Archive for San Nicolo


MOSE again, still, forever

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If it weren’t for the lagoon, maybe people wouldn’t care quite so much about Venice. Interesting thought to ponder. But the lagoon would probably be better off without Venice, because then it wouldn’t be abused and tormented to make sure that Venice won’t have some water in the streets sometimes.

What everybody loves about Venice (among many things) is how old it is.  And that is indeed a thing to love.  I imagine all those amazing designers and builders and artists working away centuries ago, believing that their handiwork would last for, oh, maybe ever.  And because they were first-rate craftsmen, it turns out that most of them were right.

You might say that MOSE is also going to last forever, but not in a good way.  I don’t write updates on the continuing calamity that is the world’s most preposterous project because I’m bored by the mendacity, magnitude and monotony of the problems.  Everything has gone, is going, and will be going, wrong with this thing until Jesus comes back, so updates are pointless.  In fact, I’ve begun to suspect that the whole thing started with a bunch of drunk people sitting around one summer afternoon on some rich person’s yacht or private mountain, who decided to break the boredom by inventing a game in which the winner is the one who finds a way to waste the most money on the most pointless enterprise in the history of the world.  If you can call it “winning.”  Bonus points for environmental damage, or if somebody dies.

But the latest headlines have barged into my brain and made me think about it again, if only briefly, and my thoughts are not lovely.  I can sum it up for you:  Yet more things have been discovered to be screwed up, and fixing them will cost lots more money.  This has become the refrain of the Marching Song of the MOSE Squadron, while the bass singers set the jaunty rhythm “Money for me, money for me, money for me…..”  And as you read, consider (as I have) that if I had done the calculations, it’s obvious they would have come out all wrong.  But I am not a civil engineer (I’m hardly civil at all) and I do not have a piece of paper from some institute which implies that I have studied how to do this work.  But we must face the fact that the perpetrators of all this have such certificates.

Is there something about water that just baffles engineers in Venice? They ought to be experts, yet somehow the smallest details are just left unfixed. One might say that the flow of the water and/or the position of the grate of this fountain don’t really HAVE to match up, but then one considers the possibility that the designer was later hired to work on MOSE.

Here’s the headline on September 

MOSE, the gate of the lock at Malamocco has to be redone.

I will translate the main points in this and the following article:

The gate on the lock basin (“conca“) at Malamocco has to be redone.  After the 400 million euros already spent, another 20 million will have to be invested for the “lunata,” the semi-circular breakwater shaped like the moon which protects the ships from waves and current as they position themselves to enter or as they exit.

Here is the inlet between the Adriatic (to the right) and the lagoon (to the left). It’s sort of like two boxers facing off  before the gong. Clockwise from “lunata” we find: The construction yard of the caissons for MOSE, the tiny hamlet of Santa Maria del Mare, the lock to permit shipping to pass when the floodgates are closed in the inlet, the nature park at the Alberoni, the inlet which will be blocked by the raised floodgates in the case of exceptional high tide, and the Alberoni seawall.

The lock, you may recall, was dug to permit the passage of ships between the Adriatic and the lagoon whenever the floodgates are raised.  But evidently every good idea contains the seeds of its own destruction, if you play it right.  It was constructed in 2007 by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (by means of the mega-company Mantovani) and designed by Technital ten years ago, which Vitucci recalls as  “the golden age of MOSE, when money poured in without limits and without too much control.”  But even then the design was clearly flawed, for which almost everybody involved is now paying the consequences.

Inadequate.  Even though the breakwater extends 1300 meters (4,265 feet), its basin is too small for the latest generation of container ships, making it too risky for the big ships to attempt to enter the lock.  Other than that, the “mobile” parts of the lock — the gates — cannot function because the water exerts too much pressure.  The persons making those calculations might have been interrupted by a phone call, or the arrival of a pizza; anyway, it doesn’t work. This problem was discovered in 2015 when the gate gave way in the first storm.  Urgent interventions are now in the hands of a Belgian company.

But not to worry!  The president of the Magistrato alle Acque, Roberto Linetti, says that fixing it will only cost 18 million euros because the foundations are still good.  And meanwhile, they’ll be able to add a few meters to allow the ships to pass. So you see?  In the end, it was a good thing the gate didn’t work.

Infinite.  Or “unfinished.”  Or “unfinishable,” perhaps.  What now bears the tired title of the “MOSE scandal” consists, as Vitucci lists it, of: “Bribes and consultants, off-the-books payments and always-positive evaluations rendered by friendly experts, extra costs due to the lack of competition and the necessity of accumulating “black” (untraceable) funds to pay the bribes.  But also there have been obvious errors, such as the lock. What was intended to be a structure to prevent penalizing the port activity when the floodgates were up has been shown to be, at the end, the umpteenth useless big project.

