Archive for MOSE
I promise that I will not transform this blog into the daily bulletin from the MOSE hecatomb.
But two days ago (June 14), at the last meeting of the council of ministers, the government did something so extreme — and indisputably necessary and long overdue — that I want at least to make it known.
They abolished the Magistrato alle Acque. An entire government agency with 500 years of history is no more. Yesterday it was, today it is not.
Beginning in October, its responsibilities will be “absorbed” by the Inter-regional Director of Public Works of the three contiguous regions of the Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Trentino Alto Adige.
Of course this is good, but I feel sick at heart. Not only because of the annihilation of one of the last tiny links to the Venetian Republic, but because a gesture of this magnitude shows all too vividly the extent of the rot.
People who occasionally had to request a permit for temporary use of a certain stretch of lagoon have long been aware that the Magistrato was as swampy as Reelfoot Lake. It wouldn’t have been the first city agency whose functionaries accepted the occasional guerdon for speeding up the processing of requests. I’m not saying the employees of the Magistracy did such a thing. I’m just saying that if they did, they wouldn’t have been alone.
The Magistracy of the Waters was established in 1501; it was specifically charged with overseeing the health and security of the lagoon, and any action required — digging, land reclamation, maintenance — had to have its approval.
Care of the lagoon required care of its tributary rivers, too. Venetian engineers diverted the Po River, for God’s sake; between 1600 and 1604, innumerable men with shovels and wheelbarrows cut Italy’s greatest river at Porto Viro and turned it southward. There were many reasons for this, some of them political, some economic, but it was also time to limit the amount of sediment that was filling up the lagoon. The Venetian Republic knew that the care of the lagoon was its primary life insurance.
“Lagoon” (laguna) is a Venetian word, by the way.
But the Magistrato was populated by many individuals who were not all of the same stripe, and in 1678, human nature having demonstrated its impressive dimensions, the Venetian Senate created a group of inquisitors to conduct the legal cases against those accused of having damaged the lagoon. There must be some diabolical hothouse somewhere that causes little tiny crook seedlings to sprout, then sells them to the Magistrato alle Acque where, in its own special microclimate, they can flourish and grow to be big tall leafy crooks.
In fact, I now learn that this is the third time that the Magistrato has been “suppressed,” as the headlines put it, though it’s the first occasion where the reason was crime.
In 1808, during the brief but eventful French domination of the city (1806-1814), the Viceroy Eugene Beauharnais put an end to it, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered. It didn’t take long for it to become evident that this was an error, the neglect having contributed to an assortment of watery damage. When the Austrians took over for the first time (1816-1848), they quickly re-established the Magistrato, reorganized it, renamed some departments, applied a coat of varnish and it was good to go again.
In 1866, when Venice and the Veneto became part of the new nation of Italy, the Magistrato was annulled again, and again a series of hydraulic disasters showed what serious consequences could come from indifference to the state of the waterways.
The Magistrato was reformulated for the third time in 1907 as part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and its authority expanded to cover the entire hydrological basin of northeast Italy — an enormous watershed of rivers, lakes, and other lagoons stretching from Mantova to Trieste. Total area of its authority was some 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles). So when we talk about the misfeasance of the Magistrato, we’re not talking about some little local entity that turned out to have just a few bad apples.
I very sincerely hope that Cuccioletta and Piva, in their respective cells awaiting trial, are happy. Because I’m not, and neither are a whole bunch of other people.
On June 4, the dam broke.
I don’t mean the ingeniously devised dam (a/k/a “MOSE”) still under construction, which is formed by mobile barriers intended to block high water from entering Venice for a few hours every so often. I mean the dam that was the financing of the project.
No one is really surprised. Any public work budgeted at 5 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) is a monumental petri dish for cultivating corruption. But what has stunned just about everybody is the sheer scope of it all. I’ve heard some people say they don’t believe it will ever become completely untangled — names which were given code numbers, foreign accounts, fake receipts, fake financial reports, fake banks, even. All of this created and maintained by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium which had sole power over the administration of the work, the awarding of contracts, and every detail of who and what was involved in the project. Taken altogether, some estimate that the Consorzio paid out 1 billion euros in gifts, favors and graft.
The Northeast, especially members of the Northern League, has spent years sneering at the waste and crime south of Rome, past Naples, deep into the heart of Sicily. The North wanted to secede from the feckless, blood-sucking South. Marches and vigils were held in the “fight against the mafia.”
But no more is the voice of the sneer heard in the land, at least not in the Veneto.
News of the arrest of the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, sped around the world, though he is just one tiny (sorry, Giorgio, but you are, in fact, very tiny) piece of the story. To spend even five seconds thinking about Orsoni is like thinking about a broken fingernail when you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.
Orsoni resigned today, after house arrest, liberation, then plea-bargaining which got him a trifling four-month sentence. To reach this point, we had to endure the usual tedious pantomime.
Day 1: “I didn’t take even one euro.”
Day 2: “I took money but it was for my political party.”
