Archive for Adriatic
One thing that everybody loves about Venice is that it seems so old. Of course, it is old. It’s kind of like a Byzantine/Renaissance/Baroque/Neo-Classical Lascaux Caves, except that it’s inhabited.
I pause to say that I know there are at least 14 continuously inhabited cities in the world that are far, far older than Venice. I was just making the point that many visitors are struck with astonishment at the fact that Venice was ever created, an emotion I believe the cave paintings also elicit. But I’m getting off the point.
One thing that makes it feel old when you’re living here is the endless cycle of the same old things, and when I say that I don’t mean the Befana (with its utterly predictable brief annual cluster of highly-charged articles about the dangerous effects of the air pollution caused by the bonfires’ smoke), or the feast of the Redentore, or other celebrations.
By “same things” I mean issues that just keep coming up, that continue to be transformed in a shape-shifting way by assorted groups, interested parties, and random changes of circumstance, but that never get settled. Even in the rare instances when a problem appears to have been resolved, before long we discover that it has spawned new problems. And the cycle begins again.
In the few days since 2015 began, the Gazzettino has filled its pages with a new crop of the old. Such as:
MOSE: No, this time it’s not about the gates themselves, nor about the billions that were stolen to pay off its many participants, collaborators, and well-wishers. Now it’s about the conca, or basin (#4 on the image above), which was dug at the inlet of Malamocco to permit the passage of ships on the occasions when the gates are raised.
For one thing, it’s too small.
It has been designed to accommodate ships up to 280 meters (918 feet) long and 39 meters (128 feet) wide. These dimensions are already too small for the largest cruise ships, the ones that certain groups want to compel to enter the lagoon by way of Malamocco instead of by the Bacino of San Marco. So a mega-cruise ship wanting to come to Venice would have to hang around outside in the Adriatic until the tide turned and the gates were lowered, to let them continue with their plan to unload thousands of passengers and take on more. Having to delay entry sounds like a new problem has just replaced the old.
But it gets worse. The fundamental problem isn’t size. It’s the positioning of the scogliera (skoh-LYEH-ra), or protective barrier, in relation to the basin. Stick with me here, because in the world of engineering “oops!” this is kind of special. And whatever you may think about cruise ships, we now have to consider the needs of real grown-up working ships that haul containers and petroleum and grain and coal (for the power station just on the edge of the mainland); these are ships for which time really is money.
The curve and position of the barrier built to shield the basin from wild stormy water (the kind you might well have if there is an exceptional acqua alta underway) makes it difficult — in some cases, perhaps impossible — for even smaller ships to navigate themselves into a perfect straight line to enter the basin.
“About 2,000 vessels (note: That’s nearly six per day) enter and exit the lagoon each year,” said Alessandro Santi, president of Assoagenti Veneto, the maritime agents’ association. “Of these, at least 350, in the current state of things, would be prevented from entering the basin.” They’d have to wait outside till the tide turned and the MOSE gates were lowered to allow them to enter by the usual channel.
Solution! Construct an additional rubber barrier (I have no further details) against which the ships could lean — a sort of fulcrum — to help them position themselves to enter the basin. I’m referring to the ships which can, in fact, enter the basin, which as you see isn’t going to be all of them.
Projected cost: 15 million euros ($17,669,900). That’s one heck of a patch.
Speaking of cost, the news has just come out that the completion date for MOSE has yet again been postponed. It is currently predicted to be finished in mid-2017, and will cost an additional 2 billion euros ($2,355,980,000). Unless it turns out to cost more, of course.
So why is this an old subject? Because it’s yet another aspect of a project that wasn’t planned correctly, but construction just went merrily along anyway, and now everybody is having to find ways to resolve problems that didn’t ever have to exist.
DEGRADO: The terse but expressive and useful term degrado (deh-GRAH-do) means “degradation,” and it finds innumerable uses. And I will keep this entry short because the subject deserves a post all of its own, if I could find the strength.
Degrado is a hydra-headed monster composed of graffiti, broken pavements, disintegrating nizioleti, and now strata of aging posters stuck up all over walls. The city of Venice, and myriad individuals, put up these pieces of paper with or without permission, and these announcements of all sorts of events, needs or offers stay there because once the moment has passed, who cares?
