Archive for Paolo Canestrelli

Oct
28

Relentless brilliance

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A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship "Palinuro."

A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship “Palinuro.”  This has no relation to anything that follows, it’s just here to remind us of why we love Venice.

As has become hugely evident, I am temporarily (I trust) slowing down on not making things up.

I discover that it isn’t easy to find new topics that interest me (“new” and “interest” don’t always coincide).  Two decades into my life here, a certain amount of repetition in daily or annual events can make it difficult to whip up enthusiasm to address them again.

Also, as I may have hinted not long ago, I am somewhat worn down by the relentless stream of bad, crazy, incomprehensible, infuriating news that steamrolls over the city every day, and if it depresses me to read these stories, it would depress me even more to write about them.  I used to find it sort of entertaining, and imagined that examining the entrails of Venetian life could be interesting to people who don’t live here but who care about the city.  Examining entrails used to be one way of predicting the future, and the technique still works extremely well — but the future I glimpse is even less appealing than the entrails themselves.  (Full disclosure: I happen to like tripe, which is prepared in various ways here.  But I’m not sure if tripe qualifies as entrails.)  End of metaphor.

There are the infinite variations on the theme of corruption.  If I wanted to focus on that, I’d have to change the name of my blog — there’s just too much material.  It appears that just about the only person who hasn’t been stealing money from the city, the region, the nation, her employer (which I don’t have, but that’s a detail), or her clients and customers or suppliers, is me.  When a general of the Guardia di Finanza AND a platoon of his troops are found with their hands plunged deeply, up to the shoulder, into the municipal pot, it does make you wonder what this world is coming to.

But what now fascinates me is the ever-increasing number of projects that are living demonstrations of a phenomenon we all know too well and for which the Germans have even invented a word: Verschlimmbesserung, a supposed improvement that makes things worse.

Beauty is the keyword here. Don't forget it.

Beauty is the keyword here. Keep this at the forefront of your brain.

These are projects devised by professionals, remember, but perhaps being a professional is becoming a handicap, because so many seem to lose their way in their professional brain-thickets and forget the simplest, common-sense details that are obvious to any user — amateurs! — of their projects.

The two most recent examples, and then I’m finished for today:

The tram.  I’ve already mentioned the hideous installation at its terminus at Piazzale Roma.  But you don’t have to look at it, so let’s consider that issue settled.  What I’m talking about are the almost daily discoveries of inexplicably stupid mistakes.   I define a mistake as “inexplicable” if it was performed by a professional.

From the day of fanfare in which the tram made its maiden voyage from the mainland to Venice, there have been technical problems (losing electrical power, often, for assorted reasons; a nexus where the tracks just didn’t switch the way they were supposed to, etc.).  But these, theoretically, can be fixed.

But the other day a car broke down on the bridge from the mainland to Venice, thereby blocking all traffic behind it (normal! there’s no breakdown lane!) including the tram (wait — what?).  Yes, the tram’s track was installed in the same lane as the wheeled traffic.  A normal old bus can just groan, downshift, and inch around a stalled car or truck.  The tram can only sit there until it’s all cleared up.  The bridge is 4 km/2.5 miles long, and all the passengers had to pile out and walk the rest of the way to Venice, thereby easily making their healthy daily quota of 10,000 steps.  And making hash of their morning schedule, doctor appointments, business meetings, Scout jamborees, whatever was on.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment is going to be shifting it to make a temporary extra lane when needed. Thereby reducing the other side to just one lane.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or in this case, depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment will be to see if shifting the center barrier to create a temporary extra lane when needed will work out, even though even I, sitting at my desk, realize that doing so will thereby reduce the other side to just one lane. Creating a problem by solving another — hasn’t that already been tried?  (Photo: Davide Dalla Mora, Facebook.)

Never fear — an excellent experiment will begin in November.  For three months (note: containing all the high-traffic holidays), the tram lane will be reserved only for public-service vehicles, which I suppose are considered less prone to breaking down.  Did I mention there is no breakdown lane?  The bridge has only two lanes in each direction, therefore creating a temporary one by moving into space on the opposite side will crush all the private vehicles into one lane.

If that doesn’t sound especially shudderworthy, consider that about 1,700 vehicles per hour cross the bridge.  In 2014 there were 162 cases of stalled vehicles — one every other day, essentially.

So bring on the tram!  And bring your hiking boots and Nordic-walking sticks!  And just think: You still have to pay for a ticket.  The Casino says people aren’t gambling so much anymore, but they’re obviously not thinking of the thousands of people who play Tram Roulette on the bridge every day.

