The water never stops


This photograph was not made in black and white.  That’s the way it looks when water comes to Venice not from below, but from all around.  I would hazard to say that this winter we’ve had more days and nights of fog than we have of acqua alta.  I’m not going to check the records, but that’s my impression.

Do you know how to say “lots of water” in Venetian?  Even though we live at street level, at our house it isn’t “acqua alta.”  It isn’t even really “motondoso.”  It’s “Happy New Year.”

For some reason, water events seem to prefer holiday periods.  Not just in our little hovel, but in Venice in general.

Example:  Some  years ago, when we were living in a rental hovel on the other side of Venice, our New Year’s Eve afternoon was enlivened suddenly by the sound of running water.  As we were one floor up from the ground, it wasn’t the rushing of high tide.  A quick stupefied glance revealed that it was the rushing of water from the bathroom of the tenant just above us.  Water coming down the wall and forming a pond.  Happily, it was clean water.  Unhappily, it was bringing part of his floor/our ceiling with it.

We were able to call our landlady (this was in the epoch before cell phones, so it was a certifiable miracle that she was at home, and answered the call.  I say this because if you were a landlady and your phone rang on New Year’s Eve, would you answer it?).

She came, she looked, she called some mysterious shadow-dwelling plumber she undoubtedly paid sotto banco, as we say here (small, unmarked bills….), because a plumber with all his papers in order and tax receipts arranged by date would have been unreachable till Epiphany.

He stopped the flow.  That’s really all that matters to our story.  The rest of the work got done in a scheduled sort of way, and I made the most of the chaos and dirt to sand the kitchen walls and repaint.  Tiny apartments are so annoying, until you have work to do. Then you’re really glad that you have so little space.

Years pass, and we’re in our new hovel.  I think it was the day before New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago when Lino remarked, “Do you hear a noise in the kitchen?”  (Why is it always the kitchen?  Maybe we should wall it off and cook outside, like nomads.)

Behind the tiled wall under the sink, there was indeed a liquid sound, the sort of sound that is so soothing when you have it on your white-noise machine.  In ErlaWorld, it’s a sound soon to be followed by hammering and cracking.  We found a plumber by urgently appealing to the man at the Bottegon, our mega-hardware-and-everything-else-except-jars-of-buckwheat-honey store.  My “urgent appeal” look must be something like the eyes-getting-larger-and-more-pathetic of Puss in Boots in the Shrek movies.  Added to which gaze would be desperation and a tinge of threat.

Yes, there was indeed a porous pipe behind the wall, joyously leaking water out of the conduit and onto our water bill that month.  The plumber fixed it.  He didn’t fix the hole in the wall, though.  It’s still there, as are a couple of the tiles. He had to get home for the rest of his holiday and we had no intention of paying a plasterer to make it all perfect again. Besides — what if we needed to get at that pipe again?

This year’s event didn’t involve water that you could fill a glass with, but water there was. Our refrigerator door came off, so the warming machine gently released liquid from here and there. No, the door didn’t come off just like that; it had been giving every sign of imminent prostration for months.  If it had been a mule, we’d have just kept hitting it on its rump and yelling.  As of New Year’s Day, no more rump, no more yelling.

So the day after New Year’s we went to buy a new consumer durable.  If we didn’t have all that fish frozen, I’d have suggested we experiment with living without a fridge, at least till summer.  (Lino would certainly have considered that an americanata).

Consumer durables after Christmas usually mean plasma TVs and other glamorous frippery. We’re just as happy with our new appliance. It was delivered this morning, and we’ve washed it and re-stocked it, and its own mother couldn’t be more proud of it than we are.

If Jean Dujardin were coming to lunch, I’d really try to do something about this hideosity. As is it, till a solution is found, there’s no point in applying paint that’s just going to fall off again.

But there’s more, and it doesn’t involve New Year, as in the holiday, but the New Year, as in 2013, I fear.

The latest low-grade chronic water event to moisten our lives is a blocked tube or pipe passing from somewhere upstairs (there are two storeys above us) down into the ground by our front door. This tube, like many tubes in Venice, is concealed in the wall, which makes dealing with it unpleasantly inconvenient.

