Archive for motondoso

A few times each year, the subject of motondoso leaps into the headlines.  I wrote about some of this phenomenon a good while ago.  While I wait for more pressing news to emerge, I will add this post to the general fund of knowledge.  Don’t be looking for a happy ending.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have nowhere to run so they just keep banging into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have no room to disperse so they just keep slamming into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

  • Studies by the Venice Project Center have shown several facts in crisp detail.
    1. The height of the waves increases exponentially as speed increases. A small barge traveling at 5 km/h would produce a wake about 2 cm high. The same boat going at 10 km/h produces a wake of nearly 15 cm. (Multiply the speed by 2, multiply the wake by 7.)
    2. Virtually all boats exceed the speed limit. The average speed on all boats in all canals was 12 km/h, which is more than 7 km/h over the maximum speed limit.
    3. Therefore, reducing the speed of the boats would drastically decrease the size of their wakes.

    The area available for waves to dissipate. This is a crucial factor because all these hydrodynamic formulas wouldn’t have to matter except for those pesky canals, whose walls trap the waves.

    The waves travel till they hit a wall, then bounce back, then hit the other wall, and this continues till they wear themselves out and disappear. Depending on how much traffic passes in the canal in question, they might disappear sometime around midnight. Typically, enough boats a day(and it doesn’t have to be thousands) pass through so many canals making so many waves that they don’t have time to dissipate, so they just keep going, banging back and forth into each other and into each side of the canal. each time giving just another little hammer-blow to whatever building they reach. That probably didn’t need to be explained. The depth of the water also influences the waves in certain ways, but of course the depth varies according to the tide, so let’s move on.

Who suffers?

Building foundations. This is obvious. Some Venetians have told me that they believe nothing will be done to resolve this situation till an entire building collapses. Stay tuned.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left. The Consorzio Venezia Nuova is laboring mightily (and undoubtedly at great cost) to rebuild a number of barene, but the prospects for their survival is not encouraging as motor traffic continues to increase. But wait — they will surround them with barriers. Several different types have been tried with little success, but if they keep trying they’ll come up with something.

  • The lagoon, more specifically the barene and everything that depends on them. I will say more on this on my page about the lagoon, but briefly, the barene (bah-RAY-neh) are the marshy, squidgy islets strewn about the lagoon.
    They form 20 percent of the lagoon area, and their benefit is to the entire lagoon ecosystem: microorganisms, plants, animals, birds, fish. For millennia they also slowed down the speed and force of the tide, but as the waves continue to obliterate them (50 percent of the barene have been lopped away by waves in 60 years), their benefits are denied to everyone. So it’s not only the foundations of buildings which are under attack, so are the foundations of the lagoon.

People. Waves are a hazard to ordinary people in several ways. The most obvious is the risk of capsizing.  Even on land, you can’t be sure you’re safe. The insidious subterranean erosion caused by the waves continually sucking soil out from under pavements means that sometimes a person suddenly falls into a hole. It happened to a woman walking along near the Giardini one day — she put her foot on a stone, it collapsed, she fell into a hole higher than she was. Nobody in the neighborhood was surprised; they’d been sending complaints to the city to no avail. Then there was the child playing on a stretch of greensward at Sacca Fisola facing the Giudecca Canal who suddenly fell into an unsuspected weak spot in the ground. If a man with quick reflexes hadn’t grabbed him, the child would have long since gone out to sea.

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

The Venetians have a saying: “Water has no bones.” This means that water can go anywhere it wants to. They should know — Venice has a long history of brilliant hydraulic engineering, up to and including cutting the river Po to re-route it southward, thus preventing the eventual silting-up of the lagoon. If they hadn’t done this in 1604, Venice would have long since been surrounded by cornfields. Or more probably by the world’s biggest parking lot. This knowledge and sense of self-preservation now exists only in a vastly sub-divided and disconnected form which only serves one tiny, specific purpose, usually unrelated to any larger context.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can't even put up a fight.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can’t even put up a fight.

Who’s responsible?

Division of jurisdiction. The term “battle against motondoso” is now a cliche. But exactly who is conducting this battle? By now there is “an exuberance,” as the Italians might put it, of agencies and organizations involved in some way in managing the lagoon. The Magistrato alle Acque was established in 1501 to resolve administrative conflicts and simplify redundancies. Now it’s just one more in the herd. The lagoon is divided into areas overseen by agencies representing a large array of sometimes incompatible interests, charged with enforcing laws which sometimes contradict each other. The waters lapping at Venice’s feet are subdivided according to their primary use: shipping channels, small internal canals, approaches, which are variously overseen by the Capitaneria di Porto, the Magistrato alle Acque, the city of Venice and/or the province of Venice. Parts of the lagoon have been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Habitats Directive, but they exclude the central part of the lagoon, the major shipping lanes, and the shoreline Industrial Area — just the places where motondoso is most likely to be found.

