Archive for Genova


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.

Categories : Acqua Alta, Flooding
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Galleons can break your heart

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I recently promised, somewhat insincerely, to report on how the race of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics came out last Sunday.  Insincere, because even though I have seen it here and, via television, elsewhere, I’ve always had the impression that it was a race that interested only the people taking part. I certainly wasn’t picking up any tremors of curiosity from that part of me that wonders about everything.

The Italian naval jack (flown at the bow of all Italian military vessels) shows the symbols of the four ancient maritime republics. (Clockwise from top left) Venice, Genova, Pisa, Amalfi.

And the galleons, arranged here in corresponding order.

But we did watch most of it, standing on a mid-course bridge, and about one minute into the 8-minute, 2000-meter contest we had the winner all picked out (the team from Pisa, which has won the last two races, though Amalfi was rowing as if each man had a dagger clenched in his jaws). Although rowing backwards has little appeal for me personally, I had to admire the teams, composed in large part of Italian champions loaded with national, European, and even World titles. For them, this wasn’t some picturesque little jaunt, it was a real race.

Since we were too far away to see the finish, and we were staring straight into the late-afternoon sun, we went home.

Guess what?  Those last five minutes have now made history. Not only did Amalfi launch a dazzling sprint that carried them across the finish line 3/100ths of a second faster than Pisa, an hour later the judges decided that three of the four competitors had to be disqualified for technical errors.

This made Venice, the obvious loser trailing for the entire race, the only possible winner.

So the judges and mayors of the four contending cities had a big meeting, while outside some of the fans were so near to starting a small riot that the police and the Carabinieri had to be called in to settle things down. Meanwhile the live-TV commentators trolled the exhausted, baffled and emotional racers for remarks.  Everybody was waiting.

The verdict: The race was annulled.  For the first time in the 56 years of this competition, there was no winner.  It never happened.  We were never there.  You were just imagining it.

“Venice can’t win this way,” said mayor Giorgio Orsoni in the best sporting tradition, even though it’s a bitter bite, as they say here, when the home team loses, especially when the home team has won more of these races (30) than its three competitors put together.

So what went wrong?  I will resist giving you all the details but simply say that Pisa and Amalfi, battling it out in the lead, were guilty of wandering off the legal playing field, while Genova skipped a buoy it was supposed to pass in a certain way. Naturally there were reasons for these infractions which the teams struggled to justify, to no avail. Many people, even ashore, complained about the negative effect the fireboat’s wake was undoubtedly having on the two nearest boats.

So no medals, no glory, nothing but boatloads of grief for everybody, especially Amalfi, which was deservedly proud of its spectacular last-minute push to victory.  Or so it thought.

Here is the race, as seen live on national television.  I don’t think it’s necessary to know Italian to understand what’s going on. You merely need to have a working knowledge of brilliance, struggle, and crushing disappointment.

And that aroma you may have noticed? It’s the fragrance of revenge wafting from Amalfi, which is the host city for next year’s race.

Trivia:  The race was proposed in 1949 by the president of the Tourism organization of Pisa.  The fact that it wasn’t invented by an athletic group for its competitive value, but as a neat reason to dress up a shorebound contingent of costumed extras, seems a little odd.  But tourists like costumes, and the sporting people can just ignore them.

The four boats were designed by the late, legendary Giovanni Giuponi (in Venice), and built by a Venetian shipyard, originally in wood, later in fiberglass.

The bow of each  boat carries a stylized figurehead representing each city’s totem animal (as I think of them): The winged lion of San Marco for Venice, a dragon for Genova, an eagle for Pisa, and a winged horse for Amalfi.

The boat/team colors are:  Green for Venice, white for Genova, red for Pisa, blue for Amalfi.

The boats cannot weigh less than 760 kilos (1,675.5 pounds).

The first race was held on July 1,1956, in Pisa.  Logical, seeing as it was their idea.

The positions at the starting line are drawn by lot, which is the only fair way to deal with the factor of tide, current, or any other acqueous factor which would clearly help some boats while hindering others. Every city’s stretch of water for this race presents particular little problems which the coaches and coxes make every effort to recognize. As it happens, Pisa, which had the lead for almost the whole race, was rowing in the worst position.  Hats off, oars up, wave your flag or handkerchief, because they deserve it.

If the teams have been here for a week, studying the course, you might well wonder how the coxes of three boats could have made the mistakes they did.  Lino’s explanation: They were of course looking for the best little thread of extra current to help them, and didn’t pay attention.  Or thought nobody would notice, which is my theory.






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Categories : Venetian Events
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