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MOSE again, still, forever

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If it weren’t for the lagoon, maybe people wouldn’t care quite so much about Venice. Interesting thought to ponder. But the lagoon would probably be better off without Venice, because then it wouldn’t be abused and tormented to make sure that Venice won’t have some water in the streets sometimes.

What everybody loves about Venice (among many things) is how old it is.  And that is indeed a thing to love.  I imagine all those amazing designers and builders and artists working away centuries ago, believing that their handiwork would last for, oh, maybe ever.  And because they were first-rate craftsmen, it turns out that most of them were right.

You might say that MOSE is also going to last forever, but not in a good way.  I don’t write updates on the continuing calamity that is the world’s most preposterous project because I’m bored by the mendacity, magnitude and monotony of the problems.  Everything has gone, is going, and will be going, wrong with this thing until Jesus comes back, so updates are pointless.  In fact, I’ve begun to suspect that the whole thing started with a bunch of drunk people sitting around one summer afternoon on some rich person’s yacht or private mountain, who decided to break the boredom by inventing a game in which the winner is the one who finds a way to waste the most money on the most pointless enterprise in the history of the world.  If you can call it “winning.”  Bonus points for environmental damage, or if somebody dies.

But the latest headlines have barged into my brain and made me think about it again, if only briefly, and my thoughts are not lovely.  I can sum it up for you:  Yet more things have been discovered to be screwed up, and fixing them will cost lots more money.  This has become the refrain of the Marching Song of the MOSE Squadron, while the bass singers set the jaunty rhythm “Money for me, money for me, money for me…..”  And as you read, consider (as I have) that if I had done the calculations, it’s obvious they would have come out all wrong.  But I am not a civil engineer (I’m hardly civil at all) and I do not have a piece of paper from some institute which implies that I have studied how to do this work.  But we must face the fact that the perpetrators of all this have such certificates.

Is there something about water that just baffles engineers in Venice? They ought to be experts, yet somehow the smallest details are just left unfixed. One might say that the flow of the water and/or the position of the grate of this fountain don’t really HAVE to match up, but then one considers the possibility that the designer was later hired to work on MOSE.

Here’s the headline on September 

MOSE, the gate of the lock at Malamocco has to be redone.

I will translate the main points in this and the following article:

The gate on the lock basin (“conca“) at Malamocco has to be redone.  After the 400 million euros already spent, another 20 million will have to be invested for the “lunata,” the semi-circular breakwater shaped like the moon which protects the ships from waves and current as they position themselves to enter or as they exit.

Here is the inlet between the Adriatic (to the right) and the lagoon (to the left). It’s sort of like two boxers facing off  before the gong. Clockwise from “lunata” we find: The construction yard of the caissons for MOSE, the tiny hamlet of Santa Maria del Mare, the lock to permit shipping to pass when the floodgates are closed in the inlet, the nature park at the Alberoni, the inlet which will be blocked by the raised floodgates in the case of exceptional high tide, and the Alberoni seawall.

The lock, you may recall, was dug to permit the passage of ships between the Adriatic and the lagoon whenever the floodgates are raised.  But evidently every good idea contains the seeds of its own destruction, if you play it right.  It was constructed in 2007 by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (by means of the mega-company Mantovani) and designed by Technital ten years ago, which Vitucci recalls as  “the golden age of MOSE, when money poured in without limits and without too much control.”  But even then the design was clearly flawed, for which almost everybody involved is now paying the consequences.

Inadequate.  Even though the breakwater extends 1300 meters (4,265 feet), its basin is too small for the latest generation of container ships, making it too risky for the big ships to attempt to enter the lock.  Other than that, the “mobile” parts of the lock — the gates — cannot function because the water exerts too much pressure.  The persons making those calculations might have been interrupted by a phone call, or the arrival of a pizza; anyway, it doesn’t work. This problem was discovered in 2015 when the gate gave way in the first storm.  Urgent interventions are now in the hands of a Belgian company.

But not to worry!  The president of the Magistrato alle Acque, Roberto Linetti, says that fixing it will only cost 18 million euros because the foundations are still good.  And meanwhile, they’ll be able to add a few meters to allow the ships to pass. So you see?  In the end, it was a good thing the gate didn’t work.

Infinite.  Or “unfinished.”  Or “unfinishable,” perhaps.  What now bears the tired title of the “MOSE scandal” consists, as Vitucci lists it, of: “Bribes and consultants, off-the-books payments and always-positive evaluations rendered by friendly experts, extra costs due to the lack of competition and the necessity of accumulating “black” (untraceable) funds to pay the bribes.  But also there have been obvious errors, such as the lock. What was intended to be a structure to prevent penalizing the port activity when the floodgates were up has been shown to be, at the end, the umpteenth useless big project.

