Archive for January, 2013

The Consorzio Venezia Nuova looks at the lagoon but doesn’t see this. It sees endless floods of cash pouring into MOSE for all eternity.

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.

Hi,

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)
//Emiliano 

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Jan
09

The next small thing

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I love this bird. (Photo: w:User:SonNy cZ)

As I have undoubtedly mentioned at some point, there are many moments throughout the year which I await with all the focus of a hunter watching for the tiniest tracks of his prey. Or something like that.

This morning, to my astonishment, I heard the first blackbird of the year.  This is great news, because the few months in which blackbirds sing the sun up are a very big deal to me. Not because of the sun, because of the birds.

The freezingest days of January/February (which have yet to log in, though they’re apparently en route from Siberia) are known as the “giorni della merla” (days of the female blackbird), so considering the curiously mild weather, it does seem a bit early.

No matter.  I heard one distant cadenza this morning. It was brief, it was beautiful, and it was the first.  I’m happy.

Categories : Birds, Nature
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Jan
08

Water and fire to start the year

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Early late-afternoon is a magical moment in the winter, especially on Sant’ Erasmo. When we got there some people had already started their bonfires — smoke was going up all over the island.

Last Saturday night, while you were doing whatever you do, we were on Sant’ Erasmo participating in a wild pagan ritual. It’s known as panevin (pahn-eh-VEEN)or, more simply, brusar la vecia (broo-zahr ya VEH-cha — burn the old woman).

I’ve experienced it many times from a downwind distance, inhaling the smoke of many faraway bonfires, but three days ago was the first time I ever participated.  The Finotello family, whose market garden Sapori di Sant’ Erasmo has long since become our favorite produce store, told us they were going to be burning the old lady and sure, we could come too.

We always row over in a mascareta, partly because it’s a great motivation to go rowing, and also, not incidentally, the boat makes it easy to bring back our kilos of cauliflower or cabbage or tomatoes or eggplant or whatever’s good that day.

So around 4:00 we wandered across the span of lagoon between Castello and Sant’ Erasmo, threading our usual path along the flank of the Certosa and Vignole islands. The sun was going down, and it felt a little like we were sneaking out of the dorm after curfew, to be going out at the time we’re usually heading home.

I’ve written at other times about the history of this prehistoric practice, which is especially at home in the Northeast of Italy, so I’ll limit the scholarly details.  It’s enough to remember that the effigy represents the old (year, primarily) and therefore must be extinguished as a propitious start to the new (year, of course); that it’s an excellent way to dispose of the year’s prunings, which would have to have been burned eventually anyway; and that it’s a great excuse to end the holiday season with a party that also can keep you warm.

Needless to say, people in Mestre complained about the smoke (I say “needless,” because nothing happens here without some wail of protest from somebody, including me).  It wasn’t the fumes from Sant’ Erasmo that bothered them, but from various places close to the city.  Unbreathable air!  We had to stay shut in our houses with all the windows and doors sealed!  Call the fire department, something’s burning!

I give a little slack to people with genuine pulmonary issues, or anyone who might have encountered smoke caused by burning rubber or plastic.

Otherwise, here’s my message to the good burghers of Mestre: Get over it.

Walking up the lane, we could admire the magnificence of the Finotellos’ pyramid of plant matter. Either they have more land, or they had more hands to work, but it was twice as big as any of the others in sight.

The pyre is ready, a year’s-worth of clippings and rippings. No plastic! No tires to make more smoke, everybody knows it’s poison. Just honest old bits of botanical rubbish. The pieces of newspaper are going to be wrapped around a few long poles and moistened with diesel fuel, lit, and then stuck into the pile to get the blaze going. This is no job for a simple kitchen match.

Luca, the youngest Finotello, is all set to brandish his torch. I wasn’t watching but I doubt very much that he was allowed to go anywhere with this stick on fire.  Somebody’s bonfire is already ablaze in the distance.

The old woman was looking pretty sprightly, at least from below. Is that a Miracle Bra she’s wearing? I hope not, because there’s no miracle in sight for her.

