Monday, December 23, 2019

'Tis the Season, or, Venetian Tidings

In the area around the church of San Giacometto, between the Rialto's Bridge and market, water was over an adult's knee at 9:40 am this morning

It's the acqua alta season in Venice and the tidings this year have made no residents glad, as an unprecedented number of what used to be considered exceptionally high tides have repeatedly flooded the defenseless city, causing more than a billion euros worth of estimated damages.

The total of five tides we've already had this season in excess of 140 cm is 3 more than the second highest number of such tides in any given year since 1872, and the overall frequency and intensity of the flooding is unparalleled. This morning's tide came in at 144 cm, a number which as recently as last year would have qualified as disturbingly high. But after a string of 140+ cm tides, it's gotten to the point that there was a certain amount of relief today because, well, at least it didn't hit 150. 

One could have shopped at the vegetable stalls of the Railto market without ever leaving one's boat

Campo San Giacometto (or San Giacomo di Rialto) submerged

Though never known for his beauty, the statue/pedestal known as "Il Gobbo"--atop which public announcements were proclaimed to what used to be the bustling hub of the Venetian Republic's expansive commercial empire--appeared to make like Narcissus in this morning's high tide....

While just a stone's throw away at the Osteria al Pesador, the Catch of the Day could quite literally have been caught while seated at one's table (appropriately enough, I suppose, as pesador is the Venetian word for fisherman).

But regardless of how high the water rose, deliveries still had to be made

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Two Grotesque Portals

Some entrances, whether because of the door itself (as above) or the apartment bell pulls (as below), seem to promise that something other than an ordinary domestic interior awaits you inside.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Cortile delle Scarpe

Cortile delle Scarpe is not the actual name of the small courtyard pictured above, but the odd pair of shoes were so precisely placed within it that they, not the little marble well in the center of the space, seemed to be the focus of the place, like relics on display, imbued with some indecipherable significance unavailable to a causal passerby who chanced into it, as I did. Set in the center of that ground floor, with its array of architectural shapes, its shattered orange plastic drain pipe, its coiled green hose, its wrought iron window bars, its bricked-in archway, the shoes (and even the broom and dustpan in the corner) seemed uncanny, like objects in a dream, inviting interpretation and resisting it in equal measure. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Piazza San Marco 1972; or, Pigeons, Painters and the Question of What Constitutes a Pest?

photo credit: Larry Castek

Today we're lucky to get a striking glimpse of the Venice of 47 years ago, courtesy of Larry Castek, during the era when pigeons still ruled Piazza San Marco.

John Berendt describes the city administration's unsuccessful and often clandestine attempts to control (and sometimes poison) its pigeon population in his best-selling book The City of Falling Angels, published in 2005.  In May of 2008 a law was finally passed which banned their feeding and put the 19 licensed vendors of feed out of business.

At the left of the photo you can see one such vendor in the act of filling a small paper bag of seed from a podium-sized green stand.

And just to the left of him, further in the background, you can see what looks to be a sizable canvas on an easel, with more canvases leaning against its legs. Was this someone licensed to sell his or her works in the piazza, or someone simply painting?

The unlicensed sales of paintings in the piazza has long been banned, but in the last couple of years so, too, has the mere painting of pictures. Artists long used to working there have been chased out by the police. There is no actual law against painting in the piazza, but local authorities have adopted a "zero tolerance" policy toward even the smallest of easels set up in the city's most famously picturesque space.

But though police now keep a watchful eye out for artists, on most sunny days it's not hard to find an illegal vendor or two of pigeon food....

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Shopping in Venice, Past and Present--and A Recommendation

The front window of Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche on Barbaria de le Tole

Shortly after we moved to Venice in 2010 I was walking with a visiting American friend over the Rialto Bridge when he asked me "So what are you supposed to buy in Venice? These silk ties, maybe?" he said, gesturing toward a display of them in a shop window.

We'd been talking of something else entirely, his question came out of the blue, but I knew what he meant. For I, too, when I first visited Europe as a teenager in 1982, had been told before leaving home that certain places were famous for the particular things they produced--eg, carved wood figures in Switzerland, lace in Venice, gold and leather in Florence--and I was, it seemed, almost duty-bound to purchase accordingly and return to the US with my loot.