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how successfully these barriers resisted the waves

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how well these barriers have resisted the waves.

Everybody with a boat. Over time, the voices blaming everyone else blend like an entire city singing “Three Blind Mice.” (I would say “Row, row, row your boat,” but that would be silly.) The vaporetto drivers say it’s the barges. The barge drivers say it’s the taxis. The taxi drivers say it’s the private boats. The private boats say it’s everybody but them. And so it goes. I’m not sure what the legal value is of a defense strategy formed around “I did it, but he did it worse.” But whoever is in a motorboat for work reasons considers himself to have a free pass. And whoever is in a motorboat for fun automatically counts himself out because he’s not there every day, so how could he count as a culprit?

Studies by the Venice Project Center have revealed that the highest wakes are produced by the small barges (“topo-motore“). Next were the taxis. Vaporettos produced the least, but that doesn’t let them off the hook entirely, for two reasons. One, “least” doesn’t mean they produce no wake, so I don’t regard “least” as any kind of gold star. Second, instead of bigger waves they produce something which none of the other motorboats do, which is a powerful whirlpool.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it's extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same suction, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren't applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it’s extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same phenomenon, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren’t applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

Every time a vaporetto ties up to the dock to let passengers on and off, the motor stays in full-steam-ahead mode. The reason given is that it makes the boat more secure for the passengers in transit. I won’t contest that here, but will say that the vortex creates a kind of suction effect (think of rinsing out your mouth) which is also damaging to the nearby foundations.

What to do? Stricter enforcement of speed limits. It’s the most obvious solution, even to Venetians. Generally speaking, the limit in the small inner canals is 5 km/h, in the Grand Canal and some larger canals it’s 7 km/h, and in some others (such as the Canale di Tessera leading to the airport) it’s 11 km/h. But, as noted earlier, these are just numbers on a page. Many and varied have been the proposals, most of which have some merit but which frequently suffer from the fatal flaw of being unenforceable. Shortage of personnel, inter-bureau jealousies, and lack of consistency and simple lack of will on the part of everyone has shown this solution to be impossible. I don’t mean literally impossible, I just mean impossible here. Require hulls and horsepower to be changed to the minimum-wave-producing conformation. Nobody wants to pay to get a new boat with a less wave-inducing hull, though it occurs to me that now would be a brilliant moment to launch a “Cash for Clunkers” program for commercial boats. If cost is the only thing holding people back (it isn’t) this would be an intelligent place to start. If it’s not cost, what is it? Civic pride isn’t even mentioned as an incentive.

It’s Sloth. “We’ve always done it this way.” “It’s too much trouble.” “Why me?” How to overcome that? You can’t. It’s as difficult to convince workers-with-boats as it is poachers that they are gradually killing their source of livelihood. You can only create a new situation and then enforce it till it becomes habit. I have several solutions in mind, each of which would have an appreciable, even dramatic, effect on motondoso. The costs involved are all to be considered as investments in the future not only of the person using the boat, but of the city itself.

    • Redesign the vaporettos. Actually, this was on the way to being done, then the project slowly sank from sight and history into the swamp that is the political biosphere here. You should have a look at the Mangia Onda (wave-eater) hull design, and the prototype airport launch. The prototype had the advantage of being paid for by its inventor, which got it very far down the road. That was in 2001. The documents must be in a drawer somewhere. Or as one site sums up: “Don’t even ask what happened.”
    • While that is going on, reconfigure the timetables to impose slower — much, much slower — speed limits on everybody. I don’t know why this seems to be such a difficult idea; evidently the mania for speed has blinded everyone to the fact that these changes would only involve five or fifteen — let’s say twenty, hey — minutes more for each run. Passengers, be they residents or tourists, can’t plan for an extra twenty minutes in transit? Why? They do it on an unplanned basis on the mainland all the time — all it takes is an accident somewhere and traffic backs up forever. Why do water-buses have to go faster? To carry more people?
Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

