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Aug
27

“Besieged”: tourism update

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I know it might seem that this subject just won’t go away, even if, as Mark Twain said about something else,  you take a stick and hit it on the snout.   But as it’s one of the central subjects of existence here, there is no escape.

I was interested to see the headline in the Gazzettino two days ago, “Venice doesn’t know how to keep its tourists.”   This is intriguing, considering that much of the criticism hurled at tourism here seems to have to do with wanting the tourists to go away.

Just in case, though, that my recent disquisition on tourism might have seemed like the lonely ravings of  a solitary  misfit,  a recent study by the Confindustria Venezia, a business  consortium,  which looked at Venice, Rome and Florence,  has shown not only the brevity of the average stay (2.47 nights), but that tourists rarely return to Venice.   And they say outright that, as I mentioned the other day,  the city lacks a tourism strategy.

“The central point,” said Elisabetta Fogarin, president of Confindustria Venezia Turismo, “is that Venice needs a policy of Destination Management.   It needs to be relaunched at the international level, to make it an icon and a  glamour destination again, where the visitor and traveler can live an experience that can’t be repeated somewhere else.”

Glamour is the grail of tourism here, the notion that quality can be made to replace quantity in the economic equation.   I’d suggest that this dream is something like wanting all trains to be like the Orient Express, including the Venice-Pordenone local.   Which I would totally endorse, except that there are too many people who just need to get home from work to make that even imaginable.

The statistic of 2.47 nights here is, according to the study,  a sign that Venice is drastically under-realizing its potential; in any case, it’s not indicative of “culture tourism” (for which one needs more time, clearly.   Anybody who has entered the Uffizi Galleryin Florence with the intention of seeing it all knows that about five months is probably  a more reasonable time frame for visiting some cultural  monuments here.)   And 2.47 nights is just another way of saying “not quality tourists.”     Bearing in mind that to reach an average, you must have many people who are staying less time (and at least some who are staying longer, true.)   But mostly tourists just hit and run.

img_2361-venice-out-and-in-compI think somebody has already recognized this and decided to play to Venice’s currently somewhat battered image.   A new campaign promoting the city’s museums shows two scenes: One is a detail of the huddled masses in the Piazza San Marco, next to a shot of the magnificent Scala d’Oro in the Doge’s Palace, a ceremonial staircase dwarfing two lorn humans.   The slogan in Italian translates as, “If you stay outside, you can’t say you’ve seen Venice.”    Which I like better than the way they translated it, snappy as it may be.

So to really see Venice, you have to get away from Venice?   Well, I guess that’s as good an approach to crowd management as another.   It just seems  slightly regrettable that instead of promoting this monument for the wonder of the world that  it is, this angle is  more like “Want to get away from all those uncouth boors outside?   Flee into our gorgeous past, which is deserted,” which actually sounds pretty good unless you know that this means you’re going to have to pay 13 euros ($18)  to walk through endless non-air-conditioned rooms and look at a million paintings that all look alike.   Or so it might seem if your primary motivation for entering was merely because it isn’t Out There.

I happen to worship the Doge’s Palace and consider it a given that if you don’t spend several hours here, you can’t have the tiniest notion of the greatness, brilliance  and sheer power of the Venetian Republic.   Without which, your visit to Venice is just a pointless trek through a flyblown postcard.

It’s just too bad to tell people they should see the museums because there aren’t any of those awful tourists there.   But I guess if you have no tourism strategy, you’ll try all kinds of things.

Categories : Problems, Tourism
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Most of the journalism about Venice, either print or TV, points out tourism as Venice’s main defining characteristic, which is about as simple a discovery to make as that  water fills the canals.      Apparently the  appeal is eternal to the average journalist and editor looking for a story which is immediately sensational and not at all hard to do.   A story on tourism here practically writes and photographs itself.

