Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is "Acqua Alta" (High Water) in Venice and is it Dangerous?

Venice in the Evening - Photo: Jonathan Ulman
(Venice, Italy) Human beings are fascinating creatures. I hear that people are actually cancelling reservations to Venice based upon the images shown all over the world regarding our Aqua Granda on December 1st. Instead of panicking, let's get educated. (That image you see is by Jonathan Ulman, and illustrates what Venice looks like most of the time.)

Acqua alta is NOT a flash flood from a river or from the sea. It is a tide. Most of us have been to the ocean or the sea. The tide goes in. It peaks. The tide goes out. During low tide, you can pick up sea shells that are otherwise hidden by the water and squish your feet into the wet sand. During high tide, if you have put your towel too close to the ocean, you must move it back a few feet or it will get wet. The tide is like the breath of the Earth. It is a natural, normal thing.

Venice has been in existence since March 25, 421, when, according to legend, she was born at 12:00 noon in Campo San Giacometto. That makes her 1,587 years old. Most of the buildings here are at least 500 years old; some much older, and they were built using very enlightened principles.

Most people have experienced Mother Nature when she gets out of sorts. I have lived through earthquakes, fire, and riots in Los Angeles, hurricanes and flooding in New Jersey and Florida, and blizzards and blackouts in New York City. I was in the middle of a tornado in Croatia, shattered glass all around. I was even hit by ball lightning in my cradle in South Carolina.

(UPDATE: At the time I wrote this in 2008, I did not know that in the future I would be swept up in yet another tornado right here in Venice on June 12, 2012, which you can read about here (spoiler alert: I survived) ->

Tornado in Venice - Eyewitness Report - Cat, You're Not in Kansas Anymore

There are natural disasters all over the world all the time; it is impossible to avoid them; we either survive them or we don't. Acqua alta is not a tidal wave. It is the most gentle and pleasant of all the acts of nature, because it arrives slowly, stays for a couple of hours, and then goes away again. Every time they dig up something around here, they find a lower street level, so the Venetians are very familiar with acqua alta. Everyone puts on their boots, as if it were snowing, and goes about their business.

Acqua alta, if we have it, arrives usually in November and December. It only happens if certain conditions combine: like a seiche, which is like a long wave that washes all the coasts of the Adriatic, and a scirocco, which is a warm wind that blows the Adriatic Sea to the Venetian Gulf. We all know that the Moon affects the tides, so often the Moon is also involved. The Comune of Venice has set up a website to explain it to you:

This is only my own personal theory, but the Full Moon this December 12th was the closest it has been to us for 15 years, since 1993. The New Moon was on November 27th. So, on December 1st, this great Moon was at the beginning of its approach toward Earth. Also, on that day, there was a three-way conjunction between the Moon, Jupiter and Venus -- here in Europe, the Moon actually eclipsed Venus on December 1st. Now, if Jupiter and Venus add their energy to the Moon, well, you are going to get a very strong Moon. Add to that the seiche and the scirocco, and, perhaps, that created the Aqua Granda. Again, that is only my theory, nothing scientific.

If you speak to people in town about what happened on December 1st, everyone will give you a different impression about that day, depending on their location. Most people experienced flooding, although some people were not affected at all. Children went to school. I live right on the Grand Canal at Rialto, and I am always affected by acqua alta because the ground level is very low and the water is right below.

Everything in Venice is back to normal, and has been for some time. Last night over at St. George's Church we had our annual Christmas gathering, and some Americans came up to me and thanked me for my reading, which was: The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary (that image is Sandro Botticelli's interpretation). They said it felt like a message had been delivered and that it made them feel at home. The church was packed, and afterwards we had hot mulled wine and mince pies.

Today in Venice it is bright and sunny, and