Waste.  The lock is far from being the only problem — there are the collateral “major works” connected to MOSE, each one of which is its own little one-act tragedy. The “jack-up,” the large “ship” which cost 50 million euros for transporting and moving the gates constructed by Comar and Mantovani, remains anchored at the Arsenal and has never been used because it doesn’t function, despite the repairs that have been made. There is also the damage to the seawall at San Nicolo’ on the Lido, which collapsed a few days after it had been tested.  Tens of millions of euros thrown into the sea, as Vitucci (and probably many others) puts it.  Damages will need to be paid for all those, too, but it’s not clear by whom.

This is the “jack-up.” Big, expensive, impressive, it makes no pretense of working.

But wait!  There’s more!  Is anyone wondering how the various components are managing to resist encrustation and mold?  I can tell you!  But before I do, pause to marvel at the astonishing presence of salt in seawater, not to mention algae and all sorts of cretures which insist on attaching themselves to things. Who could possibly have known, or even guessed at random, that the Adriatic contains salt and water?

The headline in the Nuova Venezia on September 7, 2017, on a story written by Alberto Vitucci:

Mold and degradation, the MOSE gates are already blocked. 

“Big works = big mafias.” I don’t usually agree with graffiti, but this sums up the situation with admirable clarity.

The encrustation is increasing; the paint is already old.  And without electricity it’s impossible to raise the barriers.  Mold and degradation in the corridors of the caissons beneath the lagoon.  And the gates, exposed for six months to the weather and salt at Santa Marina del Mare, have to be repainted.

The installations.  The latest problem is the delay in building the electric plant to raise the gates.  MOSE needs energy to raise the gates because it doesn’t exploit the natural energy of the sea and waves.  … Unlike the sequence of events at San Nicolo’, where the power plant was installed first, at Malamocco it was decided to position the gates on the lagoon bottom before the power plant was built.  Result: For several months the gates have lain on the bottom but it’s impossible to test raising them.

Corrosion and fouling. The first inspections revealed corrosion and encrustation.  The lack of electricity has prevented the correct ventilation underwater where the cables and systems pass, not to mention the workers.  The walls are covered with a layer of mold 5 centimeters (2 inches) deep. MOSE is a system conceived to remain underwater, and without maintenance, the problems multiply, such as the corrosion of the hinges (of the gates) that was reported several months ago. What to do? The Consorzio Venezia Nuova announced a competition for bids on the construction of the systems.  Two groups won, the Abb Comes of Taranto and the Abb Idf of Brindisi. But the proposal to realize some temporary systems to move the gates wasn’t approved.  It would have cost 14 million euros, so just let the gates sit underwater, blossoming.

Several months ago, the gates underwater at Treporti began to show accumulations of barnacles, mussels, and crabs — sea-dwelling creatures which were not exactly unknown before the work started.

The paint is peeling. Because there is no electricity or apparatus to install them, the 30 gates that were supposed to be lowered into the water have been waiting for months on the construction site of the caissons.  The delay is due to the non-functioning of the “jack-up.” (Some gates were constructed in Croatia and brought across the Adriatic from Split.)  During these months, the workers have battled the weather and the seagulls, which have begun to nest in the gates, as follows…..

MOSE: Even the seagulls are stripping the paint.

Information from the article by Alberto Vitucci, La Nuova Venezia, 29 April 2017

It turns out that the beached (so to speak) gates sitting at the construction site are a very attractive home for nesting seagulls, sort of like LeFrak City for waterfowl.  But their guano is damaging the paint, and eventually corrodes the metal too.  The birds stab at the peeling paint with their beaks, trying to strip it off (boredom? sport? snacks?).  Protective tarpaulins have been spread over the gates, but large spaces have been left open for work on the hinges, so ….

Bring on the scarecrows! (I mean gulls): Deafening recordings of frightening sounds.  They tried an amped-up donkey braying because an ethologist said that birds are afraid of it.  Birds, sure, but not gulls, who fear almost nothing anymore.  Next, a high-volume dog growling. Nope. In the end, the only thing that works is a cannon firing blanks, so cannonfire is now periodically heard in the lagoon, followed by the wild flapping of hundreds and hundreds of wings of birds that soon return.

How long will all this be going on?

The timetable.  According to the latest schedule — after deadlines passed from 2011 to 2014, then 2017, then 2018 — the work will be finished by 2021.  Four (or five or ten?) more years of astonishing stories to come.  And I haven’t even said anything about the subsidence of the lagoon bottom beneath the caissons due to the powerful force of the tides (tides? there are tides in the sea? what??) which appear to be distorting the position of the gates…..

