Venzone: A Small World

In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own

At the bottom of the Grand Canal, Venice is an open-air museum for canalside strolls. During the afternoon the boats, canalside cafes and souvenir stands are crowded. On your way back to the hotel, a young boatman in a green and red long-sleeved polo shirt chats with a tourist, and the boat slips alongside his own.

It’s a small world that connects the boats, the tourists and the polo shirt. Back at the hotel, the young man talks in English with guests, and as the sun begins its slow ascent over the Lagoon, another friend from his polo club joins him. They are drinking coffee in a café when the waiter calls them over. Their two hours together are coming to an end. Without a word, he picks up the bill and turns to leave. The waiter stops him with a question: “Did you have fun?” The polo-shirted friend takes his hand and shakes it warmly. “Yeah, I did.”

This is Donata, the polo-shirt friend’s wife, a smart, bubbly thirty-six-year-old Italian who lives, in her words, in the “little” European city of Venice. She and her husband own a houseboat on the lagoon, in which they live on the top floor. The boat is on loan to their friend, and he is, they say, “always very kind to me.”

For the past two years Donata has been a volunteer at a program called Venzone, which means “to welcome” or “to welcome life.” Venzone is a Venice-wide campaign, run by young people who volunteer to take young people aged twelve to eighteen on a two-day trip. It aims to give young people a taste of life in Venice, and it tries to ensure that when they leave the program they will have a sense of gratitude, of hope, hope that perhaps someday they too will be able to live on

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