Waste.  The lock is far from being the only problem — there are the collateral “major works” connected to MOSE, each one of which is its own little one-act tragedy. The “jack-up,” the large “ship” which cost 50 million euros for transporting and moving the gates constructed by Comar and Mantovani, remains anchored at the Arsenal and has never been used because it doesn’t function, despite the repairs that have been made. There is also the damage to the seawall at San Nicolo’ on the Lido, which collapsed a few days after it had been tested.  Tens of millions of euros thrown into the sea, as Vitucci (and probably many others) puts it.  Damages will need to be paid for all those, too, but it’s not clear by whom.

This is the “jack-up.” Big, expensive, impressive, it makes no pretense of working.

But wait!  There’s more!  Is anyone wondering how the various components are managing to resist encrustation and mold?  I can tell you!  But before I do, pause to marvel at the astonishing presence of salt in seawater, not to mention algae and all sorts of cretures which insist on attaching themselves to things. Who could possibly have known, or even guessed at random, that the Adriatic contains salt and water?

The headline in the Nuova Venezia on September 7, 2017, on a story written by Alberto Vitucci:

Mold and degradation, the MOSE gates are already blocked. 

“Big works = big mafias.” I don’t usually agree with graffiti, but this sums up the situation with admirable clarity.

The encrustation is increasing; the paint is already old.  And without electricity it’s impossible to raise the barriers.  Mold and degradation in the corridors of the caissons beneath the lagoon.  And the gates, exposed for six months to the weather and salt at Santa Marina del Mare, have to be repainted.

The installations.  The latest problem is the delay in building the electric plant to raise the gates.  MOSE needs energy to raise the gates because it doesn’t exploit the natural energy of the sea and waves.  … Unlike the sequence of events at San Nicolo’, where the power plant was installed first, at Malamocco it was decided to position the gates on the lagoon bottom before the power plant was built.  Result: For several months the gates have lain on the bottom but it’s impossible to test raising them.

Corrosion and fouling. The first inspections revealed corrosion and encrustation.  The lack of electricity has prevented the correct ventilation underwater where the cables and systems pass, not to mention the workers.  The walls are covered with a layer of mold 5 centimeters (2 inches) deep. MOSE is a system conceived to remain underwater, and without maintenance, the problems multiply, such as the corrosion of the hinges (of the gates) that was reported several months ago. What to do? The Consorzio Venezia Nuova announced a competition for bids on the construction of the systems.  Two groups won, the Abb Comes of Taranto and the Abb Idf of Brindisi. But the proposal to realize some temporary systems to move the gates wasn’t approved.  It would have cost 14 million euros, so just let the gates sit underwater, blossoming.

Several months ago, the gates underwater at Treporti began to show accumulations of barnacles, mussels, and crabs — sea-dwelling creatures which were not exactly unknown before the work started.

The paint is peeling. Because there is no electricity or apparatus to install them, the 30 gates that were supposed to be lowered into the water have been waiting for months on the construction site of the caissons.  The delay is due to the non-functioning of the “jack-up.” (Some gates were constructed in Croatia and brought across the Adriatic from Split.)  During these months, the workers have battled the weather and the seagulls, which have begun to nest in the gates, as follows…..

MOSE: Even the seagulls are stripping the paint.

Information from the article by Alberto Vitucci, La Nuova Venezia, 29 April 2017

It turns out that the beached (so to speak) gates sitting at the construction site are a very attractive home for nesting seagulls, sort of like LeFrak City for waterfowl.  But their guano is damaging the paint, and eventually corrodes the metal too.  The birds stab at the peeling paint with their beaks, trying to strip it off (boredom? sport? snacks?).  Protective tarpaulins have been spread over the gates, but large spaces have been left open for work on the hinges, so ….

Bring on the scarecrows! (I mean gulls): Deafening recordings of frightening sounds.  They tried an amped-up donkey braying because an ethologist said that birds are afraid of it.  Birds, sure, but not gulls, who fear almost nothing anymore.  Next, a high-volume dog growling. Nope. In the end, the only thing that works is a cannon firing blanks, so cannonfire is now periodically heard in the lagoon, followed by the wild flapping of hundreds and hundreds of wings of birds that soon return.

How long will all this be going on?

The timetable.  According to the latest schedule — after deadlines passed from 2011 to 2014, then 2017, then 2018 — the work will be finished by 2021.  Four (or five or ten?) more years of astonishing stories to come.  And I haven’t even said anything about the subsidence of the lagoon bottom beneath the caissons due to the powerful force of the tides (tides? there are tides in the sea? what??) which appear to be distorting the position of the gates…..

