…human beings on holiday are radically different…”

Polly Coles writes, in The Politics of Washing, her memoir of living a year in Venice with her husband and four children, about a vaporetto that carries only residents, not tourists:

But it is not only colour and numbers that distinguish the passengers on the Three; it is a subtle but unmistakable difference of purpose that infuses every pore of the people who use it. Tourists are visibly mystified when the marinaio does not even stop to look at individual passes, and yet suddenly, unaccountably, prevents certain people from getting on to the vaporetto. But to those of us who are hurrying to school, or university, or the market, or work, it is perfectly clear that the man on the right is a tourist, while the man on the left is going to fetch his son from nursery. The marinaio does not need to see their tickets to know that. Why? Because human beings on holiday are radically different from human beings who are negotiating their way through the myriad small hurdles of daily life. It is as if the billions of atoms of which we are made become somehow more compacted when there is a job to be done, so that we exude purpose like a powerful scent — even, somehow, look different.

Holidaymakers inhabit a different skin; they are, above all else, in no hurry. The long day ahead contains no appointments, commitments, decisions or duties; all they have to do is eat and sleep and enjoy themselves as much as they possibly can. In this happy state of no-responsibility the body, so often tensed for action, relaxes. Their aura is unmistakably looser, their pace slower: they amble, pause to admire, hesitate about which direction to take, turn back to pass comment to a companion. They are, in a way, infantilized because they have been relieved of all the pressure to keep up to speed, on track or any of the other heartracing metaphors favoured by Western culture in the world of work.

This is a sentiment that perhaps only people who live in the neighbourhood cum stage set that is a tourist city: who among us has not been stymied on a trip to the post office by a gaggle of visitors, walking four abreast, in this “happy state of no-responsibility.” 

Coles’ book is an interesting read, both a tale of a family odyssey and an extended rumination on Venice and the tensions—tensions that exist on an exponentially greater level than here in sedate Charlottetown—between people who live there and people who visit.


Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 26, 2024 - 12:27 Permalink

I understand a bit of what she means. As an occasional transit bus driver, I see a variety of users, most of whom have passes and flick them at you, some who do not. They may be transferring from another bus but often they are K-12 users who ride free, do not usually have ID and do not need a pass. They are easy to spot among the few or dozens of passengers who may board at any one time, not by youthful appearance or height but by mannerism, and I do not bother to question them as to their status as I click their presence on the K-12 category counter.