In fact this compulsion was rather like the one that Venetian traders must have felt many centuries before our conversation, having been ordered by their rulers to return from their own voyages abroad with valuable objects--acquired by whatever means necessary--with which the city could be decorated for its greater glory. The basilica of San Marco, of course, became (and remains) Exhibit Number 1 of the loot thus acquired (or the acquisitions thus looted, as the case often was).

In spite of how much the city had changed between 1982 (when I first saw it) and 2011 (when this conversation took place), the things one was supposed to buy in Venice hadn't changed: lace and glass. But real Burano lace, as I told my friend, is produced by quite literally just a few remaining elderly women, as a long-time retailer of lace told me soon after I moved here, and is accordingly both scarce and expensive. While real Murano glass, though less costly than lace, isn't necessarily as ubiquitous as it first appears, as the cheap stuff is either made in the Far East or is such swift, shoddy work as to have little to do with the tradition it is supposed to evoke.

My friend wasn't a lace or glass kind of guy anyway, and so I concluded simply, "Don't worry about it. There's almost nothing you'll see here that you won't see any place else you go in Italy. Or Europe. And most of it isn't even made here."

This didn't stop him from asking me the same question again the next day.... After all, old habits die hard, and the late- and short-lived modern ideal of being a citizen of the world, seeking after some idealistic and unquantifiable sense of companionship with one's fellow humans, often seems to have been displaced by that of being a consumer of the world, avid for and defined by one's acquisitions, paid for in ready cash.

I feel the effects of this emphasis on consumption in myself, and not wanting to encourage it either in myself or others, I've rarely been inclined to write about things to buy in Venice. Besides, the great bulk of articles on Venice are ultimately trying to sell you something, so my contribution was hardly needed. 

On the other hand, Venice has long been famous as a marketplace--in fact, as the great marketplace of Europe at a time long before "international emporiums" (with their batik prints and scented candles) became a mainstay in 20th-century American malls.

In the opening chapter of his book Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book, Alessandro Marzo Magno points out that the shopping streets between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge have changed less than one might imagine over the last five centuries:
[In 1520 Venice was] a city that, relatively speaking, was much more important than Italy today. Although Italy is now the world’s sixth or seventh industrial power, half a millennium ago Venice had a place on the podium. In the Europe of that time there were only three cities that we might call big; three cities with a population of more than one hundred fifty thousand: Paris, Naples, and Venice.

So, then, what would we have been able to find in the stores—which often were also workshops and homes—on the sixteenth century Mercerie? Cloth, for one thing, or rather the splendid red fabrics for which Venice was famous, dyed according to secret recipes inherited from the Byzantines. Or gilded leather; embossed leather panels decorated with gold leaf, used to embellish the interior walls of palaces, crafted using techniques imported from Moorish Spain, which in turn had inherited them from the Arabs. Or weapons, lots and lots of weapons: hankered over and vied for by plutocrats and sovereigns from all over Europe[....] The names of a couple of nearby streets, Spadaria (from spada, or sword) and Frezzaria (from freccia, or arrow) still speak to us today of that ancient vocation. 
But what struck foreign visitors most were the books: the dozens and dozens of bookmaking workshops that were gathered here in a density unequaled anywhere else in Europe. Word has come down to us of authentic book-shopping tours, like the one described by the historian Marcantonio Sabellico [...]when two friends trying go from the Fontego dei Tedeschi at the foot of the Rialto bridge, [...] to Saint Mark’s Square, [are] unable to make it to their destination, overwhelmed by their curiosity to read the lists of books appended outside the shops.
But Venice's status as the great market place of Europe goes back even further. In Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, Philip Ball notes that Venice was trading with the Arabic world as early as the 9th century, and quotes Martin da Canal from his 13th century Chronique de Vénetiens (1267-1275), in which he writes that "merchandise passes through this noble city as water flows through fountains." Ball, whose eye-opening book examines the history of color in art in its material rather than theoretical or aesthetic sense--that is, as being intimately connected to trade and mining and chemistry and what might be called the proto-chemistry of the alchemists--elaborates thus on the offerings of Venetian markets:
From the Aegean Islands came sugar and wine; from the Far East, spices, porcelain, and pearls. Northen Europe supplied minerals, metal, and woolen cloth, while Egypt and Asia Minor were sources of gems, dyes, perfumes, ceramics, pigments, alum, and rich textiles.
And he suggests that this access to color exercised a profound effect on the work of the Venetian painters such as Titian, who "used an unusually large range of pigments, including orpiment and the only true orange of the Renaissance, realgar, available in Venice from around 1490."

