“Nakipagsiksikan tayo dito para makakita ng baha!,” my husband exclaimed on a cold and rainy morning as we laughed and shoved ourselves with our five little and big kids in tow inside a full-packed vaporetto , a small ferry that will bring us through Venice’s world famous Grand Canal.
Because of this baha comment, I felt so embarrassed for tossing the idea to my family to brave the early day trip to Venice from Milan on a very cold and drizzly January in 2014. Earlier in the day, with five kids in tow, my husband and I roused them from their sleep, bundled them up and hurried to the ancient Milano Centrale station to catch the train to Venice. Para lang pala makakita ng baha.
While most tourist Filipinos would be excited at the prospect of seeing Venice for the first time, my husband thinks he is seeing Yolanda and Pepeng’s floodwaters still engulfing communities, not the famed, romanticized Venice. With buildings jutting out of water and boats of many variations as the only transport aside of course from walking short distances in the alleyways, Venice, from my husband’s eyes is like sosyal na Navotas mainly because Italian, French and other world famous brands line the ancient alleyways with tourists mingling with local Venetians walking tall in the rain garbed in their fashionable Italian labels. It’s still a place of flood, just like Navotas, Manila.
Excited to see the setting of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and the maritime superpower during the Middle Ages and Renaissance while anticipating to be wowed by much written lore about Venetian arts, culture and food, I convinced my family earlier to choose Venice instead of Verona, the setting of another Shakespearean novel Romeo and Juliet, for a day trip. But the thought of para lang makakita ng baha kinda brought my perspective to the ground about Venice.
Taken by all those romantic notions about the Venice in classical literature and the oh so aspirational experience of finally seeing a real gondola (because the one in Macau was just so fake) with a real 7th generation gondolier whom I discovered doesn’t really sing, we chose Venice. But from my family’s eyes, it’s nothing but baha. The all too common sight in the Philippines that most Filipinos abhor. But hey, why is it that if it’s a baha in Europe it’s a tourist attraction and famous?
My family silently wished Philippine baha will make a sustainable tourism income for common people in the Philippines like in Venice. If only all things are equal. But it aint. We could only wish that crooks in government and their ilk will account for the corrupted billions of peso worth of a mediocre breakwater project in Cagayan. Because flooding in the Philippines doesn’t mean tours but lives snuffed out.
The second restaurant on the right of the iconic Venetian Il Rialto Bridge if one is facing the end of the Grand Canal towards the train station has a Filipino friendly staff. One of their long time Italian food cook is a Filipino. Their affordable selections and their welcoming atmosphere warmed our hearts, a stark contrast to a bout of racial discrimination we experienced at the next door restaurant that sits right after the Il Rialto Bridge stairs. The waiter denied us seating near the window even if no tables were even occupied when we entered. We had the same experience in Denmark and Sweden. Racial discrimination in an IT-global world is beyond barbaric. My family walked out. How we missed the smiling, world class Filipino customer service back home.
Inside the vaporetto on a rainy Venetian day, we spotted some Filipino overseas workers who came from their day’s work. They seem happy and sad, as some look out at the vaporetto’s foggy windows, as if pining for home while others busy themselves talking about what transpired in their recent phone calls to the Philippines. Most of them, like the ones in Milan are called domestica. Only a few percentage are employed in companies or in the fashion industry. Lisa, (not her real name) said 80 percent of OFWs in Italy are domestic workers. Lisa said most of these Filipino domesticas are college graduates as engineers, accountants, nurses. In Italy, they work as katulong or househelp, according to Lisa. “Konti lang yung mga nasa kumpanya,” she added.
As we disembarked to catch our train after our last stop at Piazza San Marco, we looked back at our OFWS whose industrious hands now grace the famed allure of Venice as they cook, clean and serve the millions of tourists who come to see the world’s most expensive flooded property, er water estate.
***Annabelle Bangsoy, JD