We got snow! While I realize that our little meterological adventure was nothing compared to what the East Coast of the US has gone through, not to mention northern Europe (stories of the trains trapped under the Channel inspire a special kind of shudder), it still was enough to jolt us out of our midwinter torpor.
Even here, flights were cancelled, or delayed, and I have no doubt that stories of catastrophes on the mainland will be coming in.
But for us, the situation was more beautiful than distressing, if you don’t count our miscalculation on getting home before the acqua alta was high enough to mostly cover our feet. (Yes, we were warned: two tones on the sirens. But I didn’t take it seriously.) Sorry about my Timberland hiking boots; hope I can salvage something from the effects of salt water.
We usually get at least one severe cold snap each winter, though it seems to want to wait till just after Christmas. So this year we got it early. For the past few days it’s been at or below freezing and Saturday morning we woke to the double-whammy of snow and acqua alta.
When Lino was a lad, as soon as the flakes began to fall, men would present themselves at the central office of the Vigili (a sort of local police) to pick up a shovel and make some extra money cleaning the streets and bridges. He says you could hear them out on the street, talking, as early as 4:00 AM, waiting to get to work. Intensely intelligent and also effective and probably didn’t cost the city all that much. All good reasons why they don’t do it anymore.
Our faithful trash collectors were scarce to invisible this morning. Any tiny deviation from the norm throws the squad into total disarray. No snow shoveled, no garbage collected — I can’t believe that every sanitation worker in the city had to be in the Piazza San Marco to set up the high-water walkways. Perhaps they were all clustered in a doorway (more likely it was a warm bar somewhere) drawing straws to determine who’d be the one who had to go out and actually work.
I have some happy, if highly eccentric, memories of a real cold snap here. One winter morning a number of years ago, when the cold had come down from Siberia like the wolf on the fold, we went out rowing. Yes, of course we’re mentally unstable.
Here’s what I remember: Rowing down a canal and our oars slicing neatly (once in, once out) through the forming ice. What a fun little crunching sound it made. What wasn’t quite so fun was the wind blowing so hard that the spray from the waves froze in the bottom of the boat. I spent the entire time we were rowing back imagining that my shoes were nailed in place, because it was like standing on a skating rink. If I’d slipped just once, I’d never have gotten my footing back. I took my mind off this problem by trying to imagine if it would be possible to row on my knees.
But that was nothing. There was the famous — make that “epic” freeze of February, 1929: people were walking across the lagoon from the Fondamente Nove to San Michele. Impressive. Of course, one reason that happened (and probably could never happen again) isn’t just the factor of the degrees below zero. There wasn’t the constant maelstrom of waves back then that we have today, which would prevent any rational water from freezing. If you’ve got a really low temperature, few or no waves, plus only the tiniest tidal variation (twice a month, when the moon is exactly half, the tide scarcely moves, which would help the freezing, obviously) it’s almost inevitable that ice will form. I have to say I’m glad we didn’t reach that point. Delicate little skins of ice covering the water is one thing, but not this polar purgatory.
So on the whole, we made out really well. The snow came, and then, when the tide turned in the early afternoon, the sun came out and we were fine. Except, I mean, for the bags of garbage which will lie out there till Monday.