  • There are already so many vaporettos in operation that, especially in the Grand Canal, they have to just float there in neutral, waiting their turn to tie up at the dock while the previous boat finishes and casts off. If we were to see buses on the mainland pulling over to wait until their stop became available on a regular basis, we’d think it was kind of nutty. Same for boats. It’s a sign of unintelligent management.
  • Install permanent cofferdams to protect anything a wave can reach. This would be most of the city and its canals. Not pretty, perhaps, for tourists who like to think the city is still living in the 15th century, but then again, the same tourists use vaporettos, taxis, launches, and other motorized boats and don’t seem to find it aesthetically jarring. This approach has always been used in the short-term to make it possible to repair ravaged structures; 50 years ago, squads of men beat a row of tightly connected wooden pilings into the sediment, and blocked it with dense lagoon mud to keep out the canal’s water. Today, there are always places in the city where you can see iron cofferdams serving the same purpose. I’d say if you’ve got them, just leave them there. And add them to the rest of the city’s edges.
  • Change human nature. (I’ll get right on that.) Or how about changing the political landscape? Not much easier. But the city government has a view of its purpose in life whose range is far, far too short. Grandiose goals, certainly, but they’re sliced and diced, doled out here and there, or left to rot. The political philosophy here appears to qualify as what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” A good example is when your father says, “Yes, you can have it, but not today.” You don’t say no, but it never happens anyway. The city government has become expert at this maneuver.

If I were in charge, I would add the following to all of the above:

  • Require completely new hull forms for each category of boat (for instance, returning the taxi to its primordial motorized shape, with the motor in the center of the boat rather than the stern, which creates much more wake).
  • Most, if not all, of these hulls would be of the “wave-eating” form, a heretofore experimental design invented in 1998 by Americans Bill Burns and Charles Robinson . Its few demonstration runs have shown it to be effective but nobody has studied the effect of large numbers of them. Still, it’s a dramatic start. There is a saga behind all this, too, because in 2001 the company announced that one of these boats would be in service by the end of that year. As another web-site devoted to this project put it, “As for what happened, don’t even ask.”

I would also stipulate a limit on the horsepower of each category, including pleasure boats. Since people can’t retain the concept of slowing down on their own, I suggest requiring their equipment do it for them. As for those who might protest, I would have a one-size-fits-all response: Do it or seek employment elsewhere. The world must be full of people who would be happy to work for even one quarter of what your average taxi driver (I refer to the legal ones, not the fleet of illegal ones) makes in a year. Or even what they make in a month. If this notion for some reason is deemed unfeasible (I can’t see why), I would suggest immediately hiring a large quantity of extra police solely to enforce speed limits, imposing fines so steep that a quick calculation on the back of an envelope would show that it made more sense to buy a new, non-wave-making boat right now than pay two fines. The vital element here is that a person has to be at least 99 percent convinced that he will be caught and fined, a certainty which can’t exist today when the forces of public order have been reduced to skeleton crews who mainly race around solving emergencies.

The councilor for Tourism and Decorum, Augusto Salvadori, made a proposal some while back (I think he even may have made it twice): Engage squads of volunteers from the ranks of the rowing clubs, whose job would be to row around and blow whistles at whatever transgressors they encounter. This might possibly work (I’m being generous here) if there were enough people, if there were immediate and drastic follow-up, and if the transgressors weren’t inclined to run you over. My sense is that none of these conditions apply. Well, there’s prayer. They’ve tried that too. A few years ago there was a big initiative to amass members of all of the rowing clubs at the church of the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health) on November 21, her feast-day. Considering that she saved Venice in 1630 from the catastrophic plague which was destroying the city, there was some poetic power in the notion of everyone going to her church and offering a candle in supplication for salvation from this latest plague. Grand symbolic gestures are so much fun; they make everybody feel so good. Reminds you of why Italian opera is so impressive. Then it’s over, and everybody goes home. And tomorrow begins just like it did yesterday, and nothing has changed.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

May
01

Budget this!

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Venice is so beautiful. But maybe she looks better from a little farther back.

Venice is so beautiful. So beautiful and so expensive.  She can’t even afford herself.

You want to help Venice with her budget problems?  Buy a  palace.  Or 13, if you’re in a good mood — that’s how many the city has recently mentioned considering putting on sale.

But this story isn’t about palaces, it’s about money, need for, lack of.

The thing is this: It’s easy to imagine that All Those Tourists who come through Venice are strewing cash like crazed monarchs. “What’s the problem?  Venice lives on tourism!”  Actually, it doesn’t. Venice lives mostly on an allowance from the national government which has been cut so far back that there aren’t enough coins left in the municipal pocket to make even one tiny jingle. Venice can’t be self-supporting because there are too few tax-paying residents (more about that in another post) to pay for the needs of a really big, super-old World Heritage Site trampled by millions of people a year.

The repairs that some good soul has made on this "capitello" are kind of a metaphor for this whole subject. I guess I didn't need to explain that.