Life on earth requires many adjustments. Shown here is a reasonable solution to a problem. I have no images of a reasonable solution to any of MOSE’s problems.



Categories : MOSE, Problems
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true grit

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This is a tiny example of the material which can be found strewn about in ever-larger remnants according to the amount of wind, and the mood it’s in.  If it has come unstuck because of rain, no matter. It will sit there till it becomes dry and the next windwaft will bring it to your door. Or open window.

You might not intuit this, considering all that water around Venice, but this is an extremely dusty city.  Like any reasonable person I hate dusting, so that might explain my objections to the imperceptible but constant zephyrs of scuz.  Everybody outside Venice gets all worked up about the water, but the only thing we’re missing here is the simoom.

A few evenings ago the weather took a sudden turn from the clear and hot to the dark-gray and cold, a maneuver that was neatly accomplished by a blast of wind.  I felt the temperature suddenly drop and a tiny but ominous breeze passed across my over-heated shoulders and neck. Reef the fo’c’sle and belay the cabinboy!  I raced to shut the windward windows but before I could get to them the aforementioned wind had hurtled through the bedroom bearing invisible (I guess) but extremely tangible clouds of Venetian dust, sand, and general grit.

Sorry to ruin the magic, but the romantic city of canals is made of decomposing bricks, crumbling plaster, flaking paint, eroding stone, and disintegrating mortar and stucco, all of which produces everything from powdery dust to assorted chips, granules, motes, particles, and even the occasional scruple.  This medley had been flung across the bedroom floor, chests of drawers, the bed, and — shudder — the pillows.  The books I can ignore, but just passing my hand over the once-crisp top sheet was like stroking a grimy park bench under a desiccated purging-buckthorn tree.  The only positive thing about this is that, by now, it did not surprise me.  I experience more environment-fatigue when the weather’s dry than when the tide is rising.

There is no solution; the stuff comes in even when the windows are latched, just in a smaller amount.  I don’t know that anyone has ever thought of inventing dust-proof windows — maybe they have them in Timbuktu.  If they have, I’m sure they would cost a lot, when you add in shipping and customs costs.  Meanwhile, gnashing my teeth is free.

The bottle cap is just passing through.

Bricks seem dangerously prone to returning to their primal state. That’s why people cover them with plaster. Which also loses its grip.

it may be that the city will have returned to its primordial mud before it sinks beneath the waves. I don’t know how I feel about that, except at least then I wouldn’t have to dust the bed.


Categories : Nature
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These ladies evidently don’t just “run into” each other — they look like these canal-side confabs are just the latest episodes in an endless series. “Game of Mops and Grandchildren,” perhaps?  They could well have been in adjoining bassinets in the hospital — it wouldn’t surprise me. People here are linked for life.

This morning we were walking home under the trees lining viale Garibaldi and, as more or less usual, we ran into someone Lino knows; a small, trim, grey-haired man with a pleasant smile and the most benevolent eyes.  We have encountered him at various moments over the years here and there, and he never changes, except I think he’s lost a little weight.

“Ciao, Federico,” Lino said, giving him several warm pats on the cheek, as if he were a little boy.  These pats are valid for anybody, at any age, and it’s almost unheard-of for someone to consider them strange, much less objectionable.  Children grow up being patted and I, for one, am glad to see there’s no expiration date. In this case Lino has a lifetime pass, because they’ve known each other forever.  In fact, they used to work together.

So, they exchange a few random comments about nothing, the sort of conversation that has no calories, sugar, sodium, trans-fats, and only the tiniest amount of carbohydrates, just to keep it going.

Lino made some remark about the atrocious condition of the world, and this was Federico’s opening: “Why do we not do what God tells us to do?” he asked, which is an excellent question.  “You could read your Bible sometime,” he continued amiably.  “It’s free.”

This suggestion didn’t surprise Lino or me — in fact, I was waiting for it, and so was Lino. Lino likes to needle him because Federico is a Jehovah’s Witness, and this morning he was even accompanied by a tall young man who just listened.

“Is this your apprentice?”, or “assistant,” or “disciple,” or “trainee,” or whatever Lino asked, even though it was obvious.  They were both wearing neckties, an object which is so rarely seen in this neighborhood as to be almost an archaeological artifact, but is an admirable part of the uniform.  I think they’d go without shoes before they’d leave off the necktie.

After a few more brief sallies — how old are you now (72) and where do you live (Giudecca), we all resumed our paths, we toward home, Federico toward whatever fields cried out for cultivation.  So to speak.

