Venice gondolier: 'I have worked 3-4 days in the last 6-7 months'
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Tourists cannot come back soon enough for Alessandro Zuffi, a veteran Venetian gondolier whose profession has come to a near standstill.
"I have worked 3-4 days in the last 6-7 months," Zuffi, who is 59 and has been in the trade since his early 20s, told DPA in a telephone interview.
Even before the novel coronavirus struck Italy in late February, Venice was complaining about a dearth of visitors, as they were scared off by near-record floods in November.
"We've had a double whammy. Since the high tide of November 12, we practically haven't worked, apart from one or two days during the Carnival," Zuffi said.
The Venice Carnival was cancelled on February 23, one of the first high-profile events in Italy that fell victim to virus containment measures.
A national lockdown followed in early March, which was finally lifted on June 3, when Italy ended travel restrictions between its regions and on arrivals from other European Union countries.
But Zuffi's trade has not picked up much.
"There's a bit of movement on weekends, but for the rest of the week there's no point in going out, we do it just for show, to give a signal that Venice has reopened," he said.
Only 40 per cent of gondoliers are working, and on very short shifts, Zuffi reported. His most recent clients have all been Italians, except for a couple of Americans from a US military base in Italy.
During the lockdown, pictures of an eerily empty Venice made a worldwide impression. Zuffi said the normally overcrowded city became "more livable," but also made him "sad and melanchonic."
"It was unbelievable, it looked like a dream, frankly. I had never seen it like that in almost 40 years that I have been doing this job," he said.
"Venice lives on tourism, there is no other industry," he added.
Zuffi said he partly got by on 1 200 euros (about R22 500) of government handouts for workers affected by the pandemic. He also said gondoliers have lowered their prices.
"We now take four people instead of six, for social-distancing. And we charge 60 euros for half an hour's ride. Before it was 80 euros," he said.