The repairs which some good soul has made on this “capitello” using strips of plastic twine are kind of a metaphor for this whole subject. I guess I didn’t need to explain that.

Not metaphorical at all, though here again, some helpful person has placed a bit of plywood to help out. I'm not sure what it's helping but the spirit is admirable.

Not metaphorical at all, though here again, some thoughtful person has placed a bit of plywood to help out. I’m not sure what it’s helping but the spirit is admirable.  I think people tend to walk around holes, not through them, when they see them.  But, as I often ask myself, what do I know?

I feel like I’ve been reading about Venice’s financial problems all my life, but the stories come out in bits and pieces and aren’t very well connected, and the numbers are always up in millions and billions, so I’ve never had a clear notion of what was involved in paying for keeping Venice running.  Now I have some information even I can understand, so here goes. To save space converting numbers, just bear in mind that one euro = 1.12 dollars at the moment.

One reason it’s hard to understand how Venice can be so broke are the thrilling reports of money made from big events such as New Year’s Eve, the Biennale, and Carnival.  The numbers are dazzling to a one-celled organism like me.  A few months ago a story in the Gazzettino trumpeted the fact (I guess it’s a fact) that 40 million euros were expected to come pouring through the big chute labeled “Carnival.” Forty million euros!!  My first reaction is “Semo in poenta!” which is Venetian for “We’re in polenta!” which is Venetian for “We’ve struck paydirt!”  (Or “We can make next month’s rent!” or “We can buy the kid a new pair of shoes!” or “We can feed your mom this week!”).

But pausing for a moment to consider how this money is distributed — hint: it doesn’t drop directly into the city’s coffers — the reality is that (A) that much money is expected to be spent here (yes!!) by tourists paying for things like (B) hotel rooms (C) food (D) gondola rides (E) taxi rides (F) fabulous ticket-only costume parties and masked balls in palaces, tickets to which can reach 2,500 euros, and (E) extras. “Extras” is usually where my own budget strikes the reef.

The benefit to the city from all this spendage is supposed to arrive via taxes.  You know, the taxes nobody pays.  Sorry — almost nobody.  More about taxes in another post.

So forget big events and their resplendent ephemeral income.  Let’s look for a moment at the city’s everyday budget.

Income: The Special Law for Venice.  Before I continue, it’s worth knowing that billions of euros granted to Venice over the past decade or so for the benefit of the city and lagoon have been pretty much all diverted to the MOSE project.  This diversion was accomplished by the MOSE people, with a big assist from the city fathers and anybody else who could get close enough to stick out their hand.  I draw your attention to the phrase in the Law which mentions that the money is also granted to Venice “to ensure its socio-economic viability.”

As mentioned, the big news in both Venice newspapers was:

As mentioned, the big news in both Venice newspapers was: “The Special Law: 25 million are coming for Venice.”  “The Special Law: Half the money and no tax breaks 162 businesses into a chasm.”  You will notice that the poster here says 25 million, but the article it refers to uses the number 28 million.  Just go with it.  Because you get the same discrepancies between numbers in headlines and the article immediately following — the first will say there were five victims, the story will say there were three.  Actually, you get used to it.  It’s only when I’m trying to understand that it bothers me.

The Gazzettino reported the most recent allotment of funds via the Special Law:  Venice will get only half of the money that was hoped for. (“We have no money” is not exclusively a Venetian song.)  The city will receive a total of 65 million euros over seven years to be doled out thusly: 5 million in 2016 and 10 million per year from 2017 to 2022.  Looked at that way, it doesn’t sound like much at all, and of course the city fathers agreed; some politicians had pressed for 50 million per year for three years, while another political group had suggested 13 million per year for an unspecified number of years.  (They were probably estimating “forever.”)

To put those numbers into some kind of context, until a few years ago (by which the Gazzettino probably means 2008), the city spent 150 million euros a year.  Now it’s a struggle to the death to find the money for paying the policemen.

This is not the mayor meditating, but it could be.

This is not the mayor meditating, but it could be.  While he’s thinking, he ought to give his Border collie something to herd.  Like the annual budget, with all those numbers that keep running away to nowhere.

Good news:  The city has pulled itself up nearer to the edge of the deep hole into which it had fallen, thanks to the drastic cuts made in the budget by Commissario Vittorio Zappalorto (2014-2015).  When I say “drastic,” I mean along the lines of “We had to destroy the budget in order to save it.”  So at the end of 2015, after slashing and burning by him as well as the new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, the deficit has been halved.  The 64 million debt is now 30 million euros.  This is huge news, though of course 30 million isn’t a particularly small number.

