(Venice, Italy) I have received many comments after scolding Richard Owen at Times Online for using the spelling acqua alta instead of aqua alta to describe the high water we had in Venice on December 1st. I chalked it up to the difference between Venice and Rome. In my environment, I have always used the spelling aqua alta.
Yesterday, I informally polled some Venetians. The Venetian language is a mainly an oral language these days, and all Venetians I know speak it; however, not many know how to write it. The people aged 35 and younger insisted it was acqua alta. The ones a bit older, up to about 60, paused, and said they thought acqua alta, but weren't sure. Then, a white-haired man about 80-years-old with a cane passed by, and they all shouted, "Ask him!" "Most definitely aqua alta," he declared without hesitation, "without the 'c,'" and continued on.
Everyone became obsessed with the discussion. They all said they had a Venetian dictionary at home and would look it up. I decided to ask our human encyclopedia, Franco Filippi, who owns a bookshop here in Venice, Libreria Editrice Filippi, and is an authority on everything Venetian... well, as much as anyone can be an authority because it is nearly impossible to solidify reality in this town.
Franco said that both Richard Owen and I were correct, and that we were both wrong. Acqua alta is the spelling in Italian and aqua alta is the spelling in Latin; either can be used, and both are correct. To illustrate his point, he pulled a few books off the shelves with each spelling. "However," Franco said, "what happened on December 1st was not aqua alta at all. It was Aqua Granda since it was over 1.50 meters, and, personally, I would spell that without the "c." (That image you see is a sign giving directions on how to get to Rialto or San Marco. And, yes, both directions will get you there in about the same amount of time. In fact, no matter how far or long you walk in Venice, you may end up right where you started:)
Someone on Wikipedia has done an amazing, detailed job in explaining the Venetian language:
"Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy. The language is called vèneto in Venetian, veneto in Italian; the variant spoken in Venice is called venexiàn/venesiàn or veneziano, respectively.
...On March 28, 2007 the Regional Council of Vèneto officially recognized the existence of the Venetian Language (Łéngua Vèneta) by passing with an almost unanimous vote a law on the "tutela e valorizzazione della lingua e della cultura veneta" (Law on the Protection and Valoraisation of the Venetian Language and Culture) with the vote of both ruling and opposition parties."
If you'd like to see for yourselves how complicated the situation is, here is the entire Wikipedia article:
In any event, since December 1st, we have gone back down to simple aqua alta, and the locals have asked me to tell you to come on over and join us in Venice. This past Sunday the sun was shining on the aqua alta all over town. It made kind of a mysterious moat, blocking access just past Santi Apostoli unless you were wearing boots. Strangely, it seemed to have flooded into the commerical shops that you find all over the world, and left the Venetian shops alone. An Italian couple wearing shoes stopped me. "Is it possible to pass?" I said, "In the mountains you must bring your snow boots. These days, when you come to Venice, you must bring your water boots. Otherwise, everything is normal." They nodded. "Yes. That makes sense." We were almost giddy on Sunday, everyone was having so much fun navigating the water. People were sitting at tables in outdoor cafès in puddles of water, wearing their boots. Others were paddling around in kayaks. It was just like snow, but water... there was the feeling of joy you can have when playing in the snow. You can buy rubber boots all over town these days, at many shoe and hardware stores -- they cost about 20-25 euro. However, you must come in the morning to enjoy aqua alta because it is almost gone by 1:00PM.
Personally, I have gotten used to putting on my rubber boots before heading out the door in the morning because if there is high water, we are always flooded over here on the Riva del vin, which is on the Grand Canal right at the Rialto Bridge. (Vin=wine in Venetian; in Italy they drink vino:) The waiters at the restaurant downstairs set up the tables in the water, laughing and singing at the absurdity of it all. Other areas of town are not at all affected. I ran into some friends on the vaporetto the other night as I was heading out to dinner wearing my Spanish leather boots. Two had on rubber boots and one had on shoes. "Aren't you taking a risk?" they asked. "I am gambling that I can get to my dinner appointment and back home tonight without running into aqua alta," I said. And I did!
Ciao from Venice,