The city says it cares, and since 2012 has spent 856,000 euros ($1,008,360) to pay a private company named A.R. Promotion to affix posters and also to strip away the accumulated crud. But evidently the announcements breed at night and produce more old posters, or somehow the private company isn’t keeping up. Or perhaps even starting, who knows?
Breakdown of payments made: At the end of 2012 A.R. Promotion won the bid to do this work for one and a half years for 456,000 euros. A few years later, the same company got the job for about two years for 400,000 euros. The age of some of the posters indicates that in either one or other of these periods, the company somehow didn’t catch everything.
Let me say that having to hack away layers of gummy paper over a period of years does not speak well for the paper-hangers. Because while one could criticize the ability of A.R. Promotion to remove paper, one could much more justly criticize the cretins who put up the pieces of paper in the first place.
But back to the subject of payment for services rendered, or not: Cecilia Tonon, president of the volunteer group Masegni e Nizioleti, has raised her hand to ask why the city is paying for a service which evidently isn’t provided, when squadrons of members have turned out more than once to do a large amount of this very work for free. (I participated in one clean-up project, which I’ll write about another time.)
No answer has yet forthcome.
Intermission: News from the trial of the Indian couple who murdered their Iranian roommate, Mahtab Ahadsavoji, and dumped her body in the lagoon. The Indian girl has been identified as the culprit, and has been sentenced to 17 years in prison. Her boyfriend got a smaller sentence because he merely helped dispose of the evidence. Appeals will drag on.
BUDGET: For years now we’ve had to listen to the municipal choir singing the Anvil Chorus, financial version, whose refrain is “No ghe xe schei” (there is no money).
We found out last year that the reason there was no money was because it had all been gift-wrapped and given to politicians and businessmen involved in the MOSE project.
So now there really is no money.
After working his way upstream through heavy fire from outraged city employees facing drastic cuts, attempting to make the budget balance in some miraculous way (“miraculous” meaning “money from Rome”), the emergency governor, Vittorio Zappalorto, has had to say it isn’t working. The city is 60 million euros ($70,855,800) in the hole.
“The situation is unsustainable,” he said. “We’ve reached a point of no return, The next mayor is going to have” (I freely translate) “one hell of a hideous job.” The Casino’, once an endless font of funds, is also now crouching over its begging bowls. The sale of palaces is almost the only option for raising money, but so far they are being sold at slashed, fire-sale prices, or not being sold at all.
POVEGLIA: Remember the popular groundswell, funded by citizen contributions, to acquire the island and restore it for the use of the Venetians rather than let it be sold to one of those terrible foreign companies which would transform it into a hotel?
All stuck in lawyer-land. The city put the island up for bids; the highest bid, from a private businessman, was snubbed by the city as being ridiculously low. To which the bidder has replied, “But you had no higher bids in this auction. So?”
In any case, the groundswell of Venice-for-the-Venetians emotion hasn’t been heard from in quite some time, considering that since last June 4, when the sky fell on Venice, much bigger problems have overcome everybody. It would be extremely difficult, in the current climate, to get anybody excited about an abandoned island.
BIG CRUISE SHIPS: This is an issue that’s so photogenic that it cauterizes people brains, rendering them incapable of thought. In battling to ban the ships from passing in the Bacino of San Marco, the enthusiasts have created a much larger problem, which is how to keep the port economy going when some cruise lines have already canceled their plans to come to Venice in 2015.
The no-big-ships people haven’t given any sign of caring much about the port itself, but they are baffled as to how to they feel about the digging of the Contorta Canal (officially named the Canale Contorta S. Angelo). But it seems clear to almost everybody that deepening the canal will create so many more problems than it solves that it makes my teeth grind all by themselves.
The tug of war about approving the Contorta canal is going to continue for an unspecified time. Another year, anyway, I have no doubt. There will be flourishing crops of claims, counter-claims, and recriminations.
Meanwhile, due to the canceled cruises, 300,000 fewer passengers are expected this year. This means people may very well be laid off or fired, and all the rest of the ripple effect that doesn’t need describing. There is also the loss of income from the taxes paid by the ship companies to be considered. Nice.
But what I don’t understand is why the ships are vilified as ugly, and therefore deserving of death, when everyday ugliness like graffiti just keeps rolling along, singing a song.
Old? New? Is there a difference?