In doing so  the reporters  universally bewail it, to one degree or another, in the same way one would bewail any uncontrollable  natural disaster such as grasshopper swarms, tornadoes, avalanches.   You’d almost think that  tourists come to Venice deliberately  to wreak havoc on an innocent, helpless, unsuspecting, undeserving  victim.   The lines in these stories are usually pretty clear: City Good, Tourist Bad.

Pictures of mass tourism at its most intense are the easiest images in the world to take, the journalistic equivalent of  hitting the bull’s-eye from one foot away.  Anybody can do it — I’ve done it myself.   You don’t even have to open your eyes to take impressive pictures of the worst aspects of mass tourism.   In fact it’s probably better if you don’t.

But there is much more to the situation than the simple outlines sketched by the just-passing-through journalists.  

Catching some rays at the entrance to the church of San Zaccaria.

Catching some rays at the entrance to the church of San Zaccaria.

I am not defending the behavior of large segments of the mass tourist population.   These are generically labeled  “turisti da culo,” which literally means ass-tourists, but generally conveys a wide range of rude, thoughtless, generally sub-civilized behavior.   There is never any lack of examples, especially in the summer.   This race of tourist is horrifying, demoralizing, offensive, depressing.   I could tell you stories.   And yes, of course there are too many of them.

 

 

 

A bridge, the narrower the better, is always a useful place to have lunch.

A bridge, the narrower the better, is always a useful place to have lunch.

But I want to pause for a moment in mid-cliche’ to regard the situation from two important points of view which are rarely addressed as everyone is busy wailing and gnashing their teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you bivouac the troops wherever you find a space.

And you bivouac the troops wherever you find a space.

First, the  city officials who have been assigned the role of City Councilor for Tourism over the years are politicians.   They are not trained in the industry of tourism, an industry as demanding and complex  as making steel or developing drugs.   Further, it is the nature of the  political breed to be cautious and easily swayed by conflicting demands, which makes planning, and then executing any plan, hugely difficult.   And unappealing.   Politicians on the whole tend to avoid “difficult” and “unappealing.”   So a lot of tiny,  disconnected   actions are undertaken to minimize, if not solve, whatever is  the most pressing problem of the moment.  

The current Councilor for Tourism, a native Venetian lawyer named Augusto Salvadori, is famous for  his impassioned oratory on behalf of his beloved city, the need to protect her and defend her and nourish and cherish her.   It’s like the wedding vow.   He is often on the verge of weeping before he finishes.   People have come to expect it.

But he has no program, he has only little temporary fixettes.   My favorite was the recent day to promote Decorum (yes, that’s the word they use for clean, tidy and polite), one of  whose more publicized aspects was that the city offered to donate geraniums to anybody who wanted them, in order to brighten up the windowsills.   If he had thought of donating  the same number of large trash bins to be distributed far and wide to mitigate the incessant leaving of garbage on said windowsills because no alternative is to be found, the city wouldn’t need flowers in order to look better.   You can walk from the vaporetto stop at San Pietro di Castello as far as the  Bridge of the Veneta Marina (a straight shot of about 20 minutes, if you dawdle) without finding one (1) trash bin of any size whatsoever.  

Speaking of decorum, this little midden is two steps from City Hall.  It's been here so long that cobwebs have begun to cover it.

Speaking of decorum, this little midden is two steps from City Hall. It's been here so long that cobwebs have begun to cover it.

There aren’t many people who are willing to walk around town indefinitely with their empty soda can, beer bottle, or plastic ice-cream cup in their hand, searching for a place to dispose of it.  

So: Point One is that the persons in charge of tourism here are unprepared for anything other than Making Suggestions.   Which isn’t the same as Having Ideas.  

Tourism is Venice’s only source of income.   Yet it is inexplicably and profoundly — even stubbornly — even proudly, it sometimes seems  —  mishandled.   The individuals charged with managing this important, complicated, potentially destructive resource could be compared to a person hired as director of a mercury mine whose previous job had been, say, as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

“We need some truly visionary people,” professor Fabio Carrera told me the other evening.   “There’s no long-range thinking.   It’s very short-range.”   A few months ago there was tremendous blowing of trumpets and waving of banners to publicize “VeniceConnected,” the next big step in tourism management here: One-stop  online booking.   Carrera snorts.   “All these ideas that were good maybe five years ago, like VeniceConnected online.   We should be doing ten times better in the future.   But they think ‘We’re innovating’ by doing this crap.”