“Ah, Federico,” Lino said affectionately.  “He and his mother used to live in Cannaregio, but in the acqua alta of 1966 they lost everything.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses helped them out, and so here he is, this is what he does.”  I make a mental note that he would have been 21 at the time, an age when a major good deed coupled with some urgent explanations can have an effect. Not judging, just saying.

“So he keeps at it,” Lino continued, who is always a bit bemused by the man’s constancy and imperturbability, though if you’re not constant and imperturbable you’ll never make it as a proselytizer.  Just ask Saint Paul.

Anyway, “He’ll be out ringing doorbells, any time — Christmas Day, New Year’s morning at 9:00 AM.”  Lino stops to mimic a sleep-addled man going to a window and shouting down, “What?  Who?”  A pause to indicate Federico’s inaudible salutation.

“Just wait a minute,” the sleep-addled man says, then Lino mimics upending a full container out the window.

“He got everything — people would pour buckets of water on him.  Even chamberpots full of piss.”

Excuse me?

“Ha!  Just ask him about Murano that time.”  Which I won’t.  But I note that while Saint Paul was beaten and stoned, the record doesn’t show that that little joke was ever played on him, though it probably totally was.

“How do you know him?”

“We worked together at the Aeronavali.  Me, Conte, the other guys, we’d all rag him all the time.”  And what work did he do?

“He was the uomo di fatica,” the man of toil and exhaustion, the menial drudge which every company has, the guy whose job is the heavy lifting, shlepping, the hewer of wood and drawer of water.

Which means that Federico long ago made his peace with his modest place in the world, in and out of Kingdom Hall, and as we walked off I found myself dwelling more than usual on his embarrassingly simple question.  Why don’t we do what God says?  (That’s a rhetorical question, so hold off on the comments.  I know the answer.)

They probably grew up with the bear, as well.

While we’re on the subject of ex-colleagues from the Aeronavali, a while back we were hanging around the Arsenale vaporetto stop (I can’t remember why).  It was early evening and the light and the air were calming down.  A very nicely dressed older couple got off and were walking towards us.  They appeared to be going to some sort of party, or special gathering.  “Ciao, Marco” (not his real name). “Ciao, Lino.”

And that was…..? “That was Marco.  He started as an apprentice at the Aeronavali the same day I did,” Lino recalled. By the number of colleagues he keeps running into, it would seem there had been thousands.

“We were working on T-6 Harvard planes” — of course Lino would remember that; I throw it in for any aviation fans who might be reading.  He likes to set the scene and I respect that.

After a few years of this, Marco began to go to night school.  “He was studying to become a surveyor.  We all knew this, and we knew he would sometimes go off somewhere to study during working hours.  Maybe everybody knew it, anyway, somebody might come looking for him and we’d be all ‘Gosh, I don’t know, he was here a minute ago, any of you guys seen Marco?’…..”

Eventually he went to take his final exams, but cleverly went to an institute somewhere in Italy’s Deep South, where the grading was known to be much — make that MUCH — easier.  He passed.  But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Sebastiano Venier and the lion of the Republic he defended so brilliantly. I’ve seen two humans in line at the supermarket strike almost these exact poses and expressions, even though they may be the best friends ever.  And not have wings and swords.

He registered at the University of Venice to take courses leading to a degree in business administration.  Armed with that diploma, he returned to the Aeronavali as the amministratore delegato, or chief executive. Eventually he married a woman who owned some factory, Lino says, and he became director of the factory.  I’m supposing that was the lady who accompanied him.

“I remember the day I gave my notice,” Lino recalled.  “Marco said to me, ‘Come up to my office a minute.’  And we talked about my reasons for leaving, and then he opened his desk drawer and took out a small pin shaped like a swallow.  That was the emblem of the Aeronavali, and it was made of gold.  One day I lost it, somewhere out on the street.  You have no idea how sorry I am not to have it anymore.”

I must have five or six single earrings, their mates lost forever, which annoys the hoo out of me.  But that doesn’t make me anywhere near as sorry as he is.

Tomorrow, no telling what unforeseen encounter awaits.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes, as we know. Too bad they aren’t as easy to adjust as this tailor’s mannequin.



Categories : Venetian-ness
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Hey! Where’d everybody go?

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While some people have been working themselves up about the mobs of tourists in Venice (tourists in Venice?  I’m shocked!  Shocked!) our little lobe of the city has quietly tiptoed away, its denizens going to the mountains, Hammerfest, Saskatoon, the Tuvan Grasslands, anywhere but here where they can enjoy a little peace and quiet and — I hope — not to have become tourists in turn, if you take my meaning.

