Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Every Door A Water Door: Venice Submerged

We don't usually have a water door in our apartment building, but last night our cortile became a canale (and our son sweeps out the water that surmounted our front steps)

Two common misperceptions about acqua alta are that:

1) It signifies the same kind of flooding that commonly strikes other parts of the world when, for example, a river overflows and inundates an area for a full day or two (or more) before receding. In contrast, acqua alta is simply part of the usual movement of the tides here, which follow an alternating cycle of roughly 6 hours up and 6 hours down. So that, for example, while a normal instance of acqua alta may impede your path through a certain part of town some morning, it's likely to be out of your way by noon.

2) If there's acqua alta in Piazza San Marco, the rest of the city must also be flooded. This depends, but as Piazza San Marco, which centuries ago was one of the highest points in the city, is now (thanks to subsistence) one of its lowest, there may be flooding there but very little anywhere else. That is, acqua alta is not necessarily general throughout Venice.

But when the tides surges 156 cm above its mean level, as it did yesterday, then even buildings situated in higher parts of the city find themselves with water doors, which had led out to paving stones before.

70% of the city was flooded yesterday and most of the city was shut down. In fact, in anticipation of the high tide all schools had been canceled as of Sunday evening--and not just for yesterday, but for today as well. The Rialto markets didn't open yesterday, nor did supermarkets, and though most of the Rialto produce stalls were open today, and a couple of the fish stalls of the pescheria, the supermarkets were still closed today as of noon due to the extensive cleanup necessitated by the flooding. I don't know how many, if any, were able to open by this evening.

The most famous instance of acqua alta that stuck around for far longer than usual is of course the flood of 1966, whose waters rose to over 190 cm and were prevented from receding by an extraordinarily strong scirocco forcing water up the Adriatic, and topped off by heavy rains and rivers that overflowed the diversionary routes Venetians had laboriously dredged for them centuries before.

There were strong winds yesterday and last night as well, and our upstairs neighbor, who'd weathered the 1966 flood in the same building in which he (still) and we (now) live, alluded to that disastrous scirocco of old and hoped the one blowing last night wouldn't have anything like the same effect. The next high tide was due in just after midnight, and at 11 pm I looked out our window to find the previous one still filling our courtyard.

But this morning our cortile was no longer a basin whose water exceeded the height of our just-below-the-knee stivali (rubber boots) and it was time to clean up. 

Of course, one is tempted to note here that if MOSE, the multi-billion euro flood prevention system, was working all of this might have been avoided. But then one remembers that MOSE is working perfectly--on its own terms. For it has done what seems to be its real job of transferring billions of euros of public money into the bank accounts of well-connected private interests--flood prevention and the saving of Venice serving merely as the pretext for this admirable operation.

Meanwhile, as today's New York Times reports, the basilica of San Marco's interior was submerged yesterday to an extent recorded only four times before in its 900 year history and, according to one of its board members, "in just one day aged 20 years."

And thus I find myself further convinced that, considering the cultural and historical importance of the city which it was charged to protect and the amount of money that has been spent on it, the forever non-functional MOSE project must surely rank as one of history's great swindles. Anyone and everyone involved with it should be very proud indeed: they assume their well-deserved places among those Venetian and/or mercenary miscreants who sacked Constantinople and bombarded the Parthenon. 

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