Acqua alta is of course synonymous with Venice but I was surprised to learn the other day that not all visitors have the same notion of what the term means.
A Venetian friend who deals with tourists all day in his shop mentioned last week that lately a number of Japanese visitors have expressed a very particular concern about acqua alta here. Still reeling from the recent disaster in their own country, they conceive of the danger to Venice not in terms of subsidence or rising ocean levels caused by Global Warming, but as sudden flash calamities--basically, little tsunamis. He says he reassures them that acqua alta is fortunately nothing like that, but can't help but be saddened by how profoundly their sense of the world has been altered, by how they carry images of the disaster with them thousands of miles from home.
Then he said that he'd once met an American couple who--well, he didn't know what they imagined acqua alta was like.
"After the tsunami in Japan?" I asked.
"No, no, a couple of years ago," he said. "Nothing to do with tsunamis. They asked the strangest question. When acqua alta comes, they wanted to know, what happens to the pigeons in the Piazza?"
My friend shook his head, as incredulous and helplessly bewildered, still, by the recounted question as he was when he was first asked. He shrugged and opened his eyes wide, saying, "I mean, I don't know, they were afraid maybe they all drowned... I explained, they are birds," he flapped his arms demonstratively, "they fly away."