Life on earth requires many adjustments. Shown here is a reasonable solution to a problem. I have no images of a reasonable solution to any of MOSE’s problems.



Categories : MOSE, Problems
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The last rant of 2012, I promise

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A touch of Christmas spirit, hung out to dry.  Festive photographs are added to this post to mitigate the rantage.

I can’t resist — well, I don’t know if I can’t, because I haven’t tried — recounting the latest arabesques from the ACTV.  And lest you think I am obsessed with the public transport system here, let me defend my little manias by saying that it’s not so much the ACTV that I’m obsessed with so much as I am with absurdities and preposterosities.  They have a fatal fascination for me.  My father was the same way.  And the ACTV is the Venetian equivalent of Old Faithful, gushing an unfailing flood of reckless absurdity over the the lives of innocent, unoffending travelers who have paid their money to go somewhere and have found themselves instead on the road to the looney bin.

Christmas Day.  I thought everybody knew that the entire world has important plans which involve some sort of travel.  But if you were to have been so ill-starred as to need to go between the Lido and Tronchetto (d/b/a/ the mainland) on the morning of our Saviour’s birth, you’d have spent all morning praying in your car.  A car almost certainly loaded with children, gifts for relatives, and perhaps foodstuffs not packed for long-term transport.

Poinsettias (known here as “stella di Natale,” or “Christmas star”) are always a good theme for a tablecloth. They’re so pretty.  And they don’t have to be watered.

According to the report in the Gazzettino, the reserved spaces for cars on the ferryboats for Christmas Day had been sold out almost a week earlier.  Which meant that — not to put too fine a point on it — the ACTV had time to prepare reinforcements, because it is obvious to anyone who has ever been alive on Christmas Day that masses of people who needed to travel but hadn’t managed to book a space would just show up.  And so it was: On the morning of one of the busiest travel days in the year, hundreds of cars were lined up, at the Lido and also at Tronchetto, just waiting.

This was Olympics-level waiting, waiting on the grand scale.  Because the ACTV had put only two (2) ferryboats into service that morning.  One (1) going each way.

The two “flagships” (“Lido di Venezia” and “San Nicolo'”) were out of service for scheduled maintenance work.  Not emergency maintenance, which would be moderately excusable, but work that had been scheduled by some large intellect for the holiday period.  Not only does this border on madness from the public-service point of view, it’s also insane because who would be working over Christmas?  Except, I mean, in an emergency capacity.

The enraged would-be passengers began a surge of protest on Facebook and (I suppose) Twitter.  The ACTV, roused by this from its torpor, launched extra boats — the two smallest ferries, “Marco Polo” at 12:05 and “Ammiana” (no heating, but who cares at this point) at 12:20.  For someone who might have had a two-hour trip ahead of them, this wouldn’t translate as “Way to go, ACTV, you’ve saved the day,” but “Thanks, ACTV, you’ve dismembered my Christmas.”

Note: Due to the “excellent work” of Mauro Minio, may his tribe increase and all go to work for the ACTV, the “Lido di Venezia” was sufficiently repaired in order to begin service that afternoon at 4:00 PM.

All this needs no comment from me, but why should that stop me?  The ACTV isn’t expected to stop the war in Syria.  It isn’t expected to eradicate malaria.  It isn’t expected to adopt Ukrainian orphans.  It isn’t expected to anything but provide the means, for payment, by which the public may go from here to there. But that seems to be too much to expect. Pay, yes.  Transport you to where you’re going? In the immortal words of Jack Benny, they’re thinking about it, they’re thinking about it.

Must keep foremost in mind the reason for all this wild activity. My vote goes to this scene; I’ve never seen a fuzzy pipe-cleaner palm tree before, but next year I want an entire oasis made of them.

Breaking news: The ACTV has announced a severe crackdown on scofflaws who ride for free.  Naturally there are people who skip the ticket-buying process. The company makes cheating irresistible, what with gouging the passengers with the price of tickets and then not bothering to maintain any system of checking them (I cannot remember, even if you promised me a house in Aspen, the last time a ticket-checker appeared).

Furthermore, ever since the new, computerized system of electronic tickets replaced the old paper version, you’re required to “beep” your ticket on a little machine before climbing aboard.  Even if you have a month’s pass, you’re required to “beep.”  Anyone caught with an un-beeped ticket is counted as someone who didn’t pay.

No one has ever understood why a person with a once-beeped monthly pass has to keep beeping it or be punished. The ACTV says it’s to get accurate statistics on ridership.