I don’t think an advanced degree in engineering is necessary to help you understand how to keep people’s feet dry getting from the platform to the temporary walkways (neatly stacked in the background). Or maybe it is.  All they needed to do was to ask Mr. Canestrelli before it was too late.

Let’s move on to the Rialto area.

The subject is the platforms to which the vaporetto docks are attached.  The past few months have seen a mammoth undertaking to build new ones, bigger ones, more efficient ones.

But now that high water has come calling, it has been discovered that these improvements have un-improved the necessary space to set up the temporary walkways.  I have disembarked at Rialto when there was very high water, and without the walkways I’d have had water up to and even past my knees.  Walkways at Rialto are not some crazy new idea.

And yet the new platforms haven’t taken the walkways into account, and it was suddenly discovered (cue sound of sloshing water) that the spaces involved don’t work anymore.  The temporary walkways can’t reach all the way to the fixed platform, so there will be a gap between the platform and the walkway which will be full of water.

Unhappily, the large brains designing the new docks didn’t think to contact anybody, least of all the steadfast but shot-riddled Paolo Canestrelli, director of the Tide Center, to discuss anything so trivial as height of water, need to calculate for.

To raise the fixed platforms at this point will require another huge undertaking.  Just think, everyone had so enjoyed the big inauguration ceremony.

Much of the most beautiful city in the world is beginning to resemble those municipal offices where the employees have to adapt by attaching things with rubber bands, hand-writing signs and labels with Sharpie pens, sticky-notes everywhere.  Just make it work somehow.

But now I’m going to make you laugh.  It’s only fair.  I mean, I laughed, even though on paper (this is paper) it isn’t so funny.

Giancarlo Galan, the former president of the Veneto Region, has been sucked deeply into the MOSE corruption scandal, the details of which will be oozing out even after the trumpet call to the Last Judgment.  Among other things, he was convicted of having taken 15,000,000 euros in bribes.

He has done some token jail time (he was sentenced to two years and ten months, of which he spent only 78 days in prison and much of the rest at home in his luxurious villa on the mainland).  And the state confiscated this villa, worth some 2 1/2 million euros, to pay off part of his debt.  The rules said he had to vacate the premises and leave it in habitable condition.

He did vacate the premises, but the next people to go in discovered that there were no more bathrooms.  Workmen, presumably not on their own initiative, had torn out all the radiators, toilets, bidets, and sinks in the place.

So now he has added to his list of misdeeds the formal accusation of having damaged state property.  And of not having honored the agreement to leave the villa in useable condition.

His lawyer immediately said that this had been an “error,” and of course everything is going to be put back, right away.  How anyone could make such an error baffles and perplexes me.

You see?  I don’t have to make anything up.  It’s all right there in front of me.

One just keeps on making the best of things.

One just keeps making the best of things.

 

Categories : Events
Comments (4)

I have often mentioned that predictions of high water in Venice turn out to be as accurate as weather predictions anywhere else.  Sometimes even less accurate, given how sensitive the whole lagoon situation is to all sorts of factors, including wind.

The reality of acqua alta at a modest level is that it doesn't uniformly cover many streets. Here you see people going from dry to wet, then it will be back to dry again.

The reality of acqua alta at a modest level is that it doesn't uniformly cover many streets. Here you see people going from dry to wet, then it will be back to dry again.

The last week or so has undoubtedly been rather trying for the dauntless Paolo Canestrelli, director of the Tide Center. Because while the Gazzettino, rightly or wrongly, published a series of articles that sounded fairly alarmist: “Feast of the Salute with your hipboots,” “Feast of the Salute with no walkways,” “F of the S at 120 cm [four feet] of high water,” and so on, it didn’t turn out quite that way.

These stories were irksome for a few reasons, none of which had to do with whether or not I had to put on my hipboots.

First, the area around the basilica of the Salute is much higher than the Piazza San Marco, therefore a tide prediction which sounds drastic in one place won’t be nearly so much so in another.

As you see here in via Garibaldi. The board as walkway is a great idea but only if it's long enough.

As you see here in via Garibaldi. The board as walkway is a great idea but only if it's long enough.

Second, so far this autumn few forecasts have turned out as given.  The 120 cm repeatedly predicted for Sunday morning? We got 103 [3 feet].

The tide did finally manage to pull itself up to 122 cm, but that was at 12:10 Sunday night, when probably there  weren’t many people or taxis or barges around to be inconvenienced.