The Special Law allotment includes money for art works.  The Ministry of Culture is allowing 6 million euros to Venice (out of 13 million to the Veneto) for 241 projects defined as being at the national level, among which is legal tender for the following projects:

  • Finish the restoration of the great stained-glass window by Vivarini at SS. Giovanni e Paolo: 600,000 euro.
  • Complete the restoration of the church of the Gesuiti: 1,000,000 euros.
  • Restore the squero of the Bucintoro at the Arsenal: 400,000 euros.
  • For the recovery of the patrimony of furniture, fabrics, paintings, and other objects including the fittings of a gondola which are in the storerooms of the Superintendent of Beni Culturali, for the collection of the Palazzo Reale (royal palace): 300,000 euros.  (If you’re wondering where is the royal palace, it is a series of rooms in the “Ala Napoleonica,” built by Napoleon and now housing the Correr Museum; these rooms were occupied by him, of course, and then by the Hapsburg monarchs whenever they were in town during the Austrian occupation).
  • Updating the fire-extinguishing system in the Marciana library: 800,000 euros.
  • Surveying and conserving the 16th-century wooden ceiling of the vestibule of the Marciana library: 620,000 euros.
  • Restoration of State Archives, maintenance work, and bringing the lightning rods up to code: 841,000 euros.
  • Accademia Galleries: 1,500,000 euros for uses not specified by the Gazzettino.
  • Surveys, studies and security interventions on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio: 390,000 euros.
  • Second phase of the realization and installations of the National Museum of Marine Archaeology in Caorle: 1,900,000 euros.  (Good going, Caorle city fathers!)

This is all very gratifying, and I’m not being sarcastic.

But now we come to the prickly subject of Outgo.  Moving our eyes from art treasures to the World Outside, things look less lovely.

The Special Law has provided 28 million euros, which is earmarked thusly: 5 million for maintenance of parks and green spaces; and 10 million for “cultural interventions” (theatre, cinema, programs at the Bevilacqua La Masa foundation and the Querini Stampalia.  I thought those were private?); and 13 million for ‘touristic interventions,” which despite the label are subdivided to pay the municipal police (7,500,000) on holidays and nights; 1,100,000 for the Venetian-rowing world; 1,600,000 for the “organization of events,” especially the promotion thereof.  This is the division of the spoils till 2018.  We’ll definitely be turning our shirt collars and drinking tap water to get through three years on that allowance.

Just thought we should pause for a breath of fresh air perfumed by wisteria.

Just thought we should pause for a breath of fresh air perfumed by wisteria.

A very interesting and detailed article in a magazine called “Il Metropolitano” outlined what it costs to keep Venice running (translated by me).  The subtitle gives a hint of things to come: “To guarantee the services in the Historic Center costs 41 million more per year than any city in the rest of Italy.  And Rome is sending less and less money.”  It’s true that Venice is the most expensive city in Italy, but now I see that it’s expensive not only for tourists and residents, but for itself.

An independent research organization, the Centro Studi Sintesi, recently did a detailed rundown of the city budget.  You don’t need to be some financial wizard to grasp that the 5 million euros allotted for 2016 falls slightly short of the estimated 120 million annually that Venice needs.  There’s more — due to drastic national cuts imposed in order to get the Italian economy in line with European norms, Venice did not receive the 1,250,000,000 (you read that right) it was expecting over the past few years, and only got 77 per cent of what was expected between 2010 and 2015, which makes Venice the city most-penalized by national economic restrictions in the country.

Let’s go to the videotape:

Garbage collection and street cleaning: 30,000,000 per year.  It’s commonly thought – I used to think it too — that the amazing quantity of tourist trash increases the spazzino‘s workload, but statistically this turns out not to be true.  The study says that the cost is high because Venice is the only city in the world in which, six days a week, the trash is collected entirely by hand.  The small streets and winding canals are implacable on that score. The average annual cost of garbage collection in Mestre, on the mainland, is 156 per family or entity such as a shop or restaurant.  In Venice, it’s 727 euros per family or entity.

Cemetery: 2,000,000 per year.  Stories keep appearing in the paper about how the cemetery on the island of San Michele is falling to pieces.  And it is.  But there are also 16 other cemeteries in the Comune of Venice and, the study specifies, eight in the Historic Center. There’s San Michele, but there are also two cemeteries on the Lido  one each on Burano (actually Mazzorbo), Malamocco, Pellestrina, San Pietro in Volta, and Sant’ Erasmo.  There are eight more in the Comune of Venice on the mainland.