Between Ferragosto (August 15, as you know) and the onslaught of the Film Festival is this small sliver of time which is like a deep, peaceful breath. Even though the heat continues to enervate us, night and day —

If, for some reason, you lost your mind and decided to come to Venice in August, your main survival tool is liquids.  Lots of them, as you see.

— there is an atmosphere of restfulness along via Garibaldi which is almost like vacation in itself.  And that is because many of the shops are closed. Temporary inconvenience to the few remaining inhabitants is more than mitigated by the tranquillity, and besides, it’s not as if ALL the fruit-and-vegetable sellers are gone, and yes, there is one butcher left who can slice you some pork chops.  In any case, we now have the mastodontic Coop supermarket to take up the slack (open every day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, if you can believe it), manned by staff which does not always look happy to be helping, which I can understand even though they do have air-conditioning.

Let me take you on a brief perambulation of via Garibaldi, rejoicing in the “closed for vacation” (ferie) signs on the windows and doors.  It’s as if the supposedly avaricious and insatiable merchants had all suddenly said, “Nah, we don’t care.  We should stay here sweltering just on the chance that SOMEBODY might wander in, even by mistake?”  Because most of their regular customers are also far away.  I’m only here because I have to be, but I get to enjoy this moment and they don’t.

You’ll have to go somewhere else until August 21 to buy laundry detergent, lipstick, rubber kitchen gloves, or a bucket and mop — the everything-store is shut. You should have thought about needing that shampoo or scouring powder sooner.

Now is not the moment to be caught without underwear or dish towels or handkerchiefs. The dry-goods ladies aren’t coming back till the 28th.

No shoes, even on sale (“saldi”) until the 21st.

Anything in the optical line, from high-class sunglasses to replacing a screw to a bottle of contact-lens wetting solution is unobtainable until the 21st.  Still, he’s only taking a week.  That seems very, very short to me.  I could wait for the lens-wiping cloth a little longer.

Just as soon as you got used to the fact that this hair salon was open only in from 8:30 – 12:30 in July and August, they go and close altogether.  Still, they only took four days off, which I think is extremely strange and unreasonably short, and I, personally, would not have advised it.

But we are evidently expected to walk around with our heads wrapped in scarves because, as you see, the OTHER salon (yes, there are two) has also elected to go relax everything up to and including their hair, somewhere else.

The toys-and-school-supplies-and-paper-goods store is giving itself three weeks off. Once school starts again they’ll have more than plenty to do.  If you need an eraser or some lead for your mechanical pencil, too bad.

The butcher has put the prosciutto away, and if you’re pining to make fegato alla veneziana you’ll just have to wait. Eat some clams or some scrambled eggs meanwhile, or trek down the street to Alberto the butcher, who is hanging tough.  Better yet, have some gelato.  That’s one type of shop that couldn’t possibly close in the summer.

Well, that settles that. You absolutely cannot have any problem either with your computer or your cell phone until Gianni gets back. There is no Plan B. The mere sight of this sign makes me cower.

Want to play the lottery or buy some smokes? You’ll have to go back up the street to the other two places that will provide you with these vital services because the mother and her eccentric son in this emporium are somewhere else.  They have helpfully given two alternate shops, but I can’t understand why they didn’t list the one two minutes down from the top of via Garibaldi.  Perhaps they’re involved in a feud.  It happens.

The indefatigable Fabio at the Trattoria alla Rampa is off Work A (feeding people) but only in order to exhaust himself doing Work B, otherwise known as “maintenance.” He knows what it’s going to be like when the Film Festival starts and he’s going to be ready — to be precise, on September 4.

Some shops don’t need signs. Everybody knows this is a pastry shop, and everybody knows that pastry shops pretty much close for some time in August. The reason: Cream just doesn’t have the same appeal at room temperature as it does frozen and sitting in a cone. Everything is hard to work with in the heat, from chocolate to your business partner.

The faithful and doomed-to-be-photographed-forever fruit and vegetable boat. Massimo and Luca used to clear away all the boxes and crates when they went on vacation, and the sight of the bare deck was a strange and memorable moment in the waning summer days. But as you see, they just said the heck with it. Yes, there are two other produce sellers on the street, but I can tell you that they are nowhere near the same quality. So we soldier on…

…but not particularly encouraged by the ominous note at the bottom: “To reopen on 25 August. Maybe.”

Giorgio’s boat might as well have a sign on it because when he’s in Venice he goes out fishing virtually every single day, barring typhoons of either the meteorological or domestic type. To see the boat tied up in broad daylight is to know that the world has stopped.






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Categories : Venetian-ness
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