|Waiting for the vaporetto on Mazzorbo, Sunday evening, like birds on a wire|
Last week I spoke to a Venetian architect about why the canals seemed to smell so much stronger (ie, worse) the first time I visited here in July 1982 than they do now, and he told me that at the time of my first visit the canals had not been cleaned for some 30 or 40 years. After so long a time without cleaning they were thickly coated with accumulated matter, so that even the natural flushing mechanism of the changing tides was not as effective as it is now, when the canals are cleaned at more frequent intervals.
I also asked about a city ordinance which requires that human waste from apartments no longer be routed directly into the canals but into a three-part filtration system within each building prior to entering the canals.
I know at least a couple of people who installed such systems at considerable expense There is one in our own building. My interlocutor, however, was having none of it. For one thing, the system is not only expensive to install, it is a recurrent expense, as the solid waste that accumulates in one of its three reservoirs must of course be removed periodically. And one can easily imagine what that involves in a city like Venice.
He thought it was outrageous that the city would force upon him such an ongoing expense and insisted that the pollution problem in the canals and lagoons is not because of the merda, which has always been flushed into it, but the chemicals that have been released into it during the modern era. Studies have shown that such chemicals--from industry as well as from detergents used in the home--interfere with the normal breakdown of organic waste.
But, I asked hopefully, there must be far fewer buildings now flushing their raw sewage into the canals than there used to be, right?
Oh, no, he answered, probably 90% of the raw sewage in the city still goes right into the canals. But, he repeated, la merda is not the problem!
Well, be that as it may, I'd still suggest you keep your bare feet out of the canals. And I'm sure my Venetian architect friend would too.