Archive for Riva dei Sette Martiri


An afternoon stroll, plus swim

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The following event was so peculiar that naturally I have to tell you about it.

Protagonists: One (1) mother, one (1) 3-year old son (hers), one grandmother, one ambulance, and a couple of bystanders.  Jesus said that “Ye have the poor always with you,”  but I think he could have just as well said “bystanders,” at least in Venice.

As reported by the Gazzettino, Lucia, the mother, is a 39-year-old Moldovan who works as a waitress in a restaurant at the node where via Garibaldi reaches the lagoon.

The scene of the drama. The restaurant where Lucia works is immediately to the left of the bridge. The point where the plunge occurred is on the other side of the ramp. Which only raises another awkward question, which is how Lucia managed to see, "out of the corner of her eye," that a woman and stroller had fallen in. There are just too many things about this that I can't make fit together. However, you can see that there is more than enough room on the fondamenta to accommodate a brigade of perambulating grandmothers.

Last Friday, the afternoon was sunny and beautiful, so naturally anybody who had the chance was wandering along the Riva dei Sette Martiri to enjoy the rays, the breeze, the lagoon view, etc.

Among these wanderers was the grandmother, pushing her little grandson in his stroller, sharing some quality time till mom got off work at 3:00. Alessandro had been to the pediatrician that morning for a check-up after a week with bronchitis — an interesting detail considering what happened next.

Everything was proceeding in the most predictable way, with the grandmother ambling along the fondamenta, when suddenly she tripped on one of the myriad uneven, busted-up paving stones.  I note that these stones did not start to shift and break up overnight; it’s been a long and continuing process and unfortunately anyone could see it if they were looking.

She tripped and lost her balance, and she must have been strolling on the very edge of the pavement because she fell overboard, pulling the stroller and grandson with her, down into the lagoon.  By a strange stroke of good luck, she had not strapped Alessandro into the stroller, otherwise he would have gone straight to the bottom with his fatal vehicle. His grandmother managed to grab him.

All this happened in nanoseconds, but at that VERY INSTANT, Lucia came out of the restaurant and saw, a  mere few steps away, that a woman and a stroller had just fallen into the water.

Without an instant’s hesitation (though she later confessed to having a desperate fear of the water), she raced to the brink and dove in, grabbing the little boy.  At which point she discovered to her shock that the child she was saving from imminent drowning was, in fact, her own.

She started screaming, “It’s my son!  It’s my son!”, and managed to get to one of the nearby wooden pilings, to which she clung for dear life.

Cue the bystanders.  A few of them managed to pull Alessandro up onto dry land, while someone else called the ambulance, one of which miraculously happened to be nearby.  It zoomed up, the rescuers proceeded to rescue the two women and the boy, and whisked them to the Emergency Room.  Lucia and Alessandro were dismissed (evidently the bronchitis conceded the right of way in the face of a larger threat), but the grandmother was checked in for an injury to her leg.  All told, though, you could say that everybody was going to live happily ever after.

Except that I wonder about that. The fact that it was Lucia’s mother-in-law would almost inevitably have a certain bearing on life chez Alessandro till both women pass away, and possibly after. Because I would bet money that the family’s future is going to be composed of daily doubts, half-uttered recriminations, dark silences, and about a million spiky little questions before anybody goes out the door anymore.

And Alessandro, who may or may not remember much of this, and who certainly qualifies as a bystander as much as any geezer down the way fishing for seppie, is doomed to live the rest of his life trapped in this family drama like a trilobite in slowly hardening mud.

In case you were to be tempted to think this event too improbable to be true, a reality check is provided by the immediate finger-pointing and blame-assigning which followed.

Let me ask who you think is to blame for this near tragedy?

If you said “The city of Venice, because they let the pavement deteriorate to such a state that a grandmother with a stroller is virtually destined to trip and fall, risking her life, the unthinking cads,” you’d be in line with Lucia, who stated that it is shameful that people can’t walk along the riva without risking their life, though she didn’t specify at which point on the riva a rational person (the very edge?) might be likely to meander.

The Gazzettino has interpreted this event in the same way, concluding its report by observing that this kind of disaster was practically inevitable, given the constant degradation of the pavement which the city continues to ignore, except for occasionally slapping some cement on the worst problem spots.

On the other hand, if you said, “The grandmother,” you’d be in line with me.

I realize that in most situations, one’s first impulse is not to blurt, “Crikey, I totally screwed up, what was I thinking?”  But while I am usually several steps behind the last person to defend the city from its innumerable instances of neglect and indifference, I think it’s a bit of a reach to criticize the paving stones for where you put your feet.   Or, for that matter, your entire body (plus stroller and grandchild).

The Riva dei Sette Martiri is about 70 feet (22 meters) wide.  I don’t believe that walking along its center would put your life at risk. Why would anybody (who wasn’t fishing for seppie) feel the urge to walk along its very edge?  It’s like somebody walking along the shoulder of a six-lane interstate highway stumbling on some gravel and then blaming the city because a truck nearly ran them over.

They’re all alive, though, so I guess the city doesn’t have to scramble the fighter repair crew.  Until something really, really serious happens, the administration tends to take the “It seemed so real, but thank God it was just a bad dream” approach to the city’s problems.

But let me respectfully point out to any future grandmothers that whether the stones are smooth or jagged, there will always be water in the lagoon.

Or maybe the city’s to blame for that too.



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