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


  1. Oh dear, I heard about the flooding on the BBC "World Service"news during the early hours, and got up to look on line, so terrible! Last big one I recall in Venice made a real mess of the Ca' d' Oro mosaic floor, and it looks in your picture showing the Vap stop there, as if it's going to be as bad this time.
    Didn't know about the Ca' Pesaro fire - oh dear, it gets worse and worse, doesn't it? As a tourist visitor over many years, I'm not sure if I should feel more guilty than ever. Hope the damage isn't as bad as reports suggest. Must be heartbreaking.

    1. Unfortunately, Ella, I get the impression that the damage is every bit as bad as reported, and I find it hard not to get the sense that the Basilica of San Marco is approaching a point of real crisis and I'm unaware of any solution. MOSE certainly is not, as it's unlikely to ever function, and even if it does, may be too low to stop the higher tides! (Though the big project will have achieved its real aim of transferring billions of euros of public money into corrupt private hands.)

  2. Thank you so much for your pictures -- so little of what I've been seeing online has shown the bits of real life I'm most concerned about. All I can do from far away (so far) is hope it gets better soon, but I wish I could be there to help with the clean-up efforts. Wishing you strength for what's next.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, but these images, taken the morning (Wed) after the highest tide, don't give an accurate sense of everything that was destroyed, as some people couldn't even really begin to start to clean up till yesterday (Thursday). But I'm glad you like the images, as when you live here you can safely assume that when things like this happen Piazza San Marco (and perhaps the Rialto Bridge) will not lack for exposure. Of course Piazza San Marco is now one of the lowest parts of the city and is, thus, the place that floods first.

  3. So sorry that it does seem as bad as it threatened. The church of St Mark is so very special that it seems unthinkable that it should be in such a parlous state. A curse on all politicians and others who have allowed such a state to arise, - and possibly also on those of us tourists who seem to find the whole situation simply a great "Photo-opportunity. Our thoughts are with you all - not that that's any help.