Monday, April 6, 2020

My Own Private Grand Canal--or, Oops, Maybe Not

An unidentified kayaker enjoys the calm waters of the Grand Canal yesterday evening

In my post of March 28, featuring an image of an almost completely empty number 1 vaporetto going down the Grand Canal on a mild Saturday evening, I mentioned that a couple of hours before the photo was taken I'd passed by a kayaker deep in conversation with a police boat on the Grand Canal, and that it looked like he was on the verge of successfully avoiding what could have been a 4,000 euro ticket for violating Italy's remain at home rules.

That kayak was the only rowed (or paddled) boat I'd seen on any of the canals since about March 12, when Venice (following Italy's lead) put tight restrictions on all manner of movement through the city.

When I told my wife, Jen, and son, Sandro, about what I'd seen we were all surprised that the kayaker had dared venture out after everyone else (ourselves included) had resigned themselves to a boat-less existence.

But we were even more surprised to see him out in the Grand Canal again the next day. And the day after that. And that day after that. In fact, every day since his first run-in with the Polizia Locale boat.

It's not that we couldn't understand the impulse to go out in a boat: beautiful weather along with the once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) stillness and quiet of the canals were a constant temptation. But not one that we or--so we thought--anyone else would give in to.

Perhaps, we marveled, he'd been granted the exclusive privilege of paddling on the Grand Canal when all other boats, aside from vaporetti, delivery boats, law enforcement, and ambulances (one particularly bad day I'd counted the sound of five of them wailing past) had been forbidden.

Given the reduced schedule on which the vaporetti now run, for all intents and purposes he had his own private Grand Canal!

Down which he'd paddle each day, usually when the early evening light was at its most achingly sweet, taking photos.

Of course not everyone was happy to see him enjoying his privilege. More than once we saw some masked passenger on a passing vaporetto express their displeasure (directly to the kayaker) that he should be blithely paddling along while everyone else in the city was compelled to stay at home except for the most necessary of outings. 

Some variation of Che vergogna! (How shameful!) was the message most people directed toward him.

But shame seemed to be the last thing he felt in such instances. In reply to the fierce gesticulations of one older man on the fantail of a vaporetto, for example, the kayaker simply blew a sarcastic kiss. And he appeared to be similarly cheeky with the captains and marinai of passing vaporetti as well.

He would let no one infringe in any way upon his liberty, it seemed, nor did there seem any limit to it. The images at the top of this post and directly below were taken just last night. 

The kayaker captures once-in-a-lifetime images of a deserted Grand Canal yesterday evening

But this morning I went out to do our shopping and found Polizia Locale everywhere (in boats and on foot) and, as you can see in the two images below, they'd even set up barriers to restrict the traffic flow at the Rialto market to a single entrance and exit, controlled by two officers.

Two police officers control the lone entrance/exit into the Rialto market this morning, limiting the number of people allowed into the space at any one time and enforcing adequate physical distancing

Barriers at the Rialto market this morning

Just after mid-day today the sound of a helicopter persisted so long above our apartment that finally I stopped the work I was doing and went to look out the window for it. The helicopter, despite how close it sounded, was nowhere in sight, but police boats of all sorts were patrolling the Grand Canal, in loose groups of three or five.

Fearing that Venetians were succumbing to spring fever and heading outside, it seems local authorities decided to send a clear message today that the lock down is still in effect and is still being strictly enforced. Indeed, is being even more strictly enforced.

But what about the kayaker? Jen and Sandro and I all wondered. Will he alone still be allowed his exclusive rights?

Apparently not, Jen soon discovered while looking at a local paper online. It reported that just yesterday the kayaker had finally received the ticket he'd evaded when I first saw him on March 28. There was photo of him and his kayak in the paper. His fine had been 500 euro.

Well, we agreed, at least it wasn't 4,000!

Maybe, Jen suggested, it had even been worth it to have the canals of Venice almost all to himself for at least 10 days. It would work out to, at most, 50 euro a day, which some people wouldn't consider too bad for a price for the opportunity. In fact, there was probably no shortage of people who'd readily have paid much more per day.

And so, we thought, with the police out in full force today, and with 500 euro less in his bank account, the kayaker would abruptly find himself having to follow the same rules as everyone else in the city.

But we were wrong.

A kayaker receives a ticket on the Grand Canal this evening for violating--for the second time in less than 24 hours--restrictions on movement in Venice

Or, maybe more accurately, he was wrong.

For tonight, just after dinner, Sandro went to look outside and shouted to us, "The kayaker's out there again--and with police!"

And, as you can see in the image above, unbelievably, less than 24 hours after receiving a 500 euro fine; just a few hours after having a rather unflattering image of himself in the local papers; and in spite of the unmistakable display of law enforcement to be seen and heard everywhere in the city today--literally on land, water, and in the sky!--the kayaker had decided to make another outing.

It appears that after attracting the attention of no less than three police boats, he was given another ticket. One can only imagine at present how much this one was for--though the papers are likely to reveal the amount tomorrow.


  1. What a story! Please keep us posted.

    1. I was wrong about any new information being in the local news--there has been nothing. After finding that the same resident kayaker had made news in 2018 after saying that he would defy a then-new law which outlawed kayaking in Venice's canals and would refuse to pay any tickets he received for doing so, I got the impression that perhaps the kayaker himself informed the newspapers of his 500 euro ticket received last Sunday. I'm not sure what his ultimate point would have been in doing so.

      But it was interesting to read that he claimed that he'd merely been doing grocery shopping for his elderly mother when he was stopped, as having seen him out in his kayak every day I can confirm that he certainly would have appeared to be a remarkably diligent son--IF he'd ever actually had a single bag of groceries in his kayak....

      In any case, neither he nor the local police seem to have informed the local papers of his second ticket, so there's no news about how much the fine was. But judging from his body language after parting from the police boats on Monday evening, and the fact that we did not see him out on the canals yesterday, I imagine it was substantial.

  2. Will it be the end of his "non mi frega"?

    1. Judging by his absence from the canals yesterday, I do believe it might be.

  3. I think he will get a lot of money for his pics... so €50/day are just peanuts...

    1. That's quite possible, and I can see how he could consider the 500 euro fine as just a necessary expense. But depending upon how good his photos turned out to be, and how much of a market he has for them, if the second fine was closer to the 4,000 euro range then the economics of the project get a bit more challenging. I just don't understand why he wouldn't have stopped after the first ticket--at least for a week....

  4. What an idiot! Perhaps someone ought to puncture his kayak!

    1. Well, that's one way of characterizing him, but his kayak wasn't of the inflatable sort so it would have taken more effort to put it out of service. He may be lucky the police didn't just find a reason to confiscate it. Perhaps that's what would happen with a third infraction? I myself wouldn't push it if I were he.