Maybe so—more telling than mere population figures is the sobering fact that the average age of Venetian citizens today is almost 50—but Venice has a life beneath the surface: It is a secret city, a cult city, a fraternity of gondoliers, porters, concierges, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, all with their codes, their secrets, their real lives, all but impenetrable to outsiders. (The gondoliers, for instance, repeat the legend that scions of their dynasty—for it is that, a sinecure passed from father to son—are born with webbed feet, like geese, so that they can walk on water.) Part of the secret is the faintly lisping, vocally l-less Venetian dialect, probably nearly as intelligible to a visiting Catalan as to a Milanese (or Berlitz-trained American). Even the streets have their own language, Spanish-inflected and evocative: A calle, as in Spain, is a street; a rio (Spanish for river) is a canal, and a rio terra is a canal filled in and turned into a little street. A fondamenta or a (usually broader) riva is a street that runs alongside a canal. As elsewhere in Italy, a campo is a small square—but so, sometimes, is a piscina. (Venice has only one piazza, that of San Marco.) A corte is a courtyard, and a sotoportego or sotoportico is a covered passageway. A ruga—from the French word for street, rue—is (or was originally) a commercial street.