‘It’s very naughty of me, but I would like to set an examination paper at Dover, and turn back every tourist who couldn’t pass it.’ Thus Miss Eleanor Lavish, the self-described Radical and New Woman, and one of E.M. Forster’s cruellest caricatures, à propos tourists in Florence, in A Room with a View (1908). I am almost certain that Ruskin said something similar in a private letter (though I can’t find the reference): he certainly adopts an extremely patronising attitude to his readers in his late guide-book, St Mark’s Rest: The History of Venice, Written for the Help of the Few Travellers Who Still Care for Her Monuments.
And which of us has not thought something similar, when faced with a mob of tourists completely blocking a bridge and wielding either the latest weapon of choice, the selfie-stick, or the tried and trusted enormous backpack, lethal when the wearer turns round in a crowded area? There used to be an irregular verb: ‘I am a traveller, you are a tourist, he/she is a tripper’, but I think we need a new one: ‘(When in Venice), I live just like a native, you are a tourist, he/she is off a cruise liner for the day’.
So, in the spirit of Miss Lavish, here are twenty questions, the answers to which will determine whether you are worthy to cross the Ponte della Libertà (1933, opened by Mussolini), or the railway bridge (1846), which Ruskin decreed in his usual cheerful way would be the ruin of La Serenissima.
- In a calle, do you: (a) walk on the left; (b) walk on the right; (c) walk straight down the middle, ducking and diving when necessary; (d) stand still, admiring the masks in the shop window?
- At the top of a bridge, should you: (a) take a selfie; (b) take several selfies; (c) get out your fishing rod; (d) continue at a steady pace without stopping?
- Where is this memorial tablet (below): (a) just inside Piazza San Marco; (b) just outside Piazza San Marco; (c) in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; (d) on the left bank of the Rialto?
- The young Mozart stayed in 1771 next to (a) il Ponte del Diavolo; (b) il Ponte di Paglia; (c) il Ponte dei Barcaroli; (d) il Ponte dei Sospiri?
- Is this Venetian saint (below) (a) San Lorenzo Giustinian; (b) San Gerardo di Sagredo; (c) Papa San Giovanni XXIII; (d) San Gerolamo Emiliani?
- What is the formal name of the church of San Trovaso: (a) SS. Cosma e Damiano; (b) SS. Giovanni e Paolo; (c) SS. Gervasio e Protasio; (d) SS. Barbarie delle Tolle?
- As your cruise liner is tugged down the Canale de Giudecca, people on shore are shaking their fists at you. Is this (a) a traditional Venetian greeting; (b) a gesture of concern for the damage cruise ships do to the lagoon and canals; (c) a sign for you to throw coins into the water for them to dive for; (d) an indication that there’s a boxing match in San Polo tonight?
- What is a squero: (a) a square; (b) a traditional Venetian antipasto made from squid; (c) a squinting gargoyle; (d) a gondola builder’s workshop?
- Which of these churches was NOT built in response to plague: (a) Santa Maria della Salute; (b) Il Redentore; (c) San Rocco; (d) San Giovanni Elemosinario?
- Is Sebastiano del Piombo (a) a Venetian painter; (b) the goalkeeper for Venezia F.C.; (c) a local plumber; (d) a celebrity chef with a restaurant on Torcello?
- If offered sarde in saor, should you (a) rub it into your skin; (b) throw it into the nearest canal; (c) eat it; (d) drink it?
- Would you find this mosaic (below) at: (a) Sta Maria Gloriosa dei Frari; (b) Sta Maria Assunta in Torcello; (c) Sta Maria Valverde; (d) Sta Maria della Fava?
- This famous Carpaccio (below) can be seen at: (a) San Giorgio dei Schiavoni; (b) San Giorgio Maggiore; (c) San Giorgio dei Greci; St George’s Anglican church at San Vio?
- To learn Armenian, Lord Byron: (a) engaged an Armenian monk called Mekhitar; (b) took a correspondence course; (c) went to the Armenian church of Santa Croce in San Marco; (d) went out in his gondola out to the Armenian monastery on Isola San Lazzaro?
- Is the Scuola Grande di San Marco (a) a secondary school in Piazza San Marco; (b) Venice’s main hospital; (c) a very expensive language school; (d) a cookery school run by celebrity chef Sebastiano del Piombo?
- The attempt by Bajamonte Tiepolo in 1310 to overthrow the Doge and the Great Council was foiled by: (a) the cackling of the sacred geese of San Marco; (b) the failure of some of the conspirators to find the meeting-place in the back streets; (c) an old woman dropping a stone mortar onto the leader’s head; (d) a sermon on brotherly love preached by the Patriarch?
- The first cathedral of Venice was (a) San Marco; (b) San Pietro in Castello; (c) San Zan Degola; (d) San Simeone Grande?
- This coat of arms (below) belongs to which noble Venetian family: (a) Venier; (b) Mocenigo; (c) Querini; (d) Badoer?
- Richard Wagner died in: (a) a gondola on the lagoon; (b) the Ghetto Nuovo; (c) Palazzo Vendramin Calergi; (d) Campo Santa Margherita?
- Napoleon remarked of Piazza San Marco: (a) that it was the best drawing room in Europe; (b) that it would look a lot better without the bizarre oriental church at the far end; (c) that he would take the bronze horses back to Paris; (d) that San Teodoro’s crocodile was not very realistic.
Answers: 1 (b); 2 (d); 3 (b); 4 (c); 5 (a); 6 (c); 7 (b); 8 (d); 9 (d); 10 (a); 11 (c); 12 (b); 13 (a); 14 (d); 15 (b); 16 (c); 17 (b); 18 (a); 19 (c); 20 (c).
Scores: 15–20: either you’ve been before or you’ve done your homework – come on in!!! 5–14: umm, not very impressive – consider a guided tour? Fewer than 5: stay on your sunlounger on the cruise liner – you’ll probably enjoy it more!
And for the avoidance of doubt, as we lawyers say, this is not meant to be serious …