A few nights later, the sirens sounded with two additional tones, signaling the probable arrival of 120-130 cm [4-5 feet] of water.  Two tones means that we will have some water about halfway up the street outside our door. But in the end, our canal did no more than kiss the edge of the fondamenta. The fact that there was virtually no wind also helped.

Regardless of the height or non-height of the eventual water, articles dramatize that the city has “water on the ground” without specifying the depth — sometimes it can be two inches, but the term “high water” is usually used by the media to sound as if the levees have broken. And these articles never mention how much of Venice has water, making it sound as if the entire city were going under. Someone might be sufficiently original as to publish a story that says “Two tones means that  up to 29 per cent of the city is under water,” but I have yet to see one that says “71 per cent of the city is bone dry.”

I realize that drama is entertaining, but why dramatize it at all?  It’s not dramatic.  It’s temporarily slightly tiresome, at a very low level on the Zwingle Slightly Tiresome Index.  I’d rate it a 2, the same as hanging out the laundry.

This would qualify as a true annoyance. For some reason this delivery-person was put ashore at the wrong place, and now his way forward is completely blocked by the walkways. He must be thinking all sorts of thoughts just now.

This would qualify as a true annoyance. For some reason this delivery-person was put ashore at an ill-advised spot near San Marco, and now his way forward is completely blocked by the walkways. (They spread out in a long T-shape beyond the edge of this picture.) He has obviously recognized that his only option is to wait till the workmen make a break in the barrier, which will be soon, considering how far down the tide has already fallen.


Now let me turn a sympathetic eye on the indomitable Canestrelli at the Tide Center.  Because no matter what prediction he gives — predictions which are always made according to information which has been scientifically gathered, even if journalists then recast them to sound like the last act of “Gotterdammerung” — people revile him. This is either because the prediction turned out to be accurate, and inconvenient, or because it wasn’t accurate, in which case people throw another armload of brickbats at him.

This is regrettable because the Center has just recently created a new mathematical model which has attained notably higher precision — an accomplishment for which Canestrelli was recently awarded a prize by the Italian government.  No rude remarks, thank you.

But nature resists our assumptions, as Canestrelli is the first to admit. “Look at the disastrous rainfall on the Veneto on November 1,” he told the Gazzettino on November 11; “it turned out to be ten times more than what was predicted.   Unfortunately, even with progress, there is still a wide margin of error.”

In the case of the high water on November 10, he explained that  “On Thursday our models didn’t predict anything over 100 cm. Only in the early morning [Friday, November 10] did we see indications that it might be higher, so we activated the sirens to warn it might reach 110 cm.  We then raised the forecast to 115 cm.  But unfortunately high water, like other weather phenomena, is very hard to predict even if you’re continually monitoring it.”

That particular series of unpredicted events was caused by a number of factors which aren’t taken into account in the simplistic popular impression of the Tide Center’s skills.  “Even though the weather was improving,” Canestrelli continued, “there was the return of a seiche wave in the Adriatic” [the public, including me, isn’t very good at keeping track of the seiche waves out there], “a significant rise in the barometric pressure, and a drop in the wind.

“This was a very strange situation in that the increase in pressure didn’t blunt the tide; in my 30 years here I’ve only seen that happen once or twice. The problem is that the pressure, in spite of the increase of 10 millibars, remained at an extremely low level rarely seen in our latitudes.”

Technically one could say there was still acqua alta at the Piazza San Marco but it has obviously begun to subside.

Technically one could say there was still acqua alta at the Piazza San Marco but it has obviously begun to subside.

All this gives the tiniest indication of how many different and mutating factors affect the height of the tide and the accuracy of the forecasts.  Now let’s move on to another element which is much easier to grasp: Money and manpower.

“What can we do?” he asks more or less rhetorically.  “Few departments are as indispensible as the Tide Center, but we risk sinking to the bottom.

True, just on the other side of the walkways, there is still water in the Piazza. Evidently the person with the big bag isn't too worried about its contents, or about waiting ten minutes.But it is not spectacularly high, and obviously it's on it way out.

True, just on the other side of the walkways there is still water in the Piazza. Evidently the person with the big bag isn't too worried about its contents, or about waiting ten minutes. It's obviously on its way out.

“For 2010, the budget is for one million euros.  But 46,000 euros are for operating costs, and another 500,000 — allocated, but so far never actually seen — are earmarked for the maintenance of the equipment.

