Sunday, July 7, 2013

MOSE and the Meadows of Venice

A pastoral paradise within sight of the campanili of San Giorgio Maggiore and San Marco

For more than 10 years the federal money that once would have gone to the city of Venice to fund the extraordinary maintenance required to keep this most extraordinary of cities afloat (so to speak) has been directed instead to the system of underwater floodgates at the portals between the lagoon and the Adriatic known as MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico). Built by a private consortium of companies who were handed a no-bid contract not only to build it but to maintain it when (or if) it is finished (which means a guaranteed annual income of many millions of euros in perpetuity) this project is responsible for the fact that the 592 million euros the city received in 2002 has been reduced for the last decade to a small fraction of that amount: only 20 million euros in 2005, according to Ana Somers Cocks's recent piece in the New York Review of Books entitled "The Coming Death of Venice?" ( Moreover, Somers Cocks (former chairperson of Venice in Peril) writes that "the 40 million euro allocated to it in 2011 only arrived from Rome this April." That is, two years behind schedule.

(An excellent book on MOSE and the problem of rising tides is John Keahey's Venice Against the Sea: A City Besieged. Though published in 2002, the glacial rate at which change happens in Italy means that it still reads as if were published last year.)

The diversion of all these funds to this private monopoly--to which, as Keahey writes, the EU had very strong objections--means that the city budget is a shambles: school children must, for example, bring their own toilet paper to school, and this summer the few public lawns of Venice are being left to grow wild for longer periods of time than I've seen before, as there's no money to pay the city giardinieri. The grass in Sant' Elena reached such a height at the beginning of this summer that Jen remarked you could easily lose a child in it. I believe she was understating it: in truth, it was quite high enough to swallow up a good many of their grandparents, too.

But it's not been all bad, as I hope the photo above suggests. There's never been a better summer in the three years we've lived here to appreciate the wild flowers.


  1. Well, you've just opened my eyes to one of the reasons that Venice seemed to be suffering from a lack of resources (I do mean money). I had no idea of the connection between the MOSE project and funds available for the city in general. Here's hoping that darned thing works!

    1. Many people fear (among many other things)--as Keahey writes--that it will be outdated by higher-than-originally-forecasted rising waters as soon as it gets going...

      For power brokers and politicians of both countries of which I'm a citizen I believe the criteria for whether a large public project works or not rests entirely on whether it has successfully transferred massive amounts of public funds into the private hands of a corporation or corporate monopoly. In these terms, then, MOSE has already been "working" marvelously, regardless of whether it ever actually keeps high water out.

  2. Many people should find this item interesting:

    1. Thanks, Bert, it is interesting. I suspect that as far as the Nuovo Consorzio who has the contract for MOSE is concerned everything is working marvelously and just as it should: they are assured of huge amounts of money without really any accountability forever and ever, and if something goes wrong after (if) they ever get the gates working they stand to make more money trying to fix it. Their primary concern seems to be that no one interfere with the gravy train running right to their door--issues about the actual operation of the gate fall much further down their list of priorities.

      Ah for the days of the Republic when even someone like Sansovino was thrown into jail and made to pay for repairs when his original library collapsed! In the two countries of which I'm a citizen, only the "little people" are accountable--and then to the very teeth, as Shakespeare put it.