There is something vaguely terrifying about Venice. Part of it is the sense of impending doom hanging over a city that already floods during high tides 250 times a year. Part of it is that the people seem to be missing -- city leaders banished the glassblowers and Jews to separate islands centuries ago, and most of the 67,000 remaining residents (outnumbered 3-1 by tourists) make their livings hawking papier-mache masks and crappy gelato. But mostly, the strangest thing about Venice is that there are no cars.
So, why is this terrifying? Because Venice is not the utopia that one would expect to naturally grow in the absence of automobiles. Aside from the total lack of green space and natural light, the place just seems wrong. Maybe I've been around cars so much that the world doesn't feel right without them, the same way that silence can be deafening to someone who moves from Niagara Falls. Let's hope that's not true, although if it is.
In another note, I did what I believe to be the first Mitzvah of my trip today, when a Hasidic Yeshiva student convinced me to put on the tefillin prayer boxes and say the shema ("Oye Israel, God is our God, etc. etc." in the gender-neutral parlance). I told him I was a member of a Reform congregation -- the same revelation that once prompted Roy Dar to say "You might as well say you don't have a religion" -- so he made me repeat after him.
We finished up by saying, "we want/Messiah/now." I realize may seem awkward to those of you who believe the Messiah already came and my people killed him, but bear with me. I barely managed to stifle a laugh. Personally, I'm not sure I want the Messiah to arrive quite yet. I think I might need some more time. But even if I did, I don't think that trying to recreate European ghettoes is the way to lure said Messiah to Earth.
Unfortunately, when I took that class on the ghetto in college, I didn't actually read either the book about The Ghetto of Venice or Hasidic People, both of which contained knowledge that might have been helpful today.