For a while, the ACTV put posters up in the vaporettos and buses complimenting themselves that the percentage of freeloaders had dropped from 8.20 percent to 1.16 percent under their intense vigilance.  But the numbers conceal an unpleasant fact, which is that the directors’ bonuses are directly linked to the percentage of deadbeats they catch. In the real world, that would make sense.  Prizes are supposed to be given for performance. But wait.

Davide Scalzotto wrote about this in the Gazzettino a month ago, headined (I translate): “The mystery of onboard evasion, and the mystery of the company’s bonuses.”  It was inspired by the press conference held to announce the new program to install turnstiles on the docks (there already are some in operation) and buses, turnstiles which are going to stop freeloaders forever.  But the company didn’t give specific numbers to delineate the dimensions of the problem, making it impossible to know how efficient they actually have been and, more to the point, how necessary these expensive turnstiles really are.

The only reason to go anywhere by any means of transport is to eat and drink. And wash up.

As Scalzotto points out, the ACTV is stuck.  If they admit that evasion is high, they don’t have any basis for awarding bonuses.  But on the other hand, if they say evasion is low (“We did it!”), they don’t have any basis for justifying the new turnstiles.

The data provided by the ACTV shows that in 2009 (one year after the electronic, or IMOB, system was instituted), the rate of evasion on the vaporettos was 0.49 percent, and on the buses was 1.72 percent.  In 2011 the rate was 0.64 percent on water and 2.12 on land.

The limit below which bonuses are automatically awarded is fixed at 0.70 and 2.0 percent. This is extraordinary: The numbers given for diminished evasion are just a squeak under the limit which permits the bonuses. I’m not sure how they got around the 2.0 ceiling, but bonuses to the ACTV are like rain in Cherrapunjee, India: Inevitable.

Now a city councilor, Sebastiano Costalonga, has opened an inquiry which will seek to obtain the certifiable passenger/evasion numbers from 2010 to today, and discover the parameters which are used to determine the bonuses.

But keep this in mind.  The ACTV has declared that they’re 8 million euros in the red.  The turnstiles will cost around 5 million euros.  Apart from the fact that these turnstiles will create a sack of problems, as we say here, for the passengers, how can the ACTV keep raising ticket prices because they’re broke, if at the same time they’re so ready to spend money they don’t have?

For something which — if their own numbers are to be believed — isn’t necessary in the first place.  Because if they really have driven down the percentage of cheapskates with hardly any turnstiles, what’s the point of adding more turnstiles?

I promise to change the subject in 2013.  Not for the entire year, but at least for a little while.

Happy New Year.

Wishing everyone a year full to the brim with everything wonderful.

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Venice and the floating Alps

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The catastrophe of the Costa Concordia two weeks ago today has been a good thing in at least one (sorry, I mean only one) way: It has given a turbo-boost to the local opposition to allowing big cruise ships to slide past the Piazza San Marco like floating Alps.

By now, images of these behemoths and Venice have become as trite as Venice and acqua alta.

Just one example at random of a typical big ship coming to Venice. The top deck is lined with thousands of people, all making the same photograph of the Piazza San Marco. As far as I can tell, this is the main reason why the big ships insist on entering and leaving Venice by the Bacino of San Marco.

There was murmuring before, but the death of a ship and some of its people has created a good deal of commotion, not only in Venice but also at the national level, concerning the desirability of allowing these ships to come here. Needless to say, the political parties have all hoisted their shields and battle-axes and are ready for combat.  And, as usual, the trumpet sounding the charge tends to drown out any other sound.

I’d like to review the main points, though I have to warn you that this subject, like most other subjects here, has become a mass of insanely knotted statistics and semi-statistics and facts and semi-facts interpreted in 11,552 different ways, according to who is speaking and, ergo. what they want.  Debates of the pros and cons of heavy cruise ship traffic in the world’s most beautiful city and environs are so loaded with emotion that it has become virtually impossible to hear what anybody’s really saying, though the various viewpoints are fairly simple to summarize.

Cruise statistics for 2011 as published by the Gazzettino.

Pro: There is only one item in the “pro” column on the proverbial yellow legal pad, and that’s “Money.”  Venice has done everything possible to attract and keep cruise business.  In 2000, only 200 ships visited Venice, and it is now the Number One cruising homeport in the Mediterranean, and the third in Europe. With the shrinking of the income from the Casino, the starving city budget is being kept alive primarily by this new touristic medium.

Don’t be distracted by the number of companies whose ships come to Venice (43), or how many ships visited last year (654) or the number of transits they made of the Bacino of San Marco (1,308) — I’d have thought there were more — or the number of passengers last year (2,248,453), even though all these numbers are pretty impressive (fancy way of saying “huge and scary”).

