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Reflections on water

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There seems to be something wrong with the date November 4.  And I’m not referring to the Unknown Soldier.  I’m referring to water.

On November 4, 1966, the famous acqua extra-alta flowed over Venice. It was also the day on which the catastrophic flood of the Arno struck Florence.  (Trivia alert: A similar flood hit Florence on November 4, 1333.)

And now November 4, 2011 has entered the annals of suffering in Genova, flooded by at least two of their rivers which were overwhelmed by torrential rains.

I mention this for several reasons, and not primarily to make you wonder what it is about November 4 that seems to make the firmament go feral.

One reason I mention it is because Venice usually gets the headlines, whether there is a real problem or not.  The foreign press loves to dramatize us splashing around in the Piazza San Marco, but I’m not sure that it has drawn appropriate attention to the cataclysm which has driven Genova to its knees, so I am making a point of telling you here.

Another reason I bring it up is to repeat one of my essential points about water in Venice compared to water in other places, which is that you can’t compare them.

So I will summarize it here and — I hope — won’t drone on about it any more this year.

Acqua alta is not “flooding.”  Flooding is what happened in Florence, and in Genova, and other places I won’t list, and it often involves destruction and death.

We get wet.  They get killed.  On November 4 in Genova, there were at least seven victims. One woman was crushed between two cars being swept away down what used to be a street.  Another woman and her two small children were drowned when the crest of the flood caught them in the entryway of their apartment building before they could make it to the staircase.  And so on.

These are utterly tragic stories which are — thank God — impossible to replicate with acqua alta.

Some "water on the ground" in the Piazza San Marco. The tide is coming in, as you can tell by the fact that the pavement to the left is dry. And then it will be going out again. It's hard to think of calling this "flooding."

Therefore I trust that any drama you may encounter in the upcoming months in the press, on TV, on tourists’ blogs, concerning water in Venice will not impress you.  In fact, I hope you won’t even notice it.

To review: Acqua alta is tide.  It comes in, it goes out.  It does not destroy bridges, rip up trees, or make floating trucks smash into buildings. Or humans.

So please spare a thought for the people in Genova (and elsewhere) who are suffering hideously from this avalanche of water.  Do not expend any thought whatever on whether people in Venice have to put their boots on for two hours.

Though if you think we ought to start a group to advocate the abolition of November 4 from the calendar, I’ll be ready to sign up.

Genova, November 4, 2011.


Genova, beginning to dig out.


Venice, November 30, 2009. Not the same thing.

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Categories : Acqua Alta, Flooding
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