Maybe all of you out there are sick of hearing about the Grandi Navi (Big Ships) kerfuffle, but it’s just about daily news here. It provides a needed (though I wouldn’t say “welcome”) break from the other endless topics, such as everything else that’s screwy around here.
But something happened two days ago which in my opinion changes the entire scheme of the bureaucratic/political/economic volleyball game between the Comune, the small but obnoxious band of protesters, and the Port Authority.
As you know, there has been and continues to be an exhausting back and forth between these factions about What to Do About the Big Ships. All these heated remarks and assertions, which keep fizzing and flaming like sodium dropped in a glass of water, are based on the conviction that a big ship is a clear and present and inevitable and catastrophic danger to Venice. Every remark on the subject, like acqua alta, starts from the unstated assumption that it is inherently hazardous.
As you also know, I am not convinced. Not being convinced doesn’t mean that I find the behemoths attractive, but there is a difference between something being ugly and something being bad. The protesters don’t want them in the city for reasons which have nothing to do either with the ships or the city, and so have created an issue where one didn’t exist before, and doesn’t have to exist now, either.
The subject has been twisted around in a way that brings to mind the observation of Seneca the Younger regarding the difference between the Roman and Etruscan outlook on the cosmos:
“Whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that the clouds collide so as to release lightning: for … they are led to believe not that things have a meaning insofar as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning.”
Because the big ships could be dangerous, we have to assume that they will be dangerous.
Don’t misunderstand. I think it would be a terrible thing if a big ship suddenly lost control and ran into the Piazza San Marco killing countless people and cleaving the Doge’s Palace in twain. I also think it would be a terrible thing if an eagle dropped a turtle on my head. So many terrible things hurt and/or kill people every day — abusive husbands, cigarettes, car crashes, malaria-bearing mosquitoes — that fixating on the big ships seems excessive.
But there’s good news!
Two days ago a sort of fire-drill occurred. It wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t fun, but in my opinion it demonstrated that the people who would have to deal with the much-dreaded emergency in the Bacino of San Marco are very much up to the task.
A Big Ship named “Zenith” (soon, I guess, to be rechristened “Nadir”) carrying 1,828 (or 1,672) passengers and 620 (or 603) crew members caught fire. That is, a fire broke out in the engine room. The ship was not far from Chioggia, in the first night of its cruise heading toward Venice. The fire was quickly brought under control, but the ship lost all power and was anchored ten miles offshore (seasick pills anybody?), in the dark, etc. Scenarios that are too familiar from recent Carnival line carnivals.
At 4:20 AM, after having spent ten hours trying to get the engines started, the captain called the Capitaneria di Porto for help and a flotilla of assistance was immediately thrown into action. Three large motor patrol vessels of the C di P began heading south, along with a large fireboat with firemen, two big tugboats (“Marina C” and “Hippos”), soon followed by another two (“Angelina C” and “Ivonne C”). Aboard the tugboats were more firemen and seamen from the Coast Guard. Also divers.
The tugboats managed to attach their towlines to the ship — not easy in a heavy sea — and tow her into the lagoon at Malamocco at about 4 knots/7 kilometers per hour. All this took most of the day. At 11:00 PM the ship was finally moored at the industrial zone at Marghera. Total elapsed time: 20 hours.
Why is this good news? First of all, the passengers lived through it and the experience didn’t last for days and days, as has been the case in some other similar events.
Second, and most important, the Venetian maritime system showed itself highly capable of resolving this emergency in admirable form.
So if they were able to accomplish all this in a long and complicated situation, why would they not be able to intervene immediately in the Bacino of San Marco if a Big Ship lost power, when two tugboats are already attached, and there are rarely waves or wind to match those of the open sea?
Maybe Seneca the Younger has the answer to that. My answer is that it appears they’d be able to do just fine.
The diluvian spring seems to finally have wrung itself out and today we had sun. We’ve had intermittent sun recently but it didn’t give the impression that it was sincere.
But suddenly, the sun was out. Therefore the laundry was out — I mean, out rejoicing, not out wailing and repenting, and begging to be let back in, as it has been for quite a while. Small but delectable milestone today: Bringing in the laundry and smelling that sun-and-fresh-air aroma in its folds for the first time in 2013. (Someone will tell me it’s nothing more than the detergent I’m inhaling, but they would be wrong.)