Sewage treatment: 600,000 euros.  No, it doesn’t all go into the canals anymore.  For the past 20 years there has been a steady improvement in this necessary part of city management.  Septic tanks have been required to be installed in public buildings — hotels, restaurants, offices, museums, etc.  But again, the tiny, complicated spaces of which Venice is so fascinatingly constructed means that there isn’t one in the Historic Center.  You may have noticed that “honey boats” come and pump out the septic tanks, but the city doesn’t pay for that.  The sewage is taken to one of the 30-some treatment centers strewn around the Comune, which includes some of the mainland. There is one center on the Lido and one in Pellestrina, to which the houses there are connected.

Public parks (“green spaces”): 600,000 euros.   Although not considered technically an essential public service, there is a surprising number of big trees around, in biggish and smallish parks alike. And also shrubs and flowers, which are so desperately wonderful in the summer heat. But trees and bushes need to be trimmed, pruned, and lopped. Unhappily, this category of expense does not include trimming the bridges, which continue to sprout destructive plants and weeds because, in the organizational scheme, shrubbery on bridges is nobody’s responsibility. It’s not garbage, it’s not a green space, it’s not anything but just stuff.

Most bridges by now sprout something, lots of something, as in this case.

Most bridges by now sprout something — in this case, lots of something. You could probably cultivate marijuana for years this way, since nobody is paying any attention.

Tide Forecast: 1,200,000 euros.  Acqua alta is far from free.  First, there is the cost of putting out and removing the high-water walkways.  That is to say, hauling them all from the warehouse in September and stacking them at the crucial points; unstacking and positioning them when high tide is coming ashore, stacking them up again (to save space on the street) when the tide goes out, and on and on until April, when they are definitively hauled away to the warehouse.  But this is paid for by the garbage-collection budget, because it’s the spazzini who do this work.  Thereby leaving uncollected bags of garbage all over the city on high-water days.

But the real cost is the maintenance of the system of collecting data and forecasting the tide, which requires many instruments (maintenance of) and manpower to analyze and broadcast the data.  Somebody has to hit the button to sound the warning sirens, after all.  I can tell you that this department needs lots more money than it gets.  And then, of course, the citizens screech when the prediction is not fulfilled.  You can understand people yelling when the tide turns out to be higher than forecast, but people yell when it turns out to be lower, too.  If I had to work at the Tide Center, I’d be on drugs.

Street Lighting:  1,000,000 euros.  When I came here in 1994, there was still a good number of streets which were dark and romantic.  Or dark and ominous, as you prefer.  On our fondamenta (in another neighborhood), the only light at sundown was from the window of the deli across the canal.  I used to call it “the lighthouse of the neighborhood” – it was the only gleam in the gloom of a dismal, foggy night.  Then the city started to install more streetlamps and now there are some areas that are as bright as stadiums.  Here again, Venice’s fascinating interweaving of tiny streets creates unromantic problems.  On the mainland, 292 lamps per square kilometer are sufficient.  In Venice, you need 804.  And all that juice isn’t cheap.

School lunches: 300,000 euros. No need to repeat it – Getting cargo around Venice is costly (lots of canals, bridges, streets, and most important of all, very little storage space, therefore more trips).  A child eating in the cafeteria in a school in Venice pays from 76 – 84 cents more per meal than a child on the mainland.

Handicapped transport:  1,200,000 euros.  The explanation of this expense isn’t clear.  I can understand that making many places wheelchair-accessible is expensive, but once that’s been accomplished, the cost should diminish.  There are buses on the Lido and mainland which have extending ramps to help people in wheelchairs board, but to get on a vaporetto, the person still needs to be hoisted by hand.  Still, this is in the budget, so there we’ll leave it.

Ordinary maintenance: 4,100,000 euros.  To the naked eye, it appears that this generally consists of putting warning tape around spots that are dangerous (broken pavement, collapsing fondamente, and so on).  Canal-dredging has become a mere dream.  But let’s say that some problem crops up with the wiring in City Hall – fixing it will cost 20 per cent more than on the mainland.  Costs for construction are 30 per cent higher than on the mainland.  The biggest challenge (expense) has to do with the street pavement.  On the mainland, just throw down another layer of asphalt.  Here, the streets have to be torn up and reconstructed stone by stone.  Result: It costs 80 per cent more in Venice than on the mainland to fix a street.

I could fill pages, so to speak, with images like this one, but will limit myself to small things that represent huge things.

I could fill pages, so to speak, with images like this one, but will limit myself to small things that represent huge things.

This house near us has moved far beyond the level of plastic twine. Of course it's not city property, so the residents have stapled their building together at every possible point. Just a small illustration of the March of Time here. And maybe, now that I think of it, it's also an example of what a project looks like when you wait until it's reached crisis point. Perhaps 20 years ago just a few shingle-nails and some duct tape would have fixed everything.