The fact that there is chaos at the top naturally leads to chaos all the way down to the poor bastard trying to find a place   in the shade to have some kind of  lunch that won’t cost a fortune.   Bathrooms — can’t find them.    Open late, close early.    Vaporettos — confusing.   Signage — random and often homemade.   img_1794-homemade-sign-compStreet vendors — insistent and vaguely disturbing.   Which leads to Point Two.

Point Two: Nobody ever takes the trouble to report on what is demanded of  a tourist here.   I see it every day and even as it repels me it also inspires something like pity.   It must be the vacation equivalent of the Ranger Assessment Phase at Fort Benning, especially if you’ve got kids.   I once stopped to help a family of three standing at the foot of a bridge with their eight suitcases (I counted them), unable to figure out where they were, much less how to get to their hotel.   They had been standing there for a while.  

Visiting Venice in the summer will almost certainly be hot, tiring, baffling, occasionally even upsetting, and it can cost far too much.   A one-ride ticket on the vaporetto costing 6.50 euros ($9) is far too much.   Two euros ($2.80)  for a half-liter (two cups) bottle of water is far too much.    Disposing  of the  result of the water you drank, if you avail yourself of one of the  few but very clean  municipal bathrooms costs   1.50 euros ($2), which is far too much.   But cheaper than the  original bottle of water, true.  

I am  not defending or excusing the type of tourist of which one sees way too many here: Oblivious, rude, loud, and often, yes, ugly.   The garb, the behavior, the everything is impossible to defend.   When people leave home, many evidently leave their manners at the kennel with the dog.   (The fact that there can also be rude, loud, ugly Venetians is noted by the court, but doesn’t have any bearing on this case.)   But to be a tourist here, enchanting as the city is, must  be debilitating.    

Still,  that doesn’t explain why they have to shuffle around the narrow streets like wounded water buffalo, stopping with no warning and blocking your passage, or to ride the vaporetto with 60-pound packs on their backs, nonchalantly laying waste to everyone around them as they turn this way and that, admiring the view.  

So let’s sum up the situation:  The city puts up with aggravations and discourtesies and even damage, large and  small, all day, every day, and also at night, but it  gets money.   And the tourist struggles around a bewildering, overloaded bunch of Baroque/Renaissance/Veneto-Byzantine-laden islands, but gets lots of pictures of canals and belltowers.

I don’t know.   Something is definitely missing from these equations.

Categories : Problems, Tourism
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Nov
26

bring on the laurels

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Let’s see…1,124 graduates were allowed at least two people (let’s say their parents) — that means 3,372 people in the Guests enclosure. There was still room outside the barriers for plenty of unofficially invited friends, relatives, and the curious to mill around, which was pleasant until the sun began to go down. Then a chilly breeze began to make the event feel more like waiting for an overdue bus in Buffalo.

Two wonderful young women who have rowed with us over the past three years (when their studies would permit) graduated from Ca’ Foscari, the University of Venice, last Friday: The middle of the Piazza San Marco was awash in diplomas, theirs along with 1,122 other exuberant “doctors” of whatever their subject was.

This was the 20th year that a mass graduation ceremony has been held here for students from Venice and Treviso.  The typical procedure, as we have seen in the case of some other friends, is that the candidate confronts a panel of professors and is interrogated on the subject of their thesis, nerve-wracking for the candidate and just wracking for the friends and family sitting behind him/her because there are no microphones.  It’s like watching a closed-circuit television with the sound off, except you’re right there.