Philip Ball writes that Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne "is a chart of nearly every known pigment at the time [of its painting]"--a benefit of having a wealthy patron who could afford (and demanded) the rarest pigments and of living in the great port city of Venice, unparalleled in Europe at the time for the array of exotic materials passing through it

Indeed, Venice, which Ball calls the "City of Color," was the major supply post for painters of the day with funds to spend on the best of materials. At a time when the contracts between patrons and painters went into great detail about both the type and quality of pigments to be used and the money allotted for their purchase he writes that:
The reputation of Venice as the best source of fine pigments is evident in the travel concession in Filippino Lippi's contract for the Strozzi Chapel; [and] Cosimo Tura came to Venice from Ferrara in 1469 to procure materials for his work on the Belriguardo Chapel.
So, in truth, Venice has always been about shopping, in some senses. The challenge these days of mass tourism and online sales is to locate something which truly is unique to this place. But it's not impossible, and for those who are interested in supporting the Venetian economy I'll put up some blog posts over the coming days (or weeks?) of places where I've purchased things myself.

Far from being definitive, this is nothing other than idiosyncratic, and I have no arrangement whereby I benefit from your patronage of any of these places. Nor have I arranged for you to receive a discount at any of them with the mention of my blog. I'll only briefly tell you what I've found and why each place has interested me, and leave the rest to you, to be taken up or not.

Which is a very long way of getting to a photography studio and archive, any one of whose photographic images is worth, as the old saying goes, much more than the thousand words written above.

Vittorio Pavan in Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche

The name of the place is the Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche, and it's located a short distance from the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo on Barbaria de le Tole (simply set off in the opposite direction from that which Verocchio's famous horse and rider face and in a few minutes you'll see the shop on your left, with its display window adorned by large black-and-white prints).

Its owner is Vittorio Pavan, who in addition to acting as the caretaker of more than 50 years of 20th-century Venetian history is also, as a publisher of fine arts books recently told me, the best printer of black-and-white photographic prints in the area.

His skill in this is amply evident in the fine art prints you'll find in his shop--and how nice it is to see fine art prints created in a dark room instead of by an inkjet printer! Though it's easy enough to get so swept away in the figures and scenes themselves as to lose sight of their developer's expertise.

For there's Igor Stravinsky reclining not-quite-comfortably in a gondola, or more at home conducting a rehearsal for the world premiere of his opera The Rake's Progress in La Fenice. There's a famous image of the young Sophia Loren and her impossibly tiny waistline on a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal. There's Picasso, Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Jean Cocteau, Antonioni and Monica Vitti, Hemingway, Richard Wright (dapper in a white dinner jacket outside Hotel Excelsior), Pasolini, Bardot, Denueve, Sutherland and Christie, Mick and Bianca, Keith and Anita, and nearly any other bold name cultural figure from the second half of the 20th century at work or at play, busy promoting or protesting, in the distinctive settings of Venice.

But no less worthy of attention--some would say more--are the images of Venetian life starting from 1946: fishermen and hunters, boat builders and lace makers, families and clerics, natural and industrial calamities, feste and special events, and even images labeled "Cronaca Nera": crime scene photos, including some graphic ones of, for example, the murder of Count Filippo Giordano delle Lanze in the reputedly cursed Grand Canal palace Ca' Dario, which you'll certainly not find in the real estate brochures offering the newly-created condominium units there for sale. 

All of the scores of images you'll see on display or stacked in archival photo boxes in the studio make up just a tiny fraction of the 320,000 negatives from the Venice-based photo agency, founded in 1946, which in its last and longest incarnation went by the name of Cameraphoto, and whose photographers supplied images to major newspapers and magazines around the world. 

Vittorio Pavan started working for the photo agency in 1972 at the age of 14, and it is now Pavan who struggles with the challenge of digitally preserving what he can of an archive which is inevitably disintegrating. 

The best (and quite beautifully-produced) account of the Cameraphoto Archive and Vittorio Pavan can be found in a 4 1/2 minute documentary (with English subtitles), used as part of a crowdfunding campaign early this year (which, alas, did not meet its goal) that you can watch below:

And for an online sample of the images available visit Cameraphoto's website:

The website offers Archival Digital Fine-Art prints in various sizes and at various prices, but, in fact, you can no longer order through the website itself. 

