Nov
30

Acqua alta: business as usual

By

As you may already have noticed, the world didn’t end last night.  

First, it didn’t rain.   So much for the Deluge from Hell.   This is also a Good Thing because when there’s lots of rain it not only  irritates me, it can also  aggravate the  acqua alta — not so much because of  precipitation precipitating into the lagoon directly,  but into the streams and rivers which then, overloaded, empty into the lagoon.  

Our street as seen from across the canal at 7:45 AM.  The tide is still rising but there is still an island (shrinking) of dry pavement.

Our street as seen from across the canal at 7:45 AM. The tide is still rising but there is an island (shrinking) of dry pavement.

At 5:00 AM the sirens sounded, and I waited to count the tones.   There were three.   I enjoyed two seconds of relief, then checked myself because of the clearly demonstrated unreliability  of the forecast.   (It hasn’t rained yet.)   But where the sirens are concerned, it wouldn’t have been the first time that one message arrived, to be followed by a revision.   It’s better not to be too quick to heave those sighs of relief.

So I lay there in the dark, listening for clues to the water’s progress.   I heard someone walking by the window: Normal footsteps.   No water yet.     Before long, I heard someone else pass making plk-plk-plk noises: Water only an inch or two.   Not long after that, I began to hear sloosh-SLOOSH-sloosh-SLOOSH.   Water deep enough to require shuffling instead of stepping.   Oh well.

This is a beautiful thing to see: water that hasn't risen beyond our first step.

This is a beautiful thing to see: water that hasn't risen beyond our first step.

At 7:45 the water was still rising, which was to have been expected.    I went out  to get the newspaper.     At 8:30 it had peaked and was still well within manageable limits.   Excellent!   What would I have called this on the official warning scale?   Code Mauve?   Code Robin’s-Egg Blue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water all gone.  Now let's think about lunch.

Water all gone. Now let's think about lunch.

At 10:00 the tide was noticeably falling, and by 11:00 the streets were no longer, in Benchley’s famous phrase, full of water.  

The scirocco wind, however, has been fairly strong (they said “moderate”) all day, and is predicted  to increase to “strong” right about now.   Then we’re supposed to have a thunderstorm, then everything should return to normal.

Speaking of normal, one thing which always happens here with acqua alta is that various people put out their bags of garbage for the garbagemen to collect, even though they must know that the men are not going to be collecting because they’re all supposed to be working like crazed beavers setting up and taking down the temporary walkways.   So the bags sit there until the rising water lifts them from the pavement and eventually floats them away, out to sea.  

Floating bags of garbage: Just one of many unsung aspects of acqua alta.

Floating bags of garbage: Just one of many unsung aspects of acqua alta.

Floating bags of garbage are NOT acts of God, no matter what their owners may think.   Oh wait — the bags don’t have owners.   As soon as a bag is on public soil, it suddenly becomes mystically orphaned, anonymous, invisible.   Except to me, the maniac foreigner, who watches these plastic spheroids bobbing around and sees a big neon sign above each one flashing
“BRAIN DEAD.”

The show -- the bread, the detergent, the whatever --  must go on.  And someone must go with it.

The show -- the bread, the detergent, the whatever -- must go on. And someone must go with it.

The people out on the street were pretty much moving along with Monday morning as usual.   Shops which are likely to be awash were indeed awash; their owners were pumping them  out.   Some others, like  two different butchers,  were letting nature to take its course while they got on with business. Evidently neither snow nor  rain nor dead of night nor high water can stay these men from the  swift completion  of their appointed pork chops.

The floor is ankle-deep in brackish water and he is cleaning the plexiglass covering the case of meat.  I didn't ask.

The floor is ankle-deep in brackish water and he is cleaning the plexiglass covering the case of meat. I didn't ask.

I ran into Paolo, the bank teller, out on via Garibaldi.  

“No work today,” he told me.   “Those idiots from Bergamo [owners of the bank] didn’t listen to us when they were designing the interior.   We told them, ‘Put the electric outlets up high.’   They said, “What the hell do you guys know?’   So now all the electric outlets are under water and if we turn on the computers, everything will go poof.   All they needed to do was put the outlets higher, but nooooooo…”  

For the record, his plan for the day  wasn’t altered all that much, because I went past a few hours later when the water had begun to subside and there he was at his teller’s window, working away.   High water — unfortunately, if you really want the day off — does not last forever.

Like virtually all Venetians, he took it all in stride.  If he has time to think about the street, he clearly isn't worried about his house.

Like virtually all Venetians, he took it all in stride. If he has time to think about the street, he clearly isn't worried about his house.

Walking back to the house, I passed a man who was sweeping the water toward the canal.   I paused.   He was sweeping the pavement of a large street which was still very much under water — hence the water was not being removed, only shifted.   This required investigation.

“Dogs,” he said briskly, smiling.   “High water is really a good thing for Venice.     It doesn’t hurt anybody.   And it takes away the smell so dogs don’t go looking for someplace where another dog has ever pooped.”

I recalled having heard a similar comment from Arrigo Cipriani (of Harry’s Bar) when I interviewed him years ago.   A native Venetian, he too wasn’t especially impressed by high water.   “It’s a great way to get the streets clean,” he declared.  

Back in the old days nobody's mother would have carried any child who could walk.  Here's a woman thanking God that she stopped at having two.

Back in the old days no mother would have carried any child who could walk. Here's a woman thanking God that she stopped at having two.

“High water was a delight for us when we were kids,” Lino has told me more than once.   “But it never made any sense — we’d be in school and the teachers would say  ‘There’s high water!   Everybody go home!’   And so we’d walk home in the high water;  you can imagine what kind of state we were in  by the time we got there.   Soaking wet right up to here.”   (He indicates his collarbone.)   “What sense did that make, sending us home because there was high water?  In just another hour, the water  went down anyway.”

No boots in the old days, either.  “Boots?    Who had boots?   Boots are a newfangled thing that began  to come in after 1966.   We went home  barefoot, carrying our shoes.”

Clearly a few people can still figure out how to get where they're going without boots.

Clearly a few people can still figure out how to get where they're going without boots.

I too, may I note, have walked home barefoot in high water.   More than once.   I can’t understand people who stand there  at the water’s edge looking trapped and helpless like lemurs on a raft in the middle of the ocean.   Just take your shoes off and get going!   Besides, I can attest that the water is virtually always warm (if that helps to convince you.)   The scirocco wind is warm, and we haven’t even had a real cold snap yet.   How cold could the water be?   Get a grip, people.

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Categories : Venetian-ness, Water

Comments

  1. John Garrett says:

    Venezia, civilta anfibia.

  2. John Garrett says:

    A second thought – does anyone suppose that the increased frequency of acqua alta has anything to do with replacing the gold ring formerly used in the Ascension Day wedding of Venice with the sea with a wreath? Going back to the gold ring would cost a lot less than MOSE and doing both would only increase the total cost a tiny bit.

  3. Kent Kobersteen says:

    Great stuff, EZ — observations, words and pictures. Somehow reminds me of winter in Minnesota. The water is in a different state, but its effect, and the mentality of the people, is similar. Gimmie’ a sunny day, and horsemeat and red wine, any day!

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