CRAIG BROWN: Little squirts see off cheeky Venice gulls! 

CRAIG BROWN: Little squirts see off cheeky Venice gulls!

Ah, Venezia! It’s long been obliga-tory to coo about Venice but, over the years, a surprising number of tourists have found it disappointing

Back in 1765, the historian Edward Gibbon complained that delight soon gave way to disgust. ‘Old and in general ill-built houses, ruined pictures, and stinking ditches… and a large square decorated with the worst architecture I ever saw.’

Others have noticed the city’s peculiar capacity for dampening the spirits. 

When Lady Craven visited Venice for the first time in 1789, she expected to find it cheery, ‘but I was extremely disappointed; the houses are in the water, and look dirty and uncomfortable on the outside; the innumerable quantity of the gondolas, too, that look like swimming coffins, added to the dismal scene’.

When the travel writer Robert Byron tried swimming there in 1937 he found ‘water like hot saliva, cigar-ends floating into one’s mouth, and shoals of jellyfish’.

And now another bug-bear can be added to this long list: seagulls. 

Seagulls have been added to the list of bug-bears that people dislike about the Italian city of Venice

Seagulls have been added to the list of bug-bears that people dislike about the Italian city of Venice

Residents and tourists alike complain that the city’s gulls have grown more aggressive, swooping down to snatch pizza or ice cream from their hands. 

In one case, a gull even flew off with a tasty steak from a silver salver, the moment its lid was removed.

When a customer gets up from a table, a dozen gulls descend, snatching at the remnants of their food and knocking over glasses.

Hotel and restaurant proprietors have been mounting a rearguard action against the 500 pairs of herring gulls that inhabit the city.

Over the past few years, they have toyed with everything, from installing an acoustic system to hiring a falconer to spreading unpleasant odours imperceptible to human beings.

But none of these airy-fairy plans has proved viable. Now they are trying a more forthright, Sylvester Stallone approach.

‘We decided to act after a customer lifted a croissant to his mouth and a lurking seagull dived and snatched it from his hand,’ explains Enrico Mazzocco, manager of the Monaco & Grand Canal hotel.

In an early measure, he had started serving snacks covered by a napkin, and advised guests to put their hand under the napkin if they wanted to remove a crisp.

Now, even the smartest hotel, The Gritti Palace, where suites cost upwards of £7,000 a night, has joined Signor Mazzocco in providing guests with complimentary orange water pistols, and it seems to be working. 

The Gritti Palace, where suites cost upwards of £7,000 a night, hasbeen

The Gritti Palace, where suites cost upwards of £7,000 a night, has been providing guests with complimentary orange water pistols to fight off seagulls

The gulls dislike being squirted, and who can blame them?

Bizarrely, the gulls seem to particularly dislike the colour orange. 

Who would have thought they would be so fastidious? 

I happen to be a great fan of orange, but, then again, I’m not a seagull.

Perhaps they have been seeing too much of Donald Trump these past few years. 

Or do they associate orange with U.S. prison overalls, and does this act as a deterrent?

At any rate, they seem to recoil from the sight of it.

‘As soon as they see the water pistols, the gulls fly away,’ says Paolo Lorenzoni, the hotel’s director. 

‘Sometimes you don’t even have to use them. It’s enough to leave them on the table.’

Orange water pistols seem to scare away the nightmarish birds the best, although this red one will also do the trick

Orange water pistols seem to scare away the nightmarish birds the best, although this red one will also do the trick

Something makes me think these water-pistols will not deter them for very long. 

A while ago, the management installed a fake owl to deter the gulls, but they perched on top of it: the gulls, that is, not the management.

Herring gulls are quick learners, passing on any new-found knowledge from one generation to the next.

In his great masterpiece, Birds And People, Mark Cocker includes testimony from a holidaymaker who watched a herring gull swoop down and steal a piece of fried chicken off a plate so fast that the diner didn’t notice it happening.

A local then pointed the holidaymaker towards a row of juvenile herring gulls hanging out on the roof of a shed opposite.

These canny novices had been watching the proceedings with beady eyes. 

‘That’s how they learn the technique,’ he explained.

This leads me to suspect that they will soon get the hang of the orange water pistols. 

By the end of this summer, the gulls will have learnt to swoop down and grab them with their beaks.

Then they will all line up with their stolen weaponry on a nearby roof and squirt the hapless diners, adding yet another complaint to Venice’s long litany of woes.

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