Day 3: “I took money.” How much? 560,000 even-one-euros. Rabbit pellets! Emilio Spaziante, the number-two general of the entire Guardia di Finanza (what I call the Finance Police), was given 2,500,000 euros by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova. Vulture chow! Giancarlo Galan, the former governor of the Veneto Region, got 1,000,000 euros per year for seven years (2005 – 2011).
Back to Orsoni.
Day 4: “I’m not resigning.”
And on Day 5, “I have tendered my resignation.” Orsoni said he is bitter, disillusioned, and is going to leave the perfidious world of politics. He might as well; he already opened the Emergency Exit door himself.
Malfeasance of these dimensions requires a book, not a blog post. A mere book? “Give me a condor’s quill!” Herman Melville cried, staggering at the prospect of describing the white whale; “Give me Vesuvius’ crater as an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms!”
Being a mere mortal, I can only outline a few details here, each of which is plenty.
After five years of unflagging labor, 300 officers of the Guardia di Finanza had assembled enough evidence to validate — nay, require — the arrest of as many as 100 people on charges of corruption, bribes, kickbacks, fraud, influence-peddling, and every form of villainy in which money can play even so much as a walk-on role. The complexity and the dimensions of this titanic construction of crime, begun in the early Nineties, has overwhelmed this project, overwhelmed even its perpetrators.
The edifice began to crumble with the unexpected retirement, on June 28, 2013, of Giovanni Mazzacurati, who spent 30 years at the apex of the Consorzio, first as director general, then as president. He cited reasons of health. He got a 7 million dollar departure bonus. And on July 12, he was arrested for turbativa d’asta, or bid rigging.
At that point, even I knew what would come next: He wasn’t going to go down alone.
A straggling procession of degraded characters marches across the newspaper every day now, carrying the equally monotonous quantities of money — public money dedicated to the project, not private money — which they so eagerly accepted in so many forms, right down to the classic white envelope stuffed with cash.
A judge from the Court of Audit. Members of parliament. Members of the European parliament. Directors of the Magistrato alle Acque, the agency established in 1501 to safeguard the lagoon (Maria Giovanna Piva, director from 2001-2008 and Patrizio Cuccioletta, director from 2008-2011, received 400,000 euros a year to ignore what was being done in the lagoon). Eleven years of good times rolling everywhere in the world of the famous floodgates.
In its report, which runs for many hundreds of pages, the Procura — an official government watchdog entity — said that there was “total confusion in the roles of the controllers and the controlled. No obstacle, no vigilance, no important remark was made by the Magistrato alle Acque under Piva and Cuccioletta.”
Everyone knew something very fishy was up. But the haul has been beyond anyone’s capacity to imagine.
“Corruption” is such a compact word that we tend to lose track of its essential meaning. “Moral perversion; depravity; perversion of integrity; decay: rot; putrefaction.”
MOSE was supposed to save Venice. But nobody could save Venice from MOSE.
I received this comment from an unknown reader, and while it’s right there in the Comments area of my blog, I wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to see it. (I don’t assume that everybody reads the Comments.)
The obvious reply to Emiliano’s rhetorical question is “Of course they don’t want discussion,” to be followed by “Why would they want discussion?” I would be surprised if any data is available, because I doubt that any such research has been done. Because who would care? Except Emiliano, I mean.
I’m an Italian scientist working on anti-fouling alternative solutions in Sweden. I wrote an email to “consorzio venezia nuova” in order to get some informations about the strategies they intend to put in act in order to minimize the risk of malfunction of the caissons as consequence of the formation of large colonies of fouling organism inside and outside the caissons. In my opinion the weight gain caused by the formation of colonies of barnacles and mytilus could make ineffective the floating system, i.e. even if you pump air in the caissons the caissons will rest on the bottom because the 3/4 of the volume will be occupied by fouling organisms. It could have been a great opportunity for cooperation between the consortium and scientific community, a challenging problem to solve together.
But the consortium answered “what kind of paint are you selling?”. The thing is that I’m not selling anything else that several years experience, a great network of anti fouling scientists all over the world and a EU financed project that we started in sept. 2012 and which will deal with similar problematic on cruising surfaces as boats.
I proposed them opportunity, innovation, research, in other world, science, but the Consortium seems more on the let’s make it happen here and now.
Whatever. I still can’t find anywhere some data regarding what countermeasures will be taken in this project as anti-fouling system. This would be great to know, it could help transparency and open a discussion. But maybe it is exactly what has to be avoided. Discussion!
I feel sorry for not being useful as a scientist in my country. This means that i will bit it and will keep doing my impact aboard as I already have done the past few years.
(if someone have some data about the antifouling countermeasure they gone to use please put here some link or reference)
I don’t know why they call it news — here, at least, certain things happen over and over to the point where they ought to be called olds.
Some random examples of olds would be the periodic blitz of the Guardia di Finanza against the illegal clam fishermen; the periodic blitz of the Carabinieri (or vigili, or Guardia di Finanza) against the illegal handbag sellers, with concomitant confiscation of their unfathomable supply of counterfeit goods; the periodic blitz (hm, we haven’t had one of those for a while) of the aforementioned forces of public order against the perpetrators of motondoso; and the ceaseless moaning of the city, like a raccoon caught in a foothold trap, that “no ghe xe schei,”
Two headlines this week are worth reporting, if only because we haven’t seen them for a while — though that does not mitigate the “here we go again” factor.