This house near us has moved far beyond the level of plastic twine. Of course it’s not city property, so the residents have stapled their building together at every possible point. Just a small illustration of the March of Time here. And maybe, now that I think of it, it’s also an example of what a project looks like when you wait until it’s reached crisis point. Perhaps 20 years ago a few shingle-nails and some duct tape would have fixed everything.

I will tell you a revealing remark made to me many years ago by a Venetian who was showing me some of the destruction wrought by motondoso on fondamente and assorted streets and bridges.  He pointed out a few massive stones bordering the fondamenta at the church of the Salute.  Their relationship with the horizontal had been compromised by some trivial wound, and waves and gravity were obviously going to make it worse.  I, with my quaint, Anglo-Saxon “stitch in time,” “for want of a nail” outlook on life, asked him why the city didn’t intervene to repair this now, thereby avoiding more work later.  He said, “Because it doesn’t cost enough.”  Translation: Only when a problem becomes big, and therefore costly, and therefore worthwhile to some company to make loads of money fixing it, is the situation addressed.  This makes the same amount of sense as not clipping a hangnail because when it becomes gangrenous you can bring in teams of expensive surgeons and teratons of drugs and everybody makes some money.

There is even a saying to cover this approach: “Don’t bandage your hand until it’s hurt.”  To which I always reply, “If you avoid hurting your hand, you won’t have to bandage it.”  You can say it in Italian, but I haven’t found anybody who thinks it makes sense.

Let’s finish in a blaze of glory, or at least a blaze from some shorted-out circuit on the tram line.  My idea is this: If you can’t pay to fix the problems you already have, at least don’t create new problems that will cost even more money.  The tram holds a weird fascination for me, as it continues to reveal spectacular flaws in design and construction. There are almost daily breakdowns, delays, malfunctions of all sizes and shapes down to the fact that there isn’t an adequate system for de-fogging the windshields.  It cost 208 million euros to build two lines and buy the trains, but it costs twice as much as a normal bus to operate.  The electric bill is 2,500 euros ($2,820) a day.  Two carriages of the 20-train fleet are permanently out of service, left in the shop to be cannibalized for parts as needed, because the company which made the parts has gone out of business.

I think that’s enough for one day.

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Jan
30

A tiny bonus screed on Venice

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Winter here is just the best.  One day you have fog.....

Winter here is just the best. One day you have fog…..

As a freelance journalist, I have written about many things for many publications over the eons.  Though I’m publishing less frequently at the moment than in days of yore, I have just written a small piece on Venice for National Geographic’s online News.

Most readers will recognize familiar themes, but I thought I’d provide the link here anyway.  At the least, it’s something for you to read while you’re waiting for the water to boil and I’m whipping up another post.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150129-venice-my-town-zwingle-grand-canal-motondoso-piazza-san-marco-vaporetto/

By the way, a very important but unaccountably missing link in the online text is for the Venice Project Center:

veniceprojectcenter.org

And another day you have sun.

And another day you have sun.  Something for everybody.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Aug
15

The more things change….

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The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

People sometimes ask me — or ask themselves, standing next to me — why the government of Venice doesn’t do one thing or the other to resolve the city’s problems, which are right out there for everybody to see.  It seems impossible that nobody has come up with any ideas for what to do to make it cleaner, safer, more efficient (well, that might be a reach) — or just generally spiffed up and functioning.  How can it be that no long-term solution is found for something — anything?

If we were to take the proverbial legal tablet and write the proverbial two comparative lists, one would be titled “Problems” (it would be a very long list), and the other “Solutions” (which would also be long).  But there are almost no points at which they recognize each other and embrace, like twins separated at birth.

But guess what I just found out?  People were raising red flags, launching the lifeboats, pulling out handfuls of hair in 1970 about the very same problems everyone complains about today.  That’s 43 years of standing in one place.  If I were a city, I’d be tired by now.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice -- not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times -- being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there's a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I'm definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn't pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down.  You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it.  Except that you don't.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice — not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times — being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there’s a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I’m definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn’t pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down. You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it. Except that you don’t.

As I have long suspected, it’s not ideas that are missing here.  (I mean, constructive, forward-looking, beneficial-to-everybody ideas).  It’s execution.

Tides of ideas flow through Venice from all sides, but like the lagoon tide, they go out again.  Most of them.  To return again.  Most of them.  Some of them begin to be realized, then they stop.  Then they start again. You get the idea. (Sorry.)

