Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Drama On the Water and Off: Regata Storica 2014

Rowers round the great bend of the Grand Canal in front of Ca' Foscari and...
There was plenty of excitement both on and around the water at this year's Regata Storica with, respectively, the two-man gondolini race ending in a photo finish and with 50 palazzi along the Grand Canal adorned with green flags opposing plans to dredge a new deep water canal for the sake of the biggest of big cruise ships.

The green flags were the idea of Jane Da Mosto and her community group We Are Here Venice, which she heads with Michela Scibilia. They bore a simple three-word phrase "Venezia è Laguna" ("Venezia is the lagoon") whose brevity, however, was grounded in a very long sense of the city's history and carries with it far-reaching present-day implications. It is intended as a strong succinct rebuke to those who, like Italy's Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi and Venice Port Authority President Paolo Costa, have portrayed the decision to reroute the very largest cruise ships from their present path by the Doge's Palace and down the Giudecca Canal to a proposed new deep water channel as a means of "saving Venice".

To declare that "Venice is the lagoon" is to reassert that the well-being of the city is inseparable from the well-being of the lagoon, that the city and its lagoon (or the lagoon and its city, may be a better way to put it) are inextricably inter-dependent, or "symbiotic," as Da Mosto put it in a press release that accompanied the display of banners on Sunday. A fact which Venetians understood quite well for about a millennium, and until relatively recently in the city's past.

...beneath one of the 50 banners opposing the proposed new deep-water canal
A map of the 50 palaces that displayed the "Venezia è Laguna" banner
Given the well-documented damage already done to the health of the lagoon and the city's built environment by two earlier deep-water shipping channels dredged out of the lagoon (the Canale dei Petroli and the Canale Vittorio Emanuele), to gouge out a third and claim it is a means of "saving the city" is a bit like paving over Central Park as a solution to traffic problems in the upper half of Manhattan.

As the Director of Cambridge University's Coastal Research Unit, Tom Spencer, details in a recent piece in The Art Newspaper ("Scientist_Challenges..."), the fear is that the proposed new canal would further erode the once-shallow lagoon whose wetlands used to moderate tidal surges and wave energy and would act as a new off-ramp from the already deleterious expressway formed by the Canale dei Petroli, funneling surges right toward the historical center.

Four of the banners on display on the Grand Canal
An environmental impact assessment of the proposed canal is presently under way, but given the power of vested interests in such matters, and the history of even negative assessments being ignored, many Venetians and supporters of the city have felt compelled to take concrete action against the canal. (You, Dear Reader, can read and sign a petition against the canal here: Petition_in_English.)

The banners on Sunday were intended as a vivid assertion that, as Da Mosto's press release stated, Venice "is united, vigilant and ready to be a protagonist in decisions that concern [it] with the same long term vision with which these palaces were originally constructed [and] with the power of the tradition, energy and rigour of the champion rowers in the Regatta."

You can read more about the controversy over the proposed canal and an interview with Jane Da Mosto in my post from last week:

The first five crews of the six-oar caorlina race in a tight single-file line
Rowers in the women's two-oar race head toward the finish line in front of boatloads of spectators
Cruising the Grand Canal beat
Two crews of college rowers are harried toward the finish line
Neck-and-neck for most of the race, the leading crews of the gondolini race drive toward a photo finish


  1. Love the photo of the police on their "bikes". Do they keep to the water only or are they required to chase the crims across the various campi and calle?

    1. I can't imagine what it would take to get those police off their "bikes", Anonymous. I suspect nothing less than a JAWS sighting in the water nearby would do it.