We spent a few days in Venice last week. In outer aspect it really hasn’t changed much since I first went there thirty years ago – because it can’t. Its skin – the buildings, the canals – cannot be removed. But the contents have changed immensely. Gone are most of the shops and bars that once serviced the local community. In their place are endless restaurants and boutiques and glass shops and carnival mask shops. One basic statistic says it all: there are 60,000 Venetians, but Venice receives about 20 million visitors every year. The result, increasingly, is an economy geared to a single objective; fleecing the tourists. As we wandered the crowded streets on our last day with a permanently sad Venetian friend, he told us how the city has entered into an entirely logical spiral of dependence and exploitation. To give one example, a ticket to enter the Doge’s Palace will set you back 18 euros, whether you are a child or an adult. The reason, ostensibly, is that this ticket gives you entrance to five museums, but there is no ticket for entrance only to the Palace. Even a trip up the Campanile is a major expense, especially in famiglia. Everywhere there is a sense of mammon, symbolised for me by the vast advertising hoardings erected (supposedly during restoration work) on churches, on parts of San Marco and even around the Bridge of Sighs. Meanwhile, on Murano, the city’s only remaining industry – glass – is on its knees, brought low by efficient competition from elsewhere (already, it is alleged, most of the glass in Venice’s shops does not come from Venice) and its own complacency, some say. Travel writer Jan Morris recently penned an affectionate tribute to la serenissima and she is of course right. Venice is unique, is still atmospheric, is still romantic (I overheard a French tourist tell his three infant daughters ‘you will come back here when you are in love’) and is still very, very beautiful but, my goodness, she’s certainly not cheap.