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Field Trip

Field Research: Arsenale Derive

One of the derives that we conducted whilst in Venice was one that required us to explore the Arsenale area of Venice which is located on the Northern side of Venice, situated within the Castello district. By this point we had already explored a vast part of Venice, but we had yet to venture to the coast of Venice and the Arsenale was perhaps the furthest we could get from the centre of Venice and the carnival.

The concept of the derive was implemented into this project as it was the perfect method to use in our field research so that we could adopt a non-touristic approach to our research project and field research. The concept of the derive stems from the work of Guy Debord and the Situationists.

The derive could be defined as “the technique of locomotion without a goal” (2011) and the term ‘derive’ defines a process of ‘drifting’. Therefore, by ‘drifting’ throughout Venice, this allowed us venture to parts of Venice that typically regular tourists would not visit. By attempting to avoid the key tourist attractions such as St Marc’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, it allowed us to experience Venice in a completely different way to people that were visiting Venice specifically for the Carnival.

Supporting our justification for conducting several derives whilst in Venice is supported by the work of social researcher Sadie Plant (2011) who stated that “such areas of psycho geographical research were seen as the ground of a new realm of experiment with the possibilities of everyday experience” (2011) The way in which this supports our justification is that by conducting a derive, it gave us a new experience of Venice, something which we would not be able to experience if we had conformed to a generic tourist approach. In order to unearth new surroundings and ideologies of Venice with regards to the Carnevale Venezia, we needed to implement a strategy into our field research that would allow us to do this, which is what a derive granted us.

We began the derive from the entrance to the Arsenale and immediately you could tell the difference between this landmark and other landmarks that we had already seen in Venice. The Arsenale was deserted apart from ourselves and a few other people. There were signs around the entrance that stated ‘Restricted Access’ and you could see Military officers circling the perimeters of the Arsenale either by boat or on foot. This area didn’t feel welcoming and you got the feeling that outsiders were not really welcomed in this area and due to the lack of people in this area, you felt isolated and also quite intimidated by the presence of the military officers. It also gave the impression that this wasn’t really a tourist attraction and that unless you needed to visit this area, you wouldn’t. A variety of factors could contribute to this, one factor being the distance. To get from the train station to the Arsenale, it took roughly forty five minutes if you went directly through Venice; I feel if we had taken a different route it may have taken longer. Also, where the Arsenale is situated is problematic. It is located on the northern coast of Italy which means that ‘tourists’ are not likely to make it past the eye-catching surroundings of the Rialto Bridge of the San Marco Piazza.

Moving on from the Arsenale, we proceeded through the Castello district and were surprised by what we found. As we made our way through the streets and alleyways we noticed a change in atmosphere. It was a lot more relaxed and welcoming; the residents actually seemed like they lived in this part of Venice where as other areas seemed to be heavily populated by tourists. The shops that were in this area were a lot more original and practical; the shops that we saw included appliance shops and food stores, shops that provided essential items for the people that lived in this area. This was in contrast to other shops that we had seen throughout the rest of Venice, such as souvenir stores, market stalls, restaurants and people selling pirate goods. These kinds of shops were definitely more inclined towards tourists, where as the shops in the Castello area was there for necessities rather than commodities.

One main thought that we had upon reflection was that this area was a lot less commercialised than the rest of Venice. Given that the Carnival of Venice was taking place at the time, if this was the only area of Venice that you were visiting, you would not have known that the Carnival was happening as there was no indication of this. There were no souvenir shops or mask shops like in the rest of Venice and there we no individuals dressed up for the carnival. If anything, the Castello area seemed completely detached from the events that were happening. The people in this area were also a lot friendlier and were willing to help when we had lost our way, something which we were not really accustomed to yet.

After a while we finally reached the Fondementa Nuove, we were quite surprised at how breathtaking the scenery was. Across the river was some beautiful architecture surrounded by greenery, but we later found out that it was in fact a cemetery and we found our earlier statement quite ironic given that death is typically associated to be grim and sad. By far, the cemetery was one of the most break taking constructions that we had seen within Venice.

After reaching our destination, we then decided to follow our own instincts and direct ourselves to the train station from where we were. Although hesitant, we did manage to navigate our way successfully to the train station and we got to see more of the Castello district. However, it wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the more commercialised streets of Venice the closer we got to the train station. It proved inescapable – you could not escape just how commercialised Venice has become; it appeared magnified. When we were within a few mile radius from the station we were greeted with United Colours of Benetton and Lush, two high street stores that are popular in the UK and, quite clearly, in Europe, also.

If anything, this derives allowed us to see very different perceptions of Venice; one perception being that it is a heavily commercialised tourist destination. But conducting this derive provided the perfect platform to consolidate what we had seen so far and allowed us to draw some conclusions from the field research as well as the academic and literature research that had been ongoing prior to the field trip.

References:
http://www.geog.leeds.ac.uk/people/a.evans/psychogeog.html (2012, 14th March)

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