Any online questions about images, or orders, should be emailed to

Fine art dark room prints are also available.

Cameraphoto can ship anywhere in the world, and for someone looking for a distinctively Venetian object, one made only here and at a certain moment--literally instant--in time, it is an invaluable resource. 

And if you're able to visit the studio itself the next time you're in Venice, and peruse the images in person, it's time well spent in a historical and cultural venture well worth supporting.

Monday, November 25, 2019

What Acqua Alta Leaves In Its Wake

Long after the world's media has decamped from Piazza San Marco and moved onto other spectacles the signs of the damage continue to quite literally pile up.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Vampires Descend

Sign of the times

NOTE: I wrote most of the below last week, just after the disastrous acqua alta of 187 cm.

MOSE, the acronym for the mobile flood barriers that were by now supposed to protect Venice from disastrous flooding of the sort that swept into the city Tuesday night has been on everyone’s lips these past days--almost invariably preceded or followed by a variety of imprecations, directed not just at the monstrously-expensive and still non-functioning things themselves but at the various people who have promoted them, and profited from them for the last 37 years.

After all, not long after the big project (it was literally called Il Progettone) was formally announced, the then-Prime Minister of Italy, Bettino Craxi, named the date of its completion: 1995. If by some miracle the gates had been operational by that time, Craxi himself would have had to miss their inauguration, as in 1994 he fled from Italy to escape imprisonment for corruption to Tunisia, where he'd remain a fugitive until his death in 2000. 

This would be just the first of many, many, many missed deadlines.

Sadly enough the best account I've seen on MOSE remains John Keahey's 2002 book Venice Against the Sea. "Sadly," I say, not because of any fault in the book itself--on the contrary, it's an impressive and fair depiction of the complex political and historical forces involved in the dream of saving Venice from encroaching tides--but because so little progress on the problem has been made that it remains as good a guide to the current situation today, 17 years after its publication, as it was when first printed.

"Sadly," too, because all the reservations which Keahey carefully documents various people expressing about the project from its very inception to the time of his writing--engineers, environmentalists, and the EU itself--have been shown to be not just valid, but nothing less than prophetic.

For example, consider this passage about the creation of Consorzio Venezia Nuova (or Consortium for a New Venice), a target of more than a few curses, not to mention corruption charges, in recent years:
Created by government fiat, the Consorzio is made up of about fifty of the largest public and private civil-engineering and construction firms in Italy. This [gives] a virtual monopoly for the rescue of Venice to a group of Italy's largest for-profit firms. Such a monopoly could never been created in the United States. There it would require several independent groups, all bidding for a variety of contracts. They would compete for the right to determine what solutions needed to be developed for problems within the lagoon, how those solutions should be designed, and then who should build them. [I must insert here that while this invocation of the US makes for an instructive contrast, and is along the lines of the process which Keahey later notes the EU wanted Italy to follow, America has since proved itself to be quite fond of no-bid contracts, not to mention unpunished corruption.]

The Consorzio was created in the years when Italian contracts and money were routinely funneled to "friends of friends," as one official wryly described it. And it was created before the 1990s crackdown by judicial magistrates on major business executives throughout Italy who were believed to have profited from a variety of favors and scams.

To its credit the Consorzio has weathered the wave of investigations that swept the country in the last decade of the twentieth century, a fact that have not stopped cynical Italians from continuing to believe that money is being poured into a bottomless hole, and that the Consorzio was making billion of lire from a project--the mobile gates--that would never see the light of day. Even today, in the dawn of the twenty-first century, there are those who believe that the Consorzio is content to have the gates continually delayed because it gives the organization a reason to exist--and continue to draw billions of lire annually in government funds.
Those billions of lire have swelled enormously to billions of euros--6 billion euros by latest estimates.

And deadlines continue to be missed regularly, and one news article after another recounts the latest humiliating revelation of the Consorzio's ineptness and knavishness. The latter perhaps surprises no one: as the excerpt above suggests, corruption and unaccountability were baked into the very being of the Consorzio.

But the utter incompetence is such that it alone, the sheer embarrassing stupidity, especially in the context of saving one of the world's great historical and cultural sites, merits criminal charges. They're the kinds of stupidity and irresponsibility one must laugh about so as not to cry, recounting to others in Venice, "Ah, remember when the geniuses at the Consorzio discovered--but only after installing the gates--that the sea is salty?!"

