No, we don’t have bikini-clad babes rocking in-line skates zooming up and down via Garibaldi — yet — but one evening a while back we definitely had the beach.
Strolling up the street, we noticed an animated group forming. It was composed of people of various sizes and they were looking at something, and talking to each other about it, and looking some more.
A pool of water was forming at the juncture between two stretches of pavement, stretches which were not on the same plane, hence the pool. And we could see water flowing toward the pool from an undiscernible source.
That’s a fancy way of saying: What? Where?
The “what” is a trick question — it was obviously a burst water pipe. But the “where” was beginning to concern everybody.
And there was also the “who,” as in: Who’s going to come find the lair of this rampaging beast and vanquish it?
There wasn’t any “why?,” though. Considering that most of Venice is held together with flour paste and baling wire, bits of the city breaking, separating, subsiding, or otherwise deteriorating does not, in itself, inspire surprise. So the fact that a pipe had burst appeared to arouse reactions no more urgent than “Gosh, wouldja look at that,” or “It could have been worse.” Why does that thought never comfort me?
So: A city falling to bits and water passing through pipes. So far, so not-worthy-of-wonder. Water would be the easiest thing to imagine issuing from a water pipe.
What surprised me was the sand. Unlike the Lido, most of Venice isn’t built on sand dunes. It’s built on mud, clay, or other forms of soil not containing a high percentage of silica.
But the silica is here now, because — as a fireman friend explained it to me — as pipes were laid over time, snaking around under those tough trachyte paving stones, the workers noted that the softer the soil, the easier it was to open up the street and work on the pipes, as needed. So over time the soil they replaced when the work was finished was more friable, more granular, just generally softer.
This is the main reason why the paving stones are now so apt to subside, especially near the fondamentas where the pounding of the waves caused by thousands of motorboats a day (not made up) pulls this now more fragile material out from under the stones and out to sea.
Help came in a relatively short time, the break was located, the water ceased to flow, the sand no longer swam out from the underworld into the light — artificial,true, but light just the same. Next day, the traces were hardly noticeable.
But now I know there’s all that sand just under the stones, more than I had suspected. This doesn’t bode well for anybody, except for babes in bikinis. And the maintenance men, naturally, for whose sakes Venice is now even more fragile than before.