But for whatever administrative reason there may be, the November group was rounded up and given the graduation ceremony all’ americana, complete with mortarboards crowning their heads (though some received their more traditional laurel wreath afterwards).  Clearly one reason why it was held in the piazza was because there isn’t anywhere else, except maybe the soccer stadium, that would hold three thousand people.

Anyone getting their degree is said to have received their laurea (LAOW-rey-ah).  Or, as Toto’, the immortal Neapolitan comic, earnestly termed it in a film, their laura (LOW-ra), which cracks me up because that’s just Laura.

Apart from the amazing setting, the experience was Classic Graduation: There was confusion, emotion, and the boilerplate commencement address(es) focusing on their future and the need to continue to nurture their dreams and not to ever let the world beat them down.  “Yours is not a point of arrival, but of departure,” said Paola Mar, councilor for Tourism representing the city administration.  “Be passionately curious and ask yourselves every day the ‘why’ of things.  Curiosity can guide you into new paths.”  There was praise for their perseverance and their talents and collective hopes for whatever comes next in their lives.  I have no idea how a graduation can be considered official without the majestic soundtrack of “Pomp and Circumstance,” or at least the Triumphal March from Aida, but graduate they did.

I have no pictures of our friends together because I never saw them, being on the outside of the sacred enclosure where parents and close relatives were huddled, shivering as the sun slid behind the Ala Napoleonica.  Everyone was listening to the names as they were called — the list was so long that the university divided it into half at the letter “M,” and called out the names in pairs.  Happily for me, Marta and Camilla’s last names begin with “C” and “D,” so I went home (by now I was shivering too) as soon as I heard them called.  I missed seeing the jubilant thousand fling their mortarboards into the air, so no photo of the peak moment.  I’m happy enough just to be warm and imagine it.

The entrance for guests was on the east side of the Piazza, facing the basilica of San Marco.  The sun and anticipation made everybody happy.

Security was definitely checking tickets at the entrance. No “I’m with the band” dodges here.

Speaking of security, there was a certain amount around.

Family festivizing at the Caffe Lavena.

And there was plenty of this, of course.

The crush and confusion was even greater on the “Entrance Students” side, because each graduate seemed to come with an entourage of friends and admirers.

But why so many in black? Isn’t this supposed to be a happy occasion?

Though black was clearly not always to be taken seriously. I think.

Not black at all! Who is this free spirit who has burst his way into the spectrum?

And this personage in a suit and tie. This ensemble is shocking in its perfection, not to mention originality. I hope he wasn’t being ironic.

Bouquets were everywhere.

I’d consider going back to school if this guy would bring me a bouquet.

I could have dedicated this entire post to bouquets, now that I think of it.

One family said it with balloons. As each name was announced there would be scattered bursts of cheers from the reaches of the piazza, like little fireworks of happiness.

As the names dragged on, and the air got cooler and people got more tired, the edges of the piazza began to take on a “Just get it over with” atmosphere.

Still, if you were to need two official witnesses, who better than the Venetian Republic represented as Justice, and the archangel Gabriel covered with gold leaf?  They’ve got your back, graduates, at least for today.

 

Categories : Events
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A few times each year, the subject of motondoso leaps into the headlines.  I wrote about some of this phenomenon a good while ago.  While I wait for more pressing news to emerge, I will add this post to the general fund of knowledge.  Don’t be looking for a happy ending.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have nowhere to run so they just keep banging into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have no room to disperse so they just keep slamming into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

  • Studies by the Venice Project Center have shown several facts in crisp detail.
    1. The height of the waves increases exponentially as speed increases. A small barge traveling at 5 km/h would produce a wake about 2 cm high. The same boat going at 10 km/h produces a wake of nearly 15 cm. (Multiply the speed by 2, multiply the wake by 7.)
    2. Virtually all boats exceed the speed limit. The average speed on all boats in all canals was 12 km/h, which is more than 7 km/h over the maximum speed limit.
    3. Therefore, reducing the speed of the boats would drastically decrease the size of their wakes.