The website Campaign for a Living Venice has recently compiled a very useful list of links of the Consorzio's most recent failures under the heading "MoSE Will Not Work."  It provides a succinct and valuable context for understanding why this week's floods hit residents so very hard--the blow to local morale being no less severe than the substantial damage done to landmarks, homes, and businesses.

A group portrait of shamelesness: Silvio Berlusconi, center; Renato Brunetta, right of him; Luigi Brugnaro, at far right (Corriere del Veneto)

Indeed, given the long painful history of MOSE it requires, in truth, a rather extraordinary amount of shamelessness to arrive in the city when the water has once again filled the calli and campi to alarming heights, slip into some rubber boots, and declare with no sense of irony that the key takeaway from this ongoing disaster is that our dedication to (and, inevitably, funding of) the completion of MOSE must be intensified.

But then some politicians become legendary for their shamelessness, and one of the most infamous of this sort showed his wax-work face in Venice the day after Tuesday's near-record acqua alta of 187 cm to laud the project whose cornerstone he quite literally laid on May 13, 2003.

If, as the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, it should come as little surprise to be reminded that, yes, indeed, it was Silvio Berlusconi (during his first term as Prime Minister) who served as the midwife of what, in terms of its non-functioning, might be called MOSE's still birth.

Though this week a good many people might describe MOSE's entrance into the lagoon as nothing less than an abortion.

But Berlusconi was not alone in this week's pitch for MOSE, nor the only person present at the inauguration of MOSE in 2003 to reappear this week in rubber boots as the image below from Dagospia shows:

Silvio Berlusconi (center) with Luca Zaia to his left, and Renata Bruneta (far right: current head of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party's group of deputies in the Chambers of Deputies, then a minister in the Berlusconi administration) at the May 14, 2003 ribbon cutting of MOSE

Though not pictured in the second image of this post taken in the high water of Piazza San Marco, the President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, was also in town yesterday--as he was in 2003 to kick off MOSE's construction (see directly above)--and Venice's own non-resident mayor traveled all the way from his home in the Treviso region to push for MOSE's "speedy" completion.

(Soon after Venice's current mayor was elected, a native Venetian, retired after a lifetime of serving in local and regional administrative roles, characterized him to me as "ruspante." I didn't know the word, so he gestured with one hand as if scraping for something on the table top between us and explained, "Like a hen in the farmyard, you understand? Scratching at the dirt to see what she might find for herself." It has proved to be--or, rather, the mayor has proved it to be--an apt description. So much so that that's how I always think of him, and how I'll refer to him here: Mayor Ruspante.)

Climate change was to blame for the increased frequency and intensity of flooding, said Mayor Ruspante, and only MOSE could save the city.

Well, being an American citizen, I had to give the good mayor a point just for mentioning climate change, as American politicians on the Right don't dare utter that term--and even go out of their way to entirely ban its use by state and Federal government agencies.

But while climate change is a major factor, it is not the only one. Also known to be a factor in the intensity of acqua alta are the kinds of changes to the morphology of the lagoon which Mayor Ruspante himself supports: that is, the digging of deep water shipping channels, which have washed away the extensive mudflats that once filled the lagoon and tempered tidal force, and the reconfiguration of the ports into the lagoon from the Adriatic for the sake of--the construction of MOSE.

Moreover, climate change is not the reason why MOSE is way behind schedule and still not functioning--nor giving many signs that it ever will.

It's simple (and cynical) enough to use the backdrop of a flooded city to demand that the pipe line of public funding poured into the private interests profiting from MOSE be kept fully open--after all, Berlusconi has declared "it's 94% completed!"

An impressive figure, indeed.

Until you consider that for the most part it's proven itself to be pretty much 100% non-functional.

If we've learned nothing else from this great long-running swindle, surely we've learned that all the money in the Italian budget doesn't buy competence or accountability. Why should it suddenly do so now?

These are some of the reasons why all the expressions of dismay in the world by Mayor Ruspante and Zaia and Brunetta and Berlusconi (if his face were capable of forming expressions) don't go very far with most Venetians.

And why a flyer posted all around town this week (below) labels these recent visitors "Crocodiles in the Lagoon," with the tears and sharp teeth that go with such creatures.