The combustibles are ready, the people are ready, let’s just do it.

Claudio and his son Luca are ready to party.

It’s definitely getting to be time to light the fire.

The people just a few steps along the road had already set their fire. Maybe they were just burning up the old branches and twigs and not bothering to make a party. Crazy, I know.

Voila’! Let the bonfire begin.  The boys imagined incinerating their most-hated soccer team.  “Let’s burn Juventus” yelled a fan of Milan.  Naturally the response was “Let’s burn Milan!”  That went on for a while.

It was at least a flagration, if not something more.

The ancient lore relies on the direction in which the sparks blow as a prediction of the coming year’s prosperity, agriculturally speaking. If they fly west toward the mountains, “take your sack and go for chestnuts” (hard times); if they fly east toward the sea, “take your sack and go for wheat” (good times). Lino says that there isn’t really much magic about this. He explains that the wind follows the sun throughout the day; at dawn it blows from the east (here, the sea), and in the evening it blows from the west (the mountains). Any wind which contradicts the natural order of the correct direction would be a strange wind, an anomalous wind, one which (one might assume) would blow no good. But that’s true all year, Lino stated, not just at Epiphany. Sorry to spoil a good story. The interpretation of these sparks: Unclear. No definite sign from the old lady or anything.  The Finotellos don’t depend on sparks anyway — they take an appropriately fatalistic attitude toward their world and the weather.  After all, last year they got the tornado.  Predicting that was definitely above the old lady’s pay grade.

Let ‘er rip and let the sparks be damned.

All this fire is a fabulous sight, as long as it’s the old year going up in flames and not your house.

And there were the fundamental refreshments: “Pinza” (two different recipes), which is a sort of pound cake that wants to be a fruitcake, the hot spiced red wine known even here as vin brule’, and hot chocolate. Fire, food and wine — the only thing missing is the old lady, who by now is pretty much reduced to ash.

A view of the fire as we walked back to the boat. Looking around, we counted nine other fires scattered across the dark landscape. The view from a helicopter must have looked like the Fourth of July in the middle of the lagoon.

But the blaze wasn’t the only beautiful experience that evening.  We got a massive bonus with the row home in the dark.  I suspected we would, because we often used to row at night. But years have passed since our last “notturna.”

The lagoon isn’t ever ugly, but it’s like Gloria Swanson — at some moments it’s more beautiful than at others.  At noon on a summer Sunday you will not see it at its best.

At night, though, and especially in the winter, it is a place of deep, luminous glamour.  The silence, the stillness of the water, the sense of space, the stars, the cold — all the components join to make something much greater than the whole.

I didn’t even try to make any photographs because I knew they would never show what was really there.  The barely perceptible movement of the water’s silky surface responding to the oars, which I could sense in my hands and then, from the bottom of the boat, through my feet; the small sound of the oars themselves, slipping through the water and occasionally squeaking against the humid wood of the forcola; the frigid damp of the oar chilling my bare fingers.  The coldness of the air that I could breathe all the way down to the bottom of my lungs. The bright white dot of Venus reflected in the water, which floated next to us all the way home on our port side, bobbing back up after every stroke.  The misty beam of the lighthouse on Murano shining straight out to sea through the inlet at San Nicolo (4 flashes, 2 seconds pause) and the unexpected way that it appeared closer to us at one point, then five minutes later seemed to be miles away, even though the physical distance had barely changed.

A mere two miles (3.6 km) from the bonfire to our house felt like some pilgrimage suspended in time. In the dark, the lagoon seemed untethered from everything that wasn’t it.  No longer was it the plodding, workaday lagoon, the watery equivalent of an enormous Wal-Mart parking lot forced to marry an interstate interchange, but something whole, completely itself, majestic, complex, lacking nothing, needing nothing.

We crossed the Canale delle Navi by the Arsenal and rowed down the rio di San Pietro. Boats, walls, houses, windows, but no people.  It was only 7:00 PM and there wasn’t even the sound of a person.  We turned into the rio di Sant’ Ana — deserted.  Nobody on the fondamenta.  Nobody on the bridge.  Silence.  It was eerie. Beautiful, I guess, but it was as if the lagoon had just let itself go and obliterated everybody but us.