The only number that matters to the city, and the only factor which virtually guarantees that cruising will continue to be crucial here, is the money the city earns from it: 300 million euros (US$390,246,000) last year.

If you want to object to cruising in or around Venice, you need to come up with a suggestion for some other activity that will make that kind of money.  Or, preferably, even more.  Feel free to get back to me on this.


A view of the docks at Tronchetto. As you see, seven assorted ships can fit in here at any one time, though these is space for smaller ones (yes, there are smaller ones) at the Zona Marittima nearby -- three are moored there in this picture, just to the right of the big docks. Discussion is underway to expand the dock area.

Con:  The conscientious objectors to cruising offer many urgent reasons why it is deleterious to the city. These reasons are more or less persuasive, depending on how deeply their proponents have managed to bury their ulterior motives.

The two main items in the “con” column concern the environmental damage wrought by the floating Alps.

They are:

Erosion caused by waves (there are no waves) and/or by the suction of the motors.  This suction is real: I can attest that the motors of these ships perform a phenomenal sucking/pushing action, very much like what happens to the mouthwash when you rinse your mouth.  I have seen with these very eyes the waters surging in and then surging out as a ship passes, even if it passes at a distance.  It’s hard to think that this could be unimportant.  As we know from the humbler but more destructive daily motondoso, water going into a fissure in a foundation pulls something with it — soil, mainly — when it comes out.  This eventually creates empty spaces under buildings and sidewalks.

Ships maneuvering to enter or back out of their berths also create massive suction, as the brown sediment churned up here attests.

A study done by Worcester Polytechnic Institute on the hydrodynamic effect of big ships found this:  “As cruise ships pass smaller canals along the St. Mark’s Basin and Giudecca Canal, they displace and accelerate the surrounding body of water, essentially pulling water from the smaller canals.  This caused a noticeable increase in canal speed and a drop in the water levels.  A total of five velocity tests were completed resulting in a 57.4% increase in canal speed, and two canal height tests were completed which showed an average water level drop of 11 c (4.3 inches).  The observations suggest that the root cause for these accelerations can be explained by the Bernoulli Effect: the colossal geometry of cruise ships creates fast currents and low pressure areas around the moving vessels.”

Particulate Matter, the form of air pollution made up of tiny bits of stuff from combustion exhaust.  Nobody made an issue of this when Venice was a real industrial center, and nobody brought it up when the Industrial Zone on the shoreline was going full blast.  Nobody made an issue of it, Lino points out, when everybody — everybody — heated their homes or cooked using wood or coal.  “You didn’t need to smoke anything,” he said — “smoke was everywhere.”  But particulate matter from the ships is intolerable.

The view of the Giudecca Canal as seen by the passengers on a departing ship. I'm on a Minoan Lines ferry to Greece. If a ship were to go rogue here it could endanger city on both sides.

Four days after the Concordia ran aground, Corrado Clini, the new Minister for the Environment, came to Venice for a day.  He was shown a number of things (MoSE was not on the list, which I can understand, because nothing can be done about it now), but the subject on everybody’s mind was the big ships.

He offered the following opinion: “Common sense suggests that if the principle value to care for is our natural patrimony, the fundamental resource for our tourism, we must avoid that it be put at risk.”  You can’t argue with that.

He continued: “The traffic of these ‘floating apartment buildings’ in the Bacino of San Marco, with a notable impact, are without utility for the environment and for tourism.”  If he is seeking utility for tourism, all he has to do is look at the municipal balance sheet.  However, “without utility for the environment” is hard to refute.

Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, who was on hand, remarked that “The big ships in Venice are dangerous and certainly a problem to resolve.  I have to admit that to see these colossi at San Marco is, to say the least, horrifying.”  I myself have to admit that it’s odd that he only became horrified after the Concordia ran aground; the ships have been passing for years.

Giorgio Orsoni, the mayor of Venice, contributed these observations: “The subject of the big ships is an open one.  With the Port Authority we have begun to reflect on a rapid solution which will satisfy the touristic system as well as the economic one.” Rapid solutions are not easy to come up with, because every player wants his concerns to come first.  Nor would a rapid solution instill much confidence.  If complex, well-reasoned solutions haven’t been found yet, why would a rapid one be any easier to devise, much less implement?