Venice's Mayor Ruspante (left), Regional President Luca Zaia, (center), and the Patriarch of Venice (right) are pictured on a flyer posted all around the city this week
But yesterday as I walked my son home from school--my son who has lived in Venice since before he was three years old, and who never wants to leave it--I caught sight of Berlusconi himself. We were approaching a bridge near Piazzale Roma as a long row of police boats and taxis began to pass beneath it, and then suddenly there he was: standing in the open air at the back of a taxi, spray-on hairline as black and flat as Bela Lagosi's Dracula, a faint fixed smile on his fixed filler-plumped face, a toady at the front end of the taxi's roof filming the former Prime Minister's slow procession down the Rio Novo with a smart phone as "Il Cavaliere" looked to see if anyone along the fondamente was noticing him--an aborted little wave attesting to a momentary false hope that he'd spotted an admirer.

Some, like myself, had noticed him, but I saw no one give a wave, and I saw no one smile. Seeing him cross one's path less than 24 hours after the acqua alta of 187 cm seemed a particularly inauspicious sign: a primped and long-black-coated undead passing through the stricken city, looking for more blood. 

An inauspicious sight in Rio Novo

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Meal Three Days in the Making: Castradina for Thursday's Festa della Salute

All of the ingredients for this first night of castradina preparation

There's a bit more to post about last week's severe acqua alta, but that can wait at least a day, as today is the day one must begin preparing castradina, the traditional meal eaten on the Festa della Salute on November 21.

I wrote about what castradina is, and its background, and my first time making it--as well as a bit about the Festa della Salute itself--six years ago, and rather than repeating myself I'll just post a link to that post here.

Besides, I now have to go check that I've got the castradina boiling well, not to much, not too little, for the next two hours.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Second Extraordinarily High Tide Sweeps In: 17 Views from Today

A very private cruise around the city, wine and snacks included

High tides have rolled into Venice every day for the last week, making clean up of everything damaged in Tuesday's near-record acqua alta of 187 cm difficult, keeping almost all supermarkets in the city closed (as their vast banks of refrigerators were damaged by water), and making thigh-high rubber boats not only an absolute necessity if one wanted to go out in today's fore-casted tide of 160 cm, but literally impossible to find anywhere in the city.

I know because I (along with many others) spent the last two days trying to find a pair.

But today's flooding "only" reached a height of 150 cm, which would have been considered catastrophic before last Tuesday, but was considered a lucky break today--relatively speaking.

(Il Gazzattino reported this morning, before the high tide pictured here rolled in, that this past week marks the first time since 1872 that two high tides greater than 150 cm hit the city in the same year, much less the same week. It was also the first time since 1872 that three high tides of more than 140 hit the city in the same year, much less the same week. And it is only the second time in history, along with 29 October 2018, that two high tides of greater than 140 cm hit the city with a 24 hour period.)

That doesn't mean people were or are happy about the situation. Even those who tried their best to remain, well, buoyant (such as the fellow in the inflatable dinghy with the wine and cheese above), were quick to express their disgust, if not despair. But those are topics for the next post....

All over the city pumps struggled to keep the water level inside buildings lower than that in the streets

It's a rather cruel paradox that when extreme acqua alta extends Venice's ancient sewage system of canals over every inch of the city canines find themselves with no place to relieve themselves

A rough translation of the wood panel: "High tide sweep away all of these things: the theme park, cruise ships, MOSE, all the polluting work boats, fine particle air pollution, the monoculture of tourism, the precarious resident housing situation, gentrification, and the tourist destruction of the city." Aside from "Love and..." I can't make out the other words. The sheet of paper states, sarcastically; "It's not climate change? No!!! Just scirocco [winds]!"

Table service in the knee-high water of Campo San Cassiano

The canals weren't the only things that ranged beyond their banks

Above and below: the proprietors and staff of the Osteria dei Zemei on the Rio Terà San Silvestro try, after a week of being closed due to high water, to make the best of a bad situation

And from my sampling of both the prosecco popped above and their cicchetti, it's a place worth seeking out on those days when you can walk rather than swim to it

On this day the Rialto fish market is better suited for live fish than dead

A gate along the Fondamenta Riva Olio is partially submerged in the Grand Canal

The stone panel of a facade sits in the high tide that has detached it from its wall

A discarded washing machine sits in what might be described as one doozy of a rinse cycle

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Venice: City of the Future--13 Images of Near-Record Flooding (Updated 15 November)

Two youths brave the cold and dirty water of Campo San Polo to gather up garbage--they're part of a group of volunteers formed by young Venetians called Clean Venice that has worked each day since Tuesday to clean up the city

I'll add text to this post tomorrow, and explain the title, but for now I wanted to put up these images and link to at least one article describing the near-record acqua alta that swept into the city last night. And here's another in Italian with more images.