    The area available for waves to dissipate. This is a crucial factor because all these hydrodynamic formulas wouldn’t have to matter except for those pesky canals, whose walls trap the waves.

    The waves travel till they hit a wall, then bounce back, then hit the other wall, and this continues till they wear themselves out and disappear. Depending on how much traffic passes in the canal in question, they might disappear sometime around midnight. Typically, enough boats a day(and it doesn’t have to be thousands) pass through so many canals making so many waves that they don’t have time to dissipate, so they just keep going, banging back and forth into each other and into each side of the canal. each time giving just another little hammer-blow to whatever building they reach. That probably didn’t need to be explained. The depth of the water also influences the waves in certain ways, but of course the depth varies according to the tide, so let’s move on.

Who suffers?

Building foundations. This is obvious. Some Venetians have told me that they believe nothing will be done to resolve this situation till an entire building collapses. Stay tuned.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left. The Consorzio Venezia Nuova is laboring mightily (and undoubtedly at great cost) to rebuild a number of barene, but the prospects for their survival is not encouraging as motor traffic continues to increase. But wait — they will surround them with barriers. Several different types have been tried with little success, but if they keep trying they’ll come up with something.

  • The lagoon, more specifically the barene and everything that depends on them. I will say more on this on my page about the lagoon, but briefly, the barene (bah-RAY-neh) are the marshy, squidgy islets strewn about the lagoon.
    They form 20 percent of the lagoon area, and their benefit is to the entire lagoon ecosystem: microorganisms, plants, animals, birds, fish. For millennia they also slowed down the speed and force of the tide, but as the waves continue to obliterate them (50 percent of the barene have been lopped away by waves in 60 years), their benefits are denied to everyone. So it’s not only the foundations of buildings which are under attack, so are the foundations of the lagoon.

People. Waves are a hazard to ordinary people in several ways. The most obvious is the risk of capsizing.  Even on land, you can’t be sure you’re safe. The insidious subterranean erosion caused by the waves continually sucking soil out from under pavements means that sometimes a person suddenly falls into a hole. It happened to a woman walking along near the Giardini one day — she put her foot on a stone, it collapsed, she fell into a hole higher than she was. Nobody in the neighborhood was surprised; they’d been sending complaints to the city to no avail. Then there was the child playing on a stretch of greensward at Sacca Fisola facing the Giudecca Canal who suddenly fell into an unsuspected weak spot in the ground. If a man with quick reflexes hadn’t grabbed him, the child would have long since gone out to sea.

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

The Venetians have a saying: “Water has no bones.” This means that water can go anywhere it wants to. They should know — Venice has a long history of brilliant hydraulic engineering, up to and including cutting the river Po to re-route it southward, thus preventing the eventual silting-up of the lagoon. If they hadn’t done this in 1604, Venice would have long since been surrounded by cornfields. Or more probably by the world’s biggest parking lot. This knowledge and sense of self-preservation now exists only in a vastly sub-divided and disconnected form which only serves one tiny, specific purpose, usually unrelated to any larger context.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can't even put up a fight.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can’t even put up a fight.

Who’s responsible?

Division of jurisdiction. The term “battle against motondoso” is now a cliche. But exactly who is conducting this battle? By now there is “an exuberance,” as the Italians might put it, of agencies and organizations involved in some way in managing the lagoon. The Magistrato alle Acque was established in 1501 to resolve administrative conflicts and simplify redundancies. Now it’s just one more in the herd. The lagoon is divided into areas overseen by agencies representing a large array of sometimes incompatible interests, charged with enforcing laws which sometimes contradict each other. The waters lapping at Venice’s feet are subdivided according to their primary use: shipping channels, small internal canals, approaches, which are variously overseen by the Capitaneria di Porto, the Magistrato alle Acque, the city of Venice and/or the province of Venice. Parts of the lagoon have been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Habitats Directive, but they exclude the central part of the lagoon, the major shipping lanes, and the shoreline Industrial Area — just the places where motondoso is most likely to be found.

