Saturday, August 3, 2013
A True, Present-day Bridge of Sighs--and Lots of Dead Fish
As I type this at 7:40 pm the temperature here in Venice is 31℃ (88℉), but with the humidity it feels like it's 38℃ (100℉). We're at the beginning of a heat wave. Last week--prior to the heat wave--there was a mass die-off of fish in the lagoon, thousands of them could be seen floating everywhere, even in the Grand Canal.
In its best Death in Venice-style, the city's official reassuring response was that this kind of thing wasn't out of the ordinary when the weather turned hot, it's happened before. But last week--unlike today and the forecast for the week ahead--was no hotter than usual; than last summer, for example, and there were no mass die-offs of fish last year.
The slightly more in-depth official response was that the fish suffocated to death; that the warm weather had encouraged the growth of algae in the water which robbed it of oxygen. Of course, algae growth is made much worse by the presence of certain man-made substances in the water, such as phosphates, and there's concern that there may have been a release of other pollutants into the lagoon. Some people have complained of a particularly unpleasant chemical smell on the lagoon, but the official response has been that tests show the chemical plant in Marghera is not at fault.
Gianfrano Bettin, Venice's Councilor of the Environment, was quoted last week as saying that "the situation in the lagoon is quite normal (my emphasis). The absence of wind and currents has caused overall warming of water in the lagoon, which has led to obvious difficulties for native species, especially in the southern and central areas of the lagoon."
This was supposed to be reassuring, but as Venetian blogger Fausto Maroder pointed out in a post about the dead fish on his blog, isn't "the absence of currents" exactly what we have to look forward to whenever (or if ever) the MOSE gates are activated?: http://alloggibarbaria.blogspot.it/2013/07/moria-di-pesci-venezia.html
His concern, shared by many others, is that MOSE, along with merely the usual man-made pollutants in the lagoon, and (if we ignore Global Warming as many still want to do) even merely the usual warm temperatures, will turn the mass die-off of fish into the new "quite normal." A deadly new "quite normal."
None of which I actually intended to go into in this post... Instead, my original aim was to remark briefly on the photo above of the illegal vendors (or abusivi) driven to take refuge from the heat and sun in the scant shadows of a parapet on a bridge spanning the Canale dell'Arsenale (easily identified by the pair of obelisks visible in the photo, which also adorn the roof of any palazzo on the Grand Canal in which a commander of the Venetian fleet lived).
On the hottest days of summer such vendors seem to me to be especially fearless of the law, whose would-be enforcers I imagine spend as much time as possible within the air-conditioned walls of their respective departments and as little as possible pounding the paving stones of the Riva. On such afternoons, bridges like the one above look very much like open-air markets, with scores of counterfeit bags, dozens of tripods, and hundreds of pairs of sunglasses displayed on blankets on the ground. The vendors array themselves within whatever strip of shade is available, moving as it does with the slowly passing hours, making small talk, and, I imagine, sighing beneath the unrelenting sun and heat and boredom.
As many Venetians themselves sigh, too, at the sight of the vendors in such complacent numbers: these troops of regulars, seen day-in and day-out, as familiar as the neighborhood pharmacist, but illegitimate. Ir-regulars, you could say. A part of the city fabric, but not part of it, not officially, but always always there.