“How can we keep going with funding like this?  The money that remains is all we have to give to the personnel, who are on call 24 hours a day.

“How can it be that a department which is crucial to the well-being of an entire city isn’t regarded as the apple of the eye of the emergency services? There was a time when we had all the interest we needed to guarantee efficiency and accuracy. Now times have changed.

At 9:20 this shop in the Piazza San Marco had water on its floor, an event for which, judging by the paving, it has been well prepared.  The shop is supposed to open in ten minutes and you can see how agitated the owner and staff are.

At 9:20 this shop in the Piazza San Marco had water on its floor, an event for which, judging by the paving, it has been well prepared. The shop is supposed to open in ten minutes and you can see how agitated the owner and staff are. They're not even here yet.

“Furthermore,” Canestrelli goes on, “we risk reaching the limit of our capacity. Up until last year the Center had 17 employees; now we have 13 and those include people in administration and motor-launch drivers. This leaves very few who are involved in the forecast service.  With this level of personnel, during the high-water season of October till May, we can’t monitor the situation 24 hours a day.”

And a note that is drowned-out in the chaotic chorus of who needs to know how high the water’s going to be is from the so-called ecological workers. Not so much for collecting the trash, which they overlook on high-water days, but because they have to know — in advance, please — whether they’re going to need to muster the troops to set up the passarelle, or temporary walkways.  Preferably before the water is above the ankles.

The clever thing to do, it would seem to me, would be for the Tide Center to estimate the tide toward the higher end of the scale.  Just to be on the safe side.  I was very proud of myself for coming up with this clever and amusing idea.

Then Canestrelli told the Gazzettino that that’s  pretty much what they’re doing.

So all this being said, let us dial down the volume on the wails preceding the next expected high tide. It may turn out to be a little — or somewhat — or a lot — different than you thought it was going to be.  I suggest you buy a pair of boots and get on with your life.

Categories : Nature, Problems, Water
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Nov
10

Acqua alta update

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Watching the various weather signs yesterday morning as closely as a jungle tracker (or desert tracker, or suburban mother looking for a parking place at the mall), I realized fairly early that the Warnings which I was following were turning out to have been perhaps slightly excessive.

Caution is a superb thing and we should all have more of it, except for when we shouldn’t, I mean. But I have the sensation — and so does Lino — that a certain amount of exaggeration has crept into the whole business of predicting acqua alta. Why?

This is what water announced by the siren plus one tone looked like at 11:30 outside our house. The tide was just about ready to turn.

This is what water announced by the siren plus one tone looked like at 11:30 outside our house. The tide was just about ready to turn.

One reason, and I’m just hypothesizing here, could be that the people in the Tide Center (particularly its battle-hardened director, Paolo Canestrelli, who would feel perfectly at home with Field Marshal Montgomery) are up to here with the shrieking imprecations from people inconvenienced by a change in the situation from the earlier prediction to the reality suddenly underfoot.

As I have already noted, the weather picture can change.  Get over it.

Another reason — here, let me move that firing-range target to the side and stand there in its place — could be the relentless need for the many forces involved in the MOSE project to instill public dread of water on the ground.  Even brief articles in the Gazzettino which mention a (not “the,” but “a”) possibility of high water the following day don’t bear down too hard on the word “possibility.” They like the effect the words “acqua alta” have on people, if put in a way that makes it sound as if you need to head for the storm cellar.

Acqua alta is always very clear.

Acqua alta is always very clear.

In any case, just remember that any article that you may read that implies, or even says, that “Venice was flooded” is a bit excessive.  We didn’t get any water on our ground and we’re in Venice.  Is San Marco’s high water better than ours?  Prettier?  Wetter?

If you have any interest in the damage water can seriously do to people, places and things, don’t get fixated on Venice, but look at other areas of the Veneto such as Vicenza and Verona, and even in Tuscany, over the past few days. Torrential rains, bursting riverbanks, highways and roads blocked and even broken by racing water, mudslides obliterating houses and the helpless people within them (like the mother and her two-year-old son whose bodies were dug out of their mud-filled house, still clinging to each other) — these are events involving water which deserve more publicity than they get.

Actually, “mudslide” is too innocuous a word for what happened in Tuscany after days of rain. Essentially a huge chunk of melting mountain just broke off and fell on this family’s house.  Just like that.  No warning sirens, no time to do anything except die.  There are many families who have lost everything.  Some people have drowned.

Parts of the Veneto have now been declared disaster areas.  Venice was not on the list.

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Categories : Nature, Problems, Water
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