Sandro Trevisanato, president of VTP, which runs the port, stated that the big ships are the least polluting form of tourism, adding that the buses, the big launches, and cars create much more pollution than the big ships.  (For the record, I’d like to say that this is the most intelligent comment so far.)  He points out that emissions are one of the arguments used by those who want to ban the cruise ships from the lagoon, far beyond the aesthetic question.  It’s a question of taste,” says Trevisanato. “In a few seconds the ships have passed and disappear.”  Seconds?  Has he never stood on the embankment on a summer Sunday evening to watch the March of the Pachyderms as they depart? Even one ship, by my estimate, takes at least 45 minutes to pass from Tronchetto to Sant’ Elena.  And there could easily be seven of them, virtually nose to tail.

In any case, everybody directly involved in cruise tourism agrees that  pollution must be kept at “level zero.”  How to do that isn’t explained.

As for the possibility — remote, all agree — that something could go wrong with the motors, or that the ship for some other reason would suddenly become ungovernable, and that the force of inertia would impel it to ram bow-first into the Piazza San Marco or some other bit of Venice, Trevisanato says that the port is one of the most secure in the world, as the ships are protected from the effect of wind and waves, and the ships pass at a reasonable (I put that in) distance from the shores.  Hard to say what is “reasonable” when the Giudecca Canal is only 320 meters (1000 feet) wide, or less.  But you will have noticed that referring to wind and waves prevented him from discussing the consequences of a big ship going adrift in the Bacino of San Marco.

Someone reminded him that in 2004 the ship “Mona Lisa” ran aground in the fog in the Bacino of San Marco.  His reply: “Exactly: and nothing happened.”  This is true; the ship was on its way after a mere hour, undoubtedly thanks to the help of the rising tide.  But the “Mona Lisa” is 201 meters (609 feet) long by 26 meters (85 feet) beam, and a gross tonnage of 28,891; not exactly a floating Alp.

The Concordia was 292 meters (958 feet)  x 35.5 meters (116 feet); gross tonnage 112,000.

In any case, saying “Nothing happened” isn’t very  helpful. It brings to mind the famous exchange in a Ring Lardner story: “‘Daddy, are we lost?’  ‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

The "Mona Lisa." This is what most cruise ships used to look like, before they put them on steroids.

And the mayor’s statement that a “rapid solution” is in the works isn’t very reassuring, even if it were true.  Solutions have been debated for years.

Proposed solutions so far:

Building an “offshore port” in the Adriatic where the floating Alps would tie up, and offload passengers (and luggage) into launches which would bring them to Venice.  Objections: Cost, feasibility, and the obvious pollution, primarily motondoso, which would be caused by thousands of launches trundling to and fro all day.  I can add the element of potential danger to people, if not to Venice, of boarding and traveling in a launch when the bora is blowing.

Make the Bacino and the Giudecca Canal a one-way street.  Tourists get to snap the Piazza San Marco either coming or going, but not both.  This has the advantage of not depriving them totally of this scenic opportunity, while cutting in half the number of transits.  A tour operator told me that it isn’t uncommon for a potential cruise customer to ask if the ship passes in front of the Piazza San Marco.  If the answer is no, it’s an immediate deal-breaker.

Bring the ships into the lagoon via the inlet at Malamocco. Heavy shipping already passes here, heading for the docks at Marghera, so more heavy ships wouldn't make any difference. Theoretically.

But this new system would require deepening a heretofore unimportant natural channel known as the Canal of Sant’ Angelo in order to create a sort of bypass. Enter the lagoon at the inlet at Malamocco, steam up the shoreline via the Petroleum Canal, then turn right in the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, which neatly brings the behemoth to Tronchetto.  The ship would depart via the Giudecca Canal, so the passengers could all snap their photos.

Or, the ship would enter, as it does now, by the inlet at San Nicolo’, steam past San Marco (snap snap snap) to Tronchetto, then depart down the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, Petroleum Canal, and out into the Adriatic at Malamocco.

Sometimes a big ship moors downstream from San Marco at the Riva dei Sette Martiri. It might seem like a bright idea to put them all here, except that the passengers wouldn't get their snaps; also, there isn't enough shoreline for the typical job lot on a summer weekend. And there is also the issue of the vibrations from the generators and the blocking of television reception which are major irritations for the residents. Who would want to spend the summer with these just outside the front door?

What’s extremely wrong with this idea — in my opinion, as well as many environmentalists — is that deepening the Canal of Sant’ Angelo would be a reprise of the digging of the Petroleum Canal, a deed which many have long since recognized as a disaster for the lagoon. A channel as straight as an airport runway and deep enough for cargo ships and tankers behaves like the average water faucet, concentrating and accelerating the force of the water passing through it. Many environmental groups date the beginning of the deterioration of the lagoon ecosystem from the creation of the Petroleum Canal.  Among other things, it is estimated that this canal is responsible for the loss of one million cubic meters of sediment every year. We don’t have to care, but the myriad creatures and plants which depend on the sediment certainly do.