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how successfully these barriers resisted the waves

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how well these barriers have resisted the waves.

Everybody with a boat. Over time, the voices blaming everyone else blend like an entire city singing “Three Blind Mice.” (I would say “Row, row, row your boat,” but that would be silly.) The vaporetto drivers say it’s the barges. The barge drivers say it’s the taxis. The taxi drivers say it’s the private boats. The private boats say it’s everybody but them. And so it goes. I’m not sure what the legal value is of a defense strategy formed around “I did it, but he did it worse.” But whoever is in a motorboat for work reasons considers himself to have a free pass. And whoever is in a motorboat for fun automatically counts himself out because he’s not there every day, so how could he count as a culprit?

Studies by the Venice Project Center have revealed that the highest wakes are produced by the small barges (“topo-motore“). Next were the taxis. Vaporettos produced the least, but that doesn’t let them off the hook entirely, for two reasons. One, “least” doesn’t mean they produce no wake, so I don’t regard “least” as any kind of gold star. Second, instead of bigger waves they produce something which none of the other motorboats do, which is a powerful whirlpool.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it's extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same suction, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren't applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it’s extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same phenomenon, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren’t applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

Every time a vaporetto ties up to the dock to let passengers on and off, the motor stays in full-steam-ahead mode. The reason given is that it makes the boat more secure for the passengers in transit. I won’t contest that here, but will say that the vortex creates a kind of suction effect (think of rinsing out your mouth) which is also damaging to the nearby foundations.

What to do? Stricter enforcement of speed limits. It’s the most obvious solution, even to Venetians. Generally speaking, the limit in the small inner canals is 5 km/h, in the Grand Canal and some larger canals it’s 7 km/h, and in some others (such as the Canale di Tessera leading to the airport) it’s 11 km/h. But, as noted earlier, these are just numbers on a page. Many and varied have been the proposals, most of which have some merit but which frequently suffer from the fatal flaw of being unenforceable. Shortage of personnel, inter-bureau jealousies, and lack of consistency and simple lack of will on the part of everyone has shown this solution to be impossible. I don’t mean literally impossible, I just mean impossible here. Require hulls and horsepower to be changed to the minimum-wave-producing conformation. Nobody wants to pay to get a new boat with a less wave-inducing hull, though it occurs to me that now would be a brilliant moment to launch a “Cash for Clunkers” program for commercial boats. If cost is the only thing holding people back (it isn’t) this would be an intelligent place to start. If it’s not cost, what is it? Civic pride isn’t even mentioned as an incentive.

It’s Sloth. “We’ve always done it this way.” “It’s too much trouble.” “Why me?” How to overcome that? You can’t. It’s as difficult to convince workers-with-boats as it is poachers that they are gradually killing their source of livelihood. You can only create a new situation and then enforce it till it becomes habit. I have several solutions in mind, each of which would have an appreciable, even dramatic, effect on motondoso. The costs involved are all to be considered as investments in the future not only of the person using the boat, but of the city itself.

    • Redesign the vaporettos. Actually, this was on the way to being done, then the project slowly sank from sight and history into the swamp that is the political biosphere here. You should have a look at the Mangia Onda (wave-eater) hull design, and the prototype airport launch. The prototype had the advantage of being paid for by its inventor, which got it very far down the road. That was in 2001. The documents must be in a drawer somewhere. Or as one site sums up: “Don’t even ask what happened.”
    • While that is going on, reconfigure the timetables to impose slower — much, much slower — speed limits on everybody. I don’t know why this seems to be such a difficult idea; evidently the mania for speed has blinded everyone to the fact that these changes would only involve five or fifteen — let’s say twenty, hey — minutes more for each run. Passengers, be they residents or tourists, can’t plan for an extra twenty minutes in transit? Why? They do it on an unplanned basis on the mainland all the time — all it takes is an accident somewhere and traffic backs up forever. Why do water-buses have to go faster? To carry more people?
Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