But of course, it hadn’t.  At the end of the canal we could hear the Saturday-evening-going-home cacophony.  Men shouting, dogs barking, kids wailing.

We now return you to your regular dimension.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Jan
04

The water never stops

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This photograph was not made in black and white.  That’s the way it looks when water comes to Venice not from below, but from all around.  I would hazard to say that this winter we’ve had more days and nights of fog than we have of acqua alta.  I’m not going to check the records, but that’s my impression.

Do you know how to say “lots of water” in Venetian?  Even though we live at street level, at our house it isn’t “acqua alta.”  It isn’t even really “motondoso.”  It’s “Happy New Year.”

For some reason, water events seem to prefer holiday periods.  Not just in our little hovel, but in Venice in general.

Example:  Some  years ago, when we were living in a rental hovel on the other side of Venice, our New Year’s Eve afternoon was enlivened suddenly by the sound of running water.  As we were one floor up from the ground, it wasn’t the rushing of high tide.  A quick stupefied glance revealed that it was the rushing of water from the bathroom of the tenant just above us.  Water coming down the wall and forming a pond.  Happily, it was clean water.  Unhappily, it was bringing part of his floor/our ceiling with it.

We were able to call our landlady (this was in the epoch before cell phones, so it was a certifiable miracle that she was at home, and answered the call.  I say this because if you were a landlady and your phone rang on New Year’s Eve, would you answer it?).

She came, she looked, she called some mysterious shadow-dwelling plumber she undoubtedly paid sotto banco, as we say here (small, unmarked bills….), because a plumber with all his papers in order and tax receipts arranged by date would have been unreachable till Epiphany.

He stopped the flow.  That’s really all that matters to our story.  The rest of the work got done in a scheduled sort of way, and I made the most of the chaos and dirt to sand the kitchen walls and repaint.  Tiny apartments are so annoying, until you have work to do. Then you’re really glad that you have so little space.

Years pass, and we’re in our new hovel.  I think it was the day before New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago when Lino remarked, “Do you hear a noise in the kitchen?”  (Why is it always the kitchen?  Maybe we should wall it off and cook outside, like nomads.)

Behind the tiled wall under the sink, there was indeed a liquid sound, the sort of sound that is so soothing when you have it on your white-noise machine.  In ErlaWorld, it’s a sound soon to be followed by hammering and cracking.  We found a plumber by urgently appealing to the man at the Bottegon, our mega-hardware-and-everything-else-except-jars-of-buckwheat-honey store.  My “urgent appeal” look must be something like the eyes-getting-larger-and-more-pathetic of Puss in Boots in the Shrek movies.  Added to which gaze would be desperation and a tinge of threat.

Yes, there was indeed a porous pipe behind the wall, joyously leaking water out of the conduit and onto our water bill that month.  The plumber fixed it.  He didn’t fix the hole in the wall, though.  It’s still there, as are a couple of the tiles. He had to get home for the rest of his holiday and we had no intention of paying a plasterer to make it all perfect again. Besides — what if we needed to get at that pipe again?

This year’s event didn’t involve water that you could fill a glass with, but water there was. Our refrigerator door came off, so the warming machine gently released liquid from here and there. No, the door didn’t come off just like that; it had been giving every sign of imminent prostration for months.  If it had been a mule, we’d have just kept hitting it on its rump and yelling.  As of New Year’s Day, no more rump, no more yelling.

So the day after New Year’s we went to buy a new consumer durable.  If we didn’t have all that fish frozen, I’d have suggested we experiment with living without a fridge, at least till summer.  (Lino would certainly have considered that an americanata).

Consumer durables after Christmas usually mean plasma TVs and other glamorous frippery. We’re just as happy with our new appliance. It was delivered this morning, and we’ve washed it and re-stocked it, and its own mother couldn’t be more proud of it than we are.