Updated, 15 November: 

Rainbows bloom and shimmer all around Venice these days, the calli and campi are iridescent.

It’s evidence of all of the gasoline, oil, grease, and who-knows-what-other chemicals floating on the surface of the acqua alta that’s overwhelmed the city each day of this week, and adds a psychedelic element to all the trash that’s also in the water, having been liberated from its various storage containers by the flooding.

Even the utterly irreligious have heard of the tale of Noah and the Great Flood, but acqua alta in Venice strikes me less as biblical than as the stuff of Greek Tragedy, and of its descendant psychoanalysis.

The water washes into view everything that the city’s infrastructure, developed over centuries, has been specifically designed to conceal in the name of Progress. It makes a mockery of such attempts, and of all the objects (cultural, technological, domestic) we value or aim to make others value (in the case of merchants)—not obliterating them, as fire would, but destroying their former aura, leaving only their bedraggled worthless useless mass.

All those old poets who devoted themselves to the theme of momento mori, with all their carefully crafted lines and beguiling arguments imploring comely youths to make the most of their beauty in the brief time they possessed it, and warning of the aged ruin every single one of them would become, are put to shame by acqua alta, making the same point so swiftly, silently, effortlessly as it turns all the things we depend upon (both as individuals and as a society) to make our indifferent world inhabitable into abject and repulsive versions of themselves. Furniture, rugs, curtains, books, electronics, appliances, the very walls of one’s house, everything is robbed of its form, color, grace, or functionality, everything left waterlogged and reeking and starting to rot.

So that the garbage carried into the open by the water itself is, once the water recedes (alas, never for very long this week), joined in the calli and campi by all the now useless stuff put out by its owners. Whole shops seem to turn themselves inside out. All the things once displayed in and protected by plate glass windows, locked behind doors and grates at night, are heaped up in the streets, as if vomited out.

Here, in psychoanalytic terms, is the Return of the Repressed.

Here in this beautiful ancient city, this “jewel box” of the past, is a vision of a future that extends far beyond the boundaries of the lagoon.

The oil and chemicals and waste in the acqua alta of Venice (in which, inevitably, a few exhibitionistic morons always swim for the cameras of the world’s media) are nothing compared to what rising sea levels will sweep into the Mediterranean, for example, in coming decades.

As the American artist Newton Harrison points out in his film Apologia Mediterraneo (part of the group show entitled Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum that runs through November 24 at the Complesso della Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti in Cannareggio) 536 million people live on the shores of the Mediterranean, and 600 million tourists visit them every year. At present 6.5 million pounds of fecal waste are dumped into the Mediterranean by its coastal inhabitants each day, and 40 million gallons of oil are flushed into it (legally) by tankers as they make their 9,000 annual voyages across its water.

It will cost trillions of dollars to move industries currently situated along the Mediterranean’s shores out of the reach of rising seas.

How about all the other industries along the coastlines of the world? How about the nuclear power plants? How about all the major cities?

People quite literally weep to see the damage done to Venice this week, and for good reason. But Venice is not a jewel box, and it is not a theme park, nor just a cultural heritage site. It is, in addition to being a very real place itself, also something like an image seen in an enchanted mirror: beguiling enough to hold the world’s attention at least temporarily. Will the beholders--whether their eyes are blurred by tears or visions of cashing in (more on this in the next post)--recognize what it reflects of their own situations wherever they may be, and have the courage to begin to really do something about it?

More volunteer members of the same group collect garbage awash in the Grand Canal

People have spent days cleaning up, both in domestic settings, as above...

and in shops and businesses

Taking one's dog out for a walk requires more than a bit of carrying...

Everywhere around the city are heaps of goods ruined by the water, both small personal items (like the box of books above and household items below)...

...and large costly business equipment and merchandise, whose owners are unlikely to get reimbursement

Even supermarket chains found themselves unable to open for business

This morning (November 13) pumps were still working to expel the water back out into the calli (last night power outages around the city put them out of commission for a couple of  hours)

Also last night (November 12) a fire broke out in the Ca' Pesaro museum--in the images above and below, police boats and a fire boat keep the area in front of the museum on the Grand Canal clear of traffic