But we know it’s there because its oozing dampness is deteriorating the wall indoors, and outdoors as well.  I’d be willing to overlook the humidity outside, but what we see inside isn’t good.

The retired builder living on the top floor came to look at it, and deepened his investigation by knocking open a hole.  This was intended to release the humidity (otherwise known as solving the problem).  He wanted very much not to have to theorize that the water might be blocked at his level. However, Lino went up to see his apartment, and says there are more humidity-releasing holes in his walls than the perforations in the proverbial Swiss cheese.

Rising damp in Venice is implacable, and capillary action here evidently is constrained by no force we know of.  We can see it in the bathroom wall, if you’d like to know. If there were a building in Venice that went as high as the exosphere, there would still be dampness in its walls making those ugly blister bubbles.

I appreciate that the man upstairs didn’t really want to go so far as to discover the location of the blockage, in case it should turn out to be on his floor.  So he left the hole to do its dehydration work (or not), and now he gives us fresh fish occasionally when he comes back from a session out in the lagoon.  I interpret this as hush money to prevent us from pursuing the subject.  So far, it has worked very well.  The wall just stays as it is, and we eat the fish.  I guess this will be fine till the wall falls down.

I look inside this hole and it’s like looking into a dissected frog. I have no clue as to what’s going on here or how it’s supposed to work. If anybody can enlighten me, don’t hold back.

Seeing how catastrophes prefer holidays, I figure that whatever is likely to happen next won’t be before next New Year’s Eve.  I suppose we could take the Situation in Hand and apply ourselves seriously to Finding a Solution, but everything here is just too much trouble. Or expensive.  Or both.

The mark of internal humidity is uncomfortably clear outside the front door. But you get into a frame of mind that interprets “Not getting worse” as “Everything’s okay.”

This, in a microcosm, is one explanation of the picturesque degradation that makes Venetian houses and streets so charming to everybody but their tenants.  Small problems don’t get fixed in order to prevent their becoming large problems because if you’re going to have to be hugely inconvenienced and impoverished by the expense of repairs, you might as well wait till it’s utterly unavoidable.

Water from below doesn’t afflict only the humble residents. The city got a direct shot of it just a few days ago when a water pipe busted under the Riva degli Schiavoni.  In minutes a sort of vortex had deranged an area of pavement between the Danieli Hotel and the Londra Palace.  And the residents of those, and nearby lodgings, found themselves without water.

There is something a little droll about living in the middle of water and not having any when you need it (of course it’s not the same water — I merely jest).  And I suppose I’m sorry that people spending hundreds of euros a night should not be able to turn the tap and brush their teeth, or whatever.  A quick-witted person prone to philosophy might have said, “This is great!  It’s just the old days, when doges roamed the earth and people got their water in buckets from wells.”  But probably nobody said that.

We experienced a brief period of low water pressure, that was all, and the water wallahs installed a shunt in record time.  One has to be reasonable; that particular pipe was 130 years old, like a number of pipes still slaving away under the paving stones.  Eventually, like our fridge, it just couldn’t do it anymore.

We went for a walk toward San Marco the morning after.  “Well,” said Lino; “let’s go see where they struck oil.”

Too bad it was only water and not black gold that burst through the street here. Maybe then the city would stop saying it has no money.

I agree that a water event of this nature doesn’t have the glamour of acqua alta, but it’s got a lot of extra negative aspects to it. At least when there’s acqua alta you can still brush your teeth.




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Categories : Venetian Problems


  1. Andrew says:

    I wonder if there is still any potable water at the bottom of the pozzi? Has anyone ever tried to find out?

  2. Debi says:

    what, no pics of the new fridge?? 😉 You are changing my mind about living in Venice….Does mold grow in the holes in the wall??

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      It should, now that you mention it. But no. So far, at least, we’ve been spared mold in the holes. But mold grows — or can grow, if you don’t pay attention — in plenty of other places. As for providing a picture of the new fridge, I decided against it because its mystic, unearthly gleam doesn’t show up on photos and otherwise it looks just like any other mortal appliance.