Digging another deep channel will almost certainly cause the same phenomenon, thereby multiplying the damage.  Just what we need, when you add in the same effect caused by the deepening of the three lagoon inlets for the installation of the MoSE floodgates.

So the bypass canal, which looks so good on paper, would be yet another blow to an ecosystem which UNESCO, along with the city of Venice, designated as a World Heritage Site.  Now that I think of it, the only group that hasn’t weighed in yet on this is UNESCO. Maybe they’re thinking.

Last idea: Forget Tronchetto. Move the whole passenger port over to the shoreline at Marghera.  Docks already exist, or could be created, so logistically the idea has a lot in its favor. Except that Marghera is part of the dying Industrial Zone, with all the aesthetic appeal of a dying Industrial Zone.  It’s like selling a cruise from Venice that actually starts in the Port of Newark or Liverpool. Intending no offense.

Speaking of the force of inertia, debates, meetings, commissions, studies (oh good, we can always use more of those) and assorted pronouncements will undoubtedly continue.  I can make that claim because when the “Mona Lisa” ran aground in 2004, the then-mayor, Paolo Costa, ringingly declared that a stop must be put to the  big ships passing in the Bacino of San Marco.

He said (translation by me): “What happened has unfortunately confirmed my worries, and that is that an absolute certainty doesn’t exist on the possibility to guarantee the security in this zone of the city (Bacino San Marco) which is so important and delicate. It was horrifying to see the ship aground a mere 30 meters from a vaporetto stop, and fortunately consequences were avoided that could have been disastrous and unimaginable.  Now we must take rapid measures, more than one, and very detailed, that eliminate the danger of finding, one day, a ship in the Piazza San Marco. Because everything which today is at risk in the Bacino of San Marco isn’t something that can be protected only probably, but certainly, and with safety.”

Eight years have passed, two mayors have succeeded him, Costa is now President of the Port of Venice, and those “rapid measures” are still being fervently invoked.

The Port of Venice may be protected from potentially dangerous winds, but there seems to be no way to protect it from hurricanes of hot air.

A big ship leaving Venice. These proportions once shocked and dismayed me. But you can get used to almost anything.

Categories : MOSE, Motondoso, Tourism
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Wings over Venice

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first flight inVenice. This might sound like a quaint bit of trivia, if one didn’t know (which one is about to) how important Venice was in the history of Italian and also, may one say, European, aviation.

So pull your minds for a moment from the canals and consider the heavens. I myself am not a connoisseur of the aeronautical, but I am always interested in history, especially in “firsts,” especially if they actually mattered.

On February 19, 1911, Umberto Cagno took off from the beach in front of the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido in his Farman II airplane, and made six brief flights, in spite of the fog. (ACTV, please note.)  On March 3, better weather encouraged him to fly, for the first time ever, over Venice.

A few months later, on September 19, 1911, the first airmail flight in Italy departed from Bologna and landed on the Lido. That is to say, Venice.

The symbol of an airplane just above the word "Lido" marks the location of Nicelli airport.

Geography is destiny, as Napoleon observed, and Venice’s position was obviously as valuable to air transport as it had been for centuries to shipping.  At that time, the Lido was largely uninhabited, making it the ideal place to establish an airport.

The airport is open to visitors, especially those who want to take a helicopter ride over Venice and the Lagoon (

The first was built in 1915, a military base on the northernmost part of the Lido, which was active during World War I.  Then, in 1935, with some major variations, it became the Aeroporto Nicelli, and air became yet another way, in the march of progress, to get to Venice. Flights on Ala Littoria and Transadriatica connected the famously watery city to points scattered around Europe. Even to Baku, if you happened to be going that way.

Nicelli immediately became the scene of extremely glamorous arrivals, as movie stars deplaned on the grassy runway to attend the Venice Film Festival. This continued until 1960, when Marco Polo airport opened on the mainland.

As shown on the map displayed in the airport, Venice remained at the center of things into yet another century.

So far I may have made it sound as if all these things were accomplished by an occult hand. But of course many hands were involved, among which none were more important than those of  the late Lt. Col. Umberto Klinger.

Klinger, a native Venetian, was already a celebrity by the time he created the Officine Aeronavali at Nicelli, a large workshop dedicated to repairing and maintaining airplanes.

A glimpse of Klinger on the cover of a book written by his daughter.