“Opere infinite Il Mose slitta di due anni” (Infinite works MOSE slips by two years).
MOSE: Sometimes friends and/or visitors inquire as to the progress of the floodgate project which is going to save Venice from acqua alta, so the builders claim. Despite incessant statements by interested parties giving the impression that high water is virtually a daily scourge, I should mention that I didn’t put on my boots even once last season (by which I mean acqua-alta-season, running from September to April). Not once. Yes, there was some water in the Piazza San Marco a few times. As usual, it went away after a few hours.
This headline carries no surprises but only some new information. First of all, construction projects everywhere are born behind schedule. So we are not amazed to read that the project isn’t going to be finished in 2014, as claimed a few years ago when 2014 was also a shifted-forward date. They say it’s going to be finished on December 31, 2016.
Bear in mind that the construction of the Calatrava Bridge took six years to complete (original projection: one and a half years), and it’s a simple span a mere 80 meters (262 feet) long. So looking at MOSE, if the term “Great Pyramid of Khufu” comes to mind, it’s understandable. (For the record, the pyramid was built in 20 years. MOSE was begun in 2003, but considering how far construction projects tend to expand into the future and into the budget, we may be seeing a rival for the record in the making.)
The basic reason for the change in date is that the money is running out. You may have noticed that money is not as plentiful as it once was — say, back in 2003, or even in 2006, when the government, under Prime Minister Romano Prodi, voted colossal quantities of cash for this undertaking. In my view, this was an investment, not in the future of Venice, but in the future of the investors themselves, seeing that it will require spending money for maintenance for the rest of eternity.
The Berlusconi government was less enthusiastic, but the funding continued. But now it’s different. The current government, headed by economist Mario Monti, is attempting to keep the entire country from going to the bottom with all hands aboard, so you can understand why paying for MOSE might not be seen as an urgent national priority. Especially since the current estimate on how much it will cost to finish this little adventure is 1,200 million euros ($1,451,890,000). There might be other things that cost more, but those other things might be more important to more people. Anyway, this number will also change.
Vu’ cumpra’ in fuga dai vigili travolgono due turiste (“Illegal handbag-sellers fleeing the police knock over two women tourists,” reported Monday, July 23); Blitz antiabusivi, agente travolto (“Blitz against the illegal handbag sellers, an agent knocked down,” reported Tuesday, July 24).
Nothing new here except the quantity of victims.
Translation: “”Vu’ cumpra'” is the African-accent rendition of “Vuoi comprare?” or “Do you want to buy?” It has become the generic nickname for the entire category. “Abusivi” is a general term which could be applied to anyone doing something without a license which requires a license. (Hence drug dealers or prostitutes, for example, wouldn’t be called “abusivi.”)
In Venetian terms, an abusivo could be a clam fishermen who digs mollusks out of season, in forbidden areas, in excessive quantities. It can also describe the new self-appointed porters, mostly Eastern European men, who semi-threaten tourists in order to carry their luggage over the Calatrava Bridge for money.
But it most often is used to describe the street-sellers of counterfeit handbags and other objects such as sunglasses and tiny camera tripods. There are so many of them in critical tourist areas (Riva degli Schiavoni, Calle Larga XX Marzo, Strada Nuova) that the undermanned police forces make only sporadic efforts to punish them. They arrest whomever they can catch, they take their goods, they might even take them to court, briefly. Next day — sorry, next hour — everything has returned to exactly the way it was.
The only reason the abusivi might deserve a place in the Gazzettino would be either the assault by the police, or an unusually large amount of merchandise taken away, or physical harm to whatever unfortunate human was in their way as they were fleeing at top speed down narrow streets and around corners. In this case, two of the above.
Running into people, I note, is a good thing for the fleeing abusivi because it means that at least some of the pursuing officers have to stop to look after the injured person.
On Monday, July 23, a surprise “attack” on the sellers in the Calle Larga XX Marzo was made around 7:00 PM, when the shops begin to close and the street begins to be lined with bag-sellers. This action was a result of a petition signed by the merchants who say that potential customers are afraid to pass the vu’ cumpra’ to enter their stores. These petitions are also perennial.
The agents blocked all the exits, so to speak, and swooped down. They carried away some 400 items, mostly bags, a trifling amount, as well as 15 sellers, half of whom were clandestine (i.e., here without permission) and some of whom already had long, dense rap sheets on file. But some of the sellers fought back, particularly the one who violently pushed one agent who fell to the pavement.
Around 11:00 PM last Saturday night, on the bridge by the Danieli Hotel, a similar scene involved a woman bowled over by a man running away loaded with his bulky bag of stuff. No major harm done to her; it appears that the man got away.
Sunday afternoon around 3:00 PM in Campo San Zulian, the same scenario: Running man ricochets off woman. No major harm here either, but it’s not much more attractive to watch than it is to experience.
You may ask why this situation persists. Everyone wants to know the answer to this question. If I ever find out, I will immediately let you know. The answer might even be published in the oldspaper.