Friday, January 21, 2011

Fog City

The weather forecast for the last 5 days showed a hearty sun keeping company, and only minimally obscured, by a modest cloud. Like a big florid-faced man holding his white toy poodle up before him to be photographed. In fact there was no hint of that round-faced man, and after three days of unbroken fog I began to have serious doubts not only about whether he'd ever return but whether he'd ever actually existed.   

The fog of the Venetian lagoon is, I discovered, nothing like the tule fog of California's San Joaquin Valley where I grew up. It is not, like the majority of visitors to this city, a day tripper--nor even an overnight guest. No, it checks in for extended stays. It makes itself at home. It takes over the whole damn place.

Like one of the countless replicas of itself taken home by countless tourists, when the fog moves in Venice is packed up in cotton and boxed away out of natural light. Where are you, and where are you being taken? There's no way of knowing. Even the most basic sights vanish: the comforting to and fro of the vaporetti on the lagoon seen from our windows, the delivery boats, the lighted pilings that mark their path. The islands of the Lido, San Servolo, San Giorgio Maggiore: all gone suddenly like abducted classmates.

When, or if, the fog lifted, in what awful suburb might we find ourselves?

The fog, in other words, was getting to me a bit--even if it didn't seem to affect Jen or Sandro, who tore around the parco giochi (playground) after school as if it were bright June.

I recalled something I'd had reason to recall years before, during a long winter in New York, from Thoreau, who noted that even in the dead of winter, when the progress of time itself seems to be at a frozen standstill, there are countless changes to be observed. In the January snow of Prospect Park these changes, these hints of spring, I can tell you, are not so easy to find. But here, at the very least, the Giardini Pubblici are largely green year-round with oaks and laurels and evergreens of some sort and a few palm trees and bunches of bushes I know nothing about. That would cheer me up.

Remarkably enough, though, there were bushes of some kind doing more than just hunkering down beneath the cold fog. On one kind of bush, whose name I've never known and can't tell you right now, there were actually shoots! I think that's the word. Shoots, buds, new growth. On another there were actually some tiny flowers. This surprised me so much I took a picture.

Now Venice is actually a little bit further north than New York City and I don't recall seeing even the smallest of flowers opening up in NYC in January. Maybe I missed them. Maybe for those who know something about plants this will come as no surprise whatsoever. Perhaps there are tiny flowers of just this sort opening to a new day in Minneapolis even as I type these words. 

Maybe that's one of the good things about certain kinds of ignorance: the routine appears miraculous.  At least the first time you experience it.

Then yesterday morning, after a night of hard rain and wind, I woke up and the fog was gone, revealing everything to be where I guess it must always have been, but looking, nevertheless, quite brand new, even dazzling.


  1. Sig Nonloso, Chicago is a block of ice, and sometimes the sun disappears for a week or two. Fog, on the other hand, seems dreamy. Just the thought of it. Throw in a few flowering plants and my winter blues might just start to thaw. Non vedo l`ora.....

  2. I see your point (though perhaps the thought of fog is easier to entertain for extended periods than the reality). After all ice (not fire) was in the deepest circle of Dante's hell, while fog, I don't know, that was probably confined to Purgatory.

  3. I'm happily lurking, reading. The site insists that I'm Stephen, but it's Linda here.

    I find fog to be magical. Certainly some of my best photos were taken in light or heavy fog. It mutes the mundane, making it atmospheric like an old black and white film noir. As long as I'm not driving, I love it.

    Steven, we're following your writings about Venice and about life. Love to Jen and Sandro.

  4. LJ:

    You would have loved it here yesterday: fog so thick you couldn't see beyond 30 yards from sunrise until late into the night, trees dripping with moisture all day. Standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco for all you could see you would have sworn the campanile was completely gone--not to mention the basilica.

    Only one vaporetto line was running--the number 1, using its radar screen--and by the time I caught it after dark visibility on the water seemed limited to about 20 yard: nothing but a wall of fog ahead, cold black water below. It was like being ferried across the River Styx--but with a much pleasanter destination.