He had begun as a highly decorated pilot in World War II, with more than 5,000 hours of flight to his credit, 600 of which were in combat, earning 5 silver Medals of Military Valor.  He also served as Chief of Staff of the Special Air Services of the Italian Air Force, not only organizing the activities of squadrons of Savoia-Marchetti S.75s (troop transports or bombers), but also flying them himself, often at night, over enemy territory.  After the war, he served as president of one of the first passenger airlines in Italy (Ala Littoria), and four other companies. Far from being a mere figurehead, Klinger raised Nicelli to the level of the second airport in Italy.

So much for the history lecture.  Now we have to move into the darkened halls of humanity, where to do justice to even the bare outlines of the story of Umberto Klinger you’d need to resort to dramatic opera.Verdi! thou should’st be living at this hour, but you’re not; to the people who knew him, though, the name of Klinger creates its own music. Especially those who remember his last day.

Lino, for example.

Lino went to work for the Aeronavali as an apprentice mechanic at Nicelli in 1954, at the age of 16.  He often saw “Comandante Klinger,” and even spoke with him on various occasions. Right up to today, Lino pronounces his name with reverence and regret.  This wasn’t unusual — Klinger was by all accounts a powerfully charismatic man admired for his courage, respected for his skill, but with a special gift for inspiring real love.

In 1925, Transadriatica was one of the first passenger airlines in Italy; its first route connected Rome and Venice. This poster promotes the link between Venice and Vienna.

The Aeronavali flourished, with hundreds of employees working on aircraft of all sorts, from the Italian Presidential plane to cargo and passenger planes of many different companies.  When Marco Polo airport opened on the mainland in 1960, the Aeronavali moved to the mainland with it.

Then politics began to set in.  The broad outlines of what is undoubtedly a hideously complicated story are that certain elements in Rome, wanting to gain control of the company in order to place it under state, rather than private, administration, began to create financial problems for Klinger. The Aeronavali kept working, but payments from the Ministry of Defense were mysteriously not coming through.  And the unions, manipulated by the aforementioned political factions, began to stir up discontent.

Lino remembers the increasingly intense meetings of the workers and the unions.  He remembers Klinger pleading with them to be patient as he struggled to reopen the financial flow. But the unions rejected any compromises on pay or contracts, however temporary they might be, compelling the workers to resist. They ultimately even went on strike for 72 hours. Celebrity or no, the man — who had looked after his employees with no less solicitude than he had cared for his pilots — was running out of fuel.

The Aeronavali worked on any sort of aircraft -- Dakotas, Constellations, and the Savoia-Marchetti S.75, a 30-passenger plane also used as a bomber in World War II. These were Klinger's specialty, comprising virtually all of the squadrons he commanded of the Special Air Services.

During these harrowing days, Klinger was heard to say more than once that what was needed to resolve this impasse was “something really big.”  He ultimately thought of something that qualified.

Early in the morning of January 21, 1971, he went by himself to the old hangar at Nicelli, by that time virtually abandoned. And he took a cord. A few hours later, when the guardian made his rounds, he discovered the body of Comandante Klinger. He had hanged himself.

Lino remembers the gathering at work that morning, when they were all given the news.  There was utter silence, he recalls, though if stricken consciences could make an audible noise there would have been plenty of that.

The first time I heard this story, I thought his was the despairing last act of a man who had run out of hope. Now I am convinced that Klinger’s suicide was a voluntary self-immolation in order to save the company — not unlike the Russian officers after the fall of Communism who, left unpaid, finally killed themselves so their widows would get their pensions.

And Klinger turned out to have won his gamble. Almost immediately, the overdue funds began to pour in.

The hangar, seen across the runway from the terminal.

The funeral, in the church of San Nicolo’ next to the airport, was attended by a huge number of mourners; many had to stand outside. Did any union officers come to pay their last respects?  “Sure,” Lino said.  “They were at the head of the line.”

Courage in combat — it isn’t needed only in the skies.  Nor does it only involve things that explode, though they can still be fatal. Umberto Klinger deserves another medal, one which doesn’t seem yet to have been created.

Klinger, the way his employees remember him -- in mufti, smiling.

Postscript: It’s very easy to visit the airport.  At the central vaporetto stop on the Lido at Piazzale Santa Maria Elisabetta, take the “A” bus marked for “San Nicolo’ – Ple. Rava’.”  (If the weather’s nice, you can just stroll along the lagoon embankment for about half an hour.)  Get off at the last stop, in front of the church and walk a few minutes across the grass and up the driveway.

The terminal has been spiffed to a modern version of its former glory, with a cool retro-design restaurant, “Niceli.”  Have lunch, or just a coffee or drink on the terrace.  If you come toward the early evening in the summer, bring lots of mosquito repellent.

The lobby today.

Or maybe the restaurant is named "Nicely." I like the design, even if it is unclear.

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Categories : History
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