Poveglia fever rising

If all goes to plan, it looks very much as if the three islands of Poveglia might soon be counting the latest plague victims, embracing them within her overgrown acres and derelict walls. If the local, national and may I be so bold — international news is anything to go by, people far and wide are dropping like flies overwhelmed by the Poveglia fever, champing at the bit to add their €99 to the coffers of the ‘Poveglia per Tutti’ Association, founded in feverish haste to ‘save the island’ for the 99 years’ concession.

But ‘save the island’ from whom you may well ask? The general consensus would seem to be that too much of Venice is being taken over by ‘foreign’ financial speculative powers which eat up historic buildings and land masses, spitting them out as tourist attractions of one kind or another. This – in my humble opinion — would lead the inquisitive mind to ask a number of pertinent questions. Equally, the informed and intelligent mind would be pretty certain that there are rarely any straightforward answers to pertinent questions – even less, honest ones. After all, let’s not forget this is Italy. Recent investments of this nature on similar islands have demonstrated — mainly to the investors themselves — that Venice, and isolated islands don’t necessarily add up to fat profits.

So how does ‘Poveglia per Tutti’ hope to get in on the auction act to have a say in the future of the Poveglia islands? Well first and foremost they have had to urgently organize an association as their preferred method of legal representation in order to make their proposal at the auction. Not a mean feat given the usual bureaucratic miasma that we humble mortals have to negotiate to get anything done here. And fair dues – it seems that they overcame that hurdle, and even managed to get the Mayor’s blessing for another couple of minor perks to ease them along their troubled way.

But now comes the hard part. I think now, more than ‘social twittering’ they are into ‘social battering’ with a vengeance. They need to be on their toes to get their figures right in time for the online auction on May 7th.

If mathematics isn’t an opinion, the numbers look suspiciously deceptive. So follow my reasoning here: the official opening bid is set at €20000 which means that the Association must have at least 203 contributing members (at €99 each) to cover that sum. Bids for the auction are sealed and only the 5 most interesting offers will be invited to continue. Naturally, at the time of the initial bid, none of the ‘contestants’ will know what the other interested parties are bidding.

Quite apart from whether our ‘Poveglia per Tutti’ friends will have the shekels to back up their brazen attempt to take on the ‘bad financial lads’ of presumable foreign fame, they will have had to take on another obstacle course in the quagmire of registration on the auction web site before being able to click their offer into the system. One can only pray at this stage that they have a few legal eagles in their midst to guide them through the process to avoid dropping any bureaucratic clangers. In fairness, I have it on good authority that that is in fact the case, for those of you were wondering whether to reclaim your own contribution to the project, toute de suite.

But let’s get back to the numbers. If the Association has the dubious good fortune to find themselves amongst the 5 remaining contestants in the final rush, they will then have to continue adding more money – not to their initial offer, but to the highest offer made by the remaining 5 bidders. At this middle stage, the 5 offers will all be visible. I may be naive, but I find it very difficult to imagine that any serious bidder will have offered only €20000, but nonetheless, of the 5 bidders left, it is highly likely that at least one of the 5 will be higher than that compulsory opening bid level.

So if the Association has foreseen this – and being an intelligent group of people, I am quite sure they will have – those 203 members each with their €99 will have to have been multiplied manyfold to cover the eventuality of further bidding in the race to the finishing line. Each new bid must be in multiples of €1000 and yet again, I don’t see serious bidders raising by only €1000 at a time.

But just for a moment, let’s imagine that our Association manages to clinch the deal. Don’t get me wrong since a number of the people involved are actually friends of mine, I hope with all my heart that they are in with a chance. I am just playing the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ here by applying my own pragmatic Anglo-Saxon reasoning in an attempt to get a full, objective picture of the checkerboard and see how all the pieces are placed.

I think we have already concluded that the numbers are misleading. Just think if one of the bidders offers a million Euros. What would the Association have to be to deal with that one? Well to begin with, it would have to count on some 10000 or more paying members, right? So I won’t even go down that route (although the number of their followers on the FB page is encouraging if they have all put their money where there mouths or ‘like’ fingers are). Let’s get back to the fun idea that the Association wins the deal. Winning the auction is probably only the start of their problems because they will still have to face a whole heap of legal hurdles to get through yet another muddy mess of contracts and stuff to take over the rights for all the islands (there are 3 of them) and what they have to offer.