Here are some of the most telling bits from a big article in the Gazzettino last Sunday, written by Pier Alvise Zorzi. It might be useful to know that the Zorzi family is documented to have been in Venice since 964 A.D.  That doesn’t mean he knows more than anyone else, I’m just saying he’s not the latest person to see the fireworks of the Redentore and decide to stay here forever.

Mr. Zorzi reports that back in April, 1970, veteran journalist Indro Montanelli dedicated virtually the entire month to articles about Venice and its problems — its particularity, its fragility, the housing depression, the political bungling, and so on.

“THE ILLS OF VENICE? THE SAME WERE REPORTED BY INDRO 43 YEARS AGO.  From depopulation to the risk of the touristic monoculture, from the sublagunare project to the problems of housing.”

“I have in hand a page from the Corriere della Sera (April 23, 1970) with the headline: ‘The Youth Front for Venice,’ with the subtitle “On the lagoon one breathes the air of the Titanic — the discouragement which by now pervades the Venetians is the main danger to face – to break this passivity a movement of young people has arisen without any political label ready to support at the next elections anybody who defends Venice.”

Under some emblematic photographs are these succinct quotes from 1970, which read like telegraph messages from the front lines.  It’s deja vu again, and again, and again.

“Tourism: The city can’t live only on hotels and restaurants.”

“Housing:  Too many uninhabited palaces and the cost of rent is through the roof (as they say here, “to the stars”).”

“Dignity: Enough of sterile complaints: each person needs to get involved.”

He continues:  “A young person who was interviewed complained of the progressive abandonment of the city…the problem of housing, which is not only decrepit but at much higher rents than on the mainland…And the culminating point, ‘We don’t intend to raise tourism to the level of a monoculture. A city like Venice can’t live only on hotels, trattorias, tips.  It will become degraded.'”

And the solutions these young people suggest are also, by now, hoary and draped with cobwebs: More artisans, for example, or linking highly specialized institutions to the world of production and cultural foundations in Europe and America.

The Front eventually fell apart, but the old problems are still here, and have been joined by some new ones: “The ‘hole’ of the Lido (endless construction projects that are badly conceived, worse realized, mercilessly expensive); the ghost of corruption on the MOSE project (more about this in another post), the mega-billboards which continue in spite of new ministerial regulations.”

But wait -- I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight -- you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water.  But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you've been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again.  Is that enough "again"s to make my point?

But wait — I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight — you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water. But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you’ve been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again. Is that enough “again”s to make my point?

Zorzi acknowledges a few positive signs lately, small and tentative though they may be.  But the essential character of the situation is not only unchanged, but maybe even unchangeable. “The problem,” he says, and so do lots of people here, “is that everyone who is able to make the decisions is so tied up in the webs of common interests, either political or economic (but aren’t they the same?) that they move only with extreme, sticky slowness.

“The risk? That 40 years from now we’ll still be right there, at the same spot. I don’t want my grandchildren still to be reading, for example, about the Calatrava bridge, that economic abyss … or the suspected speculation on the renovation of the Manin barracks.  Or the hospital. Or the eternal MOSE. Or all the usual things which the national newspapers don’t bother with anymore because everybody’s fed up with Venice’s constant whining.

“I want Venice to have the dignity to save herself on her own, thanks to the citizens which consider her not as something to exploit, but something to invest in.  I want the Venetians to denounce the little local mafias, instead of trying to join them in order to gain something for themselves.  I want the multinationals who buy the palaces to invest in the city and not merely in their own image.  I want that each person, even in their own little way, should do something to safeguard our special character. If I were to live for a hundred years, I’d like to read something new about Venice.”

You know what’s too bad about this cri de coeur?  I’ve heard it before.

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question).......

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question)…….

IMG_1006 victory

Or this? Mass tourism creates blowing trash and cattle-car transport and other unattractive things which could be considered degradation. But you don’t need a mass of tourists to feel depressed. You can manage with just two, if they’re like this pair, relaxing in front of the church of San Zaccaria.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

 

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

I didn't get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians are almost certainly talking about something that's either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. If I had ten cents for every time I've heard a Venetian say "Poor Venice," I'd be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day's problems in the newspaper.

I didn’t get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians give several signs that they’re talking about something that’s either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. (Perhaps it’s about work, or the mother-in-law, or the car.  But eventually it will almost certainly be about Venice.) If I had ten cents for every time I’ve heard a Venetian say “Poor Venice,” I’d be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day’s problems in the newspaper.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don't mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own).  I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal from somebody.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don’t mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own). I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal. First thing he’ll do is throw the book at everybody.

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