a new world continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jason Harowitz.


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