What do the islands have to offer? Well quite apart from a history which makes my hair stand on end, reading between the lines and pushing the worst of the historic imagery to the back of my mind, I see that the official jargon says “… il complesso di isole presenta numerosi fabbricati da recuperare, dal grande valore storico e architettonico”, which in poor man’s English means “there is a whole bunch of important historical stuff to salvage”. Now what does that mean? Does that signify that the person/persons who take on the island are obliged to restore to former glory all that stands on her grounds? Hmmmmmmmmm! That rings expensive to me. And the way I read things, the person/persons who take on the challenge will hardly be able to make a request to the local or national authorities for a grant to put things right. Let’s face it – those same authorities are the ones that are selling the whole caboodle off to make some money! I suppose as a last resort they could make an appeal to all those foreign powers which have already restored numerous Venetian monuments over the years – but that would seem to be a major misinterpretation of what all this is about, not to say a bit of a farce, no?

My head is already spinning at the numbers of Association members necessarily involved in this whole process. I am also slightly perplexed at a few of the careless comments made by a couple of them who claim that this is a move to keep ‘tourists’ off the island. Ironically I also note on the group’s Facebook page that there are quite a few ‘foresti’ (as the Venetians ‘affectionately’ call the tourists) who are clambering on the bandwagon to make their own meagre (and equally valuable) offering to the crusade, so let’s not snub them. Some Venetians conveniently forget that many of them only survive thanks to tourism, a rule which holds even truer for those ‘Venetians’ whose claim to ‘Venetianness’ rests precariously on a Venetian address and not on family ties or natal rights. But not for that are they any more or less welcome than the other ‘foresti’ eager to make a claim on a patch of Venetian turf.

But let’s get this clear at the outset – your €99 won’t get you anything but a symbolic claim to Poveglia. Don’t think that by contributing multiples of €99 you will have any preferential claim to a derelict barn or a boat mooring ‘cos it’s not working that way. You will just get a membership card to clock in and visit the island, although I’m not quite sure what system will be excogitated for that one. What is going to stop a non-member from visiting the island? I forgot to mention that card holders will also have the right to take part in the decision making as to who does what and when on the island, though I have to say that the very thought smacks frighteningly of the worst imaginable condominium meeting.

Lots of questions requiring lots of answers. Having said that, I find that by digging a little deeper into all the press coverage for this movement, it would seem to emerge that there are in fact a number of financial investors involved — individuals/organizations of one kind or another, prepared to put some money (a lot more than €99) into the recovery of part/parts of the buildings on the islands. Ideally these people would then contribute in some way to the upkeep of the island and not interfere with the free public movement envisaged for the rest of the territory. Which takes me back to biting my tail with questions and answers again.

But the thing that worries me most, assuming that this idyllic set of isles is restored to its former glory in some way by our friendly Association members and All – what if one fine day they all decide to take a quiet picnic on the island unbeknown one to the other? After having done all those sums higher up the page, I have this nightmare vision of some 20000 or more people turning up armed with kids, dogs and radios on the same day in search of peace and quiet.

Or is it just me that has an overactive and fervid imagination???? I just feel sorry for that little guy who has had his fishing nets staked out back of the island for so many years he can’t remember. He won’t know what’s hit him …

Sourced 22 Aprile, 2014 from:

Mi compero un’isola in laguna: il 7 maggio vanno all’asta le isole di Poveglia e Ottagono, postazioni difensive della Serenissima dal 1380


For those interested in contacting the Association directly you can find details on their Facebook page
http://www.message-in-a-bottle.org/ (for donations & membership)

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Janys Hyde

Owner at Creative Retreats in Italy
Founder and owner of 'Creative Retreats in Italy', Janys Hyde brings a wealth of hospitality and organisational experience and skills into her small company, matured both in the UK and Italy.

After moving to Italy she transferred her skills to the tourist hospitality industry, accompanying international guests across Europe, caring for their welfare and needs; troubleshooting and organising impromptu events for their entertainment.

A 'creative person' herself, she dabbles in all manner of artistic pursuits and takes great pleasure in the organisation of cultural activities for her international guests here in Venice, Italy.

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