  • There are already so many vaporettos in operation that, especially in the Grand Canal, they have to just float there in neutral, waiting their turn to tie up at the dock while the previous boat finishes and casts off. If we were to see buses on the mainland pulling over to wait until their stop became available on a regular basis, we’d think it was kind of nutty. Same for boats. It’s a sign of unintelligent management.
  • Install permanent cofferdams to protect anything a wave can reach. This would be most of the city and its canals. Not pretty, perhaps, for tourists who like to think the city is still living in the 15th century, but then again, the same tourists use vaporettos, taxis, launches, and other motorized boats and don’t seem to find it aesthetically jarring. This approach has always been used in the short-term to make it possible to repair ravaged structures; 50 years ago, squads of men beat a row of tightly connected wooden pilings into the sediment, and blocked it with dense lagoon mud to keep out the canal’s water. Today, there are always places in the city where you can see iron cofferdams serving the same purpose. I’d say if you’ve got them, just leave them there. And add them to the rest of the city’s edges.
  • Change human nature. (I’ll get right on that.) Or how about changing the political landscape? Not much easier. But the city government has a view of its purpose in life whose range is far, far too short. Grandiose goals, certainly, but they’re sliced and diced, doled out here and there, or left to rot. The political philosophy here appears to qualify as what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” A good example is when your father says, “Yes, you can have it, but not today.” You don’t say no, but it never happens anyway. The city government has become expert at this maneuver.

If I were in charge, I would add the following to all of the above:

  • Require completely new hull forms for each category of boat (for instance, returning the taxi to its primordial motorized shape, with the motor in the center of the boat rather than the stern, which creates much more wake).
  • Most, if not all, of these hulls would be of the “wave-eating” form, a heretofore experimental design invented in 1998 by Americans Bill Burns and Charles Robinson . Its few demonstration runs have shown it to be effective but nobody has studied the effect of large numbers of them. Still, it’s a dramatic start. There is a saga behind all this, too, because in 2001 the company announced that one of these boats would be in service by the end of that year. As another web-site devoted to this project put it, “As for what happened, don’t even ask.”

I would also stipulate a limit on the horsepower of each category, including pleasure boats. Since people can’t retain the concept of slowing down on their own, I suggest requiring their equipment do it for them. As for those who might protest, I would have a one-size-fits-all response: Do it or seek employment elsewhere. The world must be full of people who would be happy to work for even one quarter of what your average taxi driver (I refer to the legal ones, not the fleet of illegal ones) makes in a year. Or even what they make in a month. If this notion for some reason is deemed unfeasible (I can’t see why), I would suggest immediately hiring a large quantity of extra police solely to enforce speed limits, imposing fines so steep that a quick calculation on the back of an envelope would show that it made more sense to buy a new, non-wave-making boat right now than pay two fines. The vital element here is that a person has to be at least 99 percent convinced that he will be caught and fined, a certainty which can’t exist today when the forces of public order have been reduced to skeleton crews who mainly race around solving emergencies.

The councilor for Tourism and Decorum, Augusto Salvadori, made a proposal some while back (I think he even may have made it twice): Engage squads of volunteers from the ranks of the rowing clubs, whose job would be to row around and blow whistles at whatever transgressors they encounter. This might possibly work (I’m being generous here) if there were enough people, if there were immediate and drastic follow-up, and if the transgressors weren’t inclined to run you over. My sense is that none of these conditions apply. Well, there’s prayer. They’ve tried that too. A few years ago there was a big initiative to amass members of all of the rowing clubs at the church of the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health) on November 21, her feast-day. Considering that she saved Venice in 1630 from the catastrophic plague which was destroying the city, there was some poetic power in the notion of everyone going to her church and offering a candle in supplication for salvation from this latest plague. Grand symbolic gestures are so much fun; they make everybody feel so good. Reminds you of why Italian opera is so impressive. Then it’s over, and everybody goes home. And tomorrow begins just like it did yesterday, and nothing has changed.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

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