If Jean Dujardin were coming to lunch, I’d really try to do something about this hideosity. As is it, till a solution is found, there’s no point in applying paint that’s just going to fall off again.

But there’s more, and it doesn’t involve New Year, as in the holiday, but the New Year, as in 2013, I fear.

The latest low-grade chronic water event to moisten our lives is a blocked tube or pipe passing from somewhere upstairs (there are two storeys above us) down into the ground by our front door. This tube, like many tubes in Venice, is concealed in the wall, which makes dealing with it unpleasantly inconvenient.

But we know it’s there because its oozing dampness is deteriorating the wall indoors, and outdoors as well.  I’d be willing to overlook the humidity outside, but what we see inside isn’t good.

The retired builder living on the top floor came to look at it, and deepened his investigation by knocking open a hole.  This was intended to release the humidity (otherwise known as solving the problem).  He wanted very much not to have to theorize that the water might be blocked at his level. However, Lino went up to see his apartment, and says there are more humidity-releasing holes in his walls than the perforations in the proverbial Swiss cheese.

Rising damp in Venice is implacable, and capillary action here evidently is constrained by no force we know of.  We can see it in the bathroom wall, if you’d like to know. If there were a building in Venice that went as high as the exosphere, there would still be dampness in its walls making those ugly blister bubbles.

I appreciate that the man upstairs didn’t really want to go so far as to discover the location of the blockage, in case it should turn out to be on his floor.  So he left the hole to do its dehydration work (or not), and now he gives us fresh fish occasionally when he comes back from a session out in the lagoon.  I interpret this as hush money to prevent us from pursuing the subject.  So far, it has worked very well.  The wall just stays as it is, and we eat the fish.  I guess this will be fine till the wall falls down.

I look inside this hole and it’s like looking into a dissected frog. I have no clue as to what’s going on here or how it’s supposed to work. If anybody can enlighten me, don’t hold back.

Seeing how catastrophes prefer holidays, I figure that whatever is likely to happen next won’t be before next New Year’s Eve.  I suppose we could take the Situation in Hand and apply ourselves seriously to Finding a Solution, but everything here is just too much trouble. Or expensive.  Or both.

The mark of internal humidity is uncomfortably clear outside the front door. But you get into a frame of mind that interprets “Not getting worse” as “Everything’s okay.”

This, in a microcosm, is one explanation of the picturesque degradation that makes Venetian houses and streets so charming to everybody but their tenants.  Small problems don’t get fixed in order to prevent their becoming large problems because if you’re going to have to be hugely inconvenienced and impoverished by the expense of repairs, you might as well wait till it’s utterly unavoidable.

Water from below doesn’t afflict only the humble residents. The city got a direct shot of it just a few days ago when a water pipe busted under the Riva degli Schiavoni.  In minutes a sort of vortex had deranged an area of pavement between the Danieli Hotel and the Londra Palace.  And the residents of those, and nearby lodgings, found themselves without water.

There is something a little droll about living in the middle of water and not having any when you need it (of course it’s not the same water — I merely jest).  And I suppose I’m sorry that people spending hundreds of euros a night should not be able to turn the tap and brush their teeth, or whatever.  A quick-witted person prone to philosophy might have said, “This is great!  It’s just the old days, when doges roamed the earth and people got their water in buckets from wells.”  But probably nobody said that.

We experienced a brief period of low water pressure, that was all, and the water wallahs installed a shunt in record time.  One has to be reasonable; that particular pipe was 130 years old, like a number of pipes still slaving away under the paving stones.  Eventually, like our fridge, it just couldn’t do it anymore.

We went for a walk toward San Marco the morning after.  “Well,” said Lino; “let’s go see where they struck oil.”

Too bad it was only water and not black gold that burst through the street here. Maybe then the city would stop saying it has no money.

I agree that a water event of this nature doesn’t have the glamour of acqua alta, but it’s got a lot of extra negative aspects to it. At least when there’s acqua alta you can still brush your teeth.

 

 

 

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Categories : Venetian Problems
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