And more to the truly cosmic point, the seppie are out. “Out” in the way that a solar flare could be called “out.” A few years ago there were only one or two forlorn little seppie in the entire lagoon, and there were scarcely any to be had in the market, not even for ready money. It was a veritable drought of seppie. Now we’re making up for lost time.
The past few days have seen what must be an underwater stampede of the little nimnods, swarming in from the Adriatic to spawn, because out on the water that stretches from San Nicolo’ on the Lido up the wide canal that goes to Murano there has been a daily conglomeration of boats the like of which I’ve never seen, boats full of men fishing for seppie. I have it on several good authorities that virtually every boat has been going home with something like ten kilos (20 pounds) of cuttlefish.
Then there are the insatiable seagulls, who are out there with the rest of the city, looking for chow. You’ll see the gulls pulling their prey to some nearby surface in order to pierce the seppia’s body sufficiently with their beak to allow the extraction of the very hard-to-chew inner bone. These pale-white ovals of various sizes can frequently be seen floating in the canals, and out in the lagoon, the marine version of the ox-bones flung aside by Viking gorgers.
For the many boatless anglers, there’s plenty of room along the fondamente to strew murder and mayhem in the depths. It’s a virtual chorus line of men and children with fishing rods and buckets, and the stones are wildly bespattered with black stains, the parting shots from the truculent creatures unwilling to admit defeat, but whose sac of ink is impotent against the hooks and nets. Of course, they themselves make no effort to resist the lure of whatever’s on the end of the hook, so no use crying afterward. Lino once attracted scores of seppie merely by snagging a piece of white plastic onto his hook and pulling it through the water. They thought it was a seppia, and they were coming to eat it too. Little cannibals.
So spring doesn’t just mean peach blossoms and the dawn trilling of the blackbirds. This year, at least, it means hecatombs of eight-armed mollusks (technically, that’s what they are). I’ll be kind of glad when it’s over. It’s like the tulip craze or something, and only God knows who’s going to eat them all. Nobody can consume everything that’s being hauled out of the water these days, and eventually all the freezers are going to be full.
Just one more thing to worry about.
Lino is ruthless when it comes to fish. If they’re not fresh, they don’t deserve to live. Or be dead. Or anyway, be for sale.
He recognizes every symptom; as someone who has spent his life fishing in the lagoon, he knows virtually every creature, its habitat, its life story (pretty much the way he knows people), and he especially knows when the fish on sale in the Pescheria is — as they say — “tired.”
Think about it: The fish is dead, but only then does it begin to tire out. But apart from the philosophical convolutions of the point, even I can recognize fish that’s been on the ice too long. It looks worn, faded, sad; it looks like it’s been waiting in the rain at midnight for a bus that it is slowly realizing is never going to come.
So it was a happy moment at the market the other day when Lino stopped suddenly. If he had little control-panel lights they all would have been flashing “Seppie! Seppie!” And the “Seppie!” lights only flash when they are “Fresh! Fresh!”
Then a separate scary little light begins to flash: “Must Buy! Must Buy!”
So we did. A kilo of demonstrably not-tired critters came home, and Lino began what is one of his most favorite activities in the world: Cleaning fish. Catching them is the best, of course, and eating them is good, but if you want to see a happy man, you need only look at him standing at the sink sending scales flying everywhere, or at the least (as with the seppie) eviscerating them.
The best moment of all, and the reason I’m writing this little announcement, is when he pokes around to see what they’ve been eating. If there’s nothing in there, they almost certainly have been fish-farmed. They’re still fresh, but they’re not wild.
But seppie aren’t farmed, so their stomachs are a little diary of their previous few hours. I won’t list some of the ichthyological beings he has found, but the other day inspired a call from the kitchen. “Hey, look at this!” I went to see what “this” was.
It was a baby mormora (Lithognathus mormyrus). The mormora is one of my favorite fish, and I’ve seen plenty of fingerlings of various species flitting around the shallows, so its smallness wasn’t a novelty.
But I’d never seen one of these. I felt a little sorry for it — it looked a little like it might be blinking slightly and murmuring, “Where am I? Was all that just a bad dream?”
But I never express fraternal feelings toward fish anymore around Lino. Fish were created to be eaten. If the seppia hadn’t swallowed it, something or someone else would have. You might as well feel sorry for an ear of corn.
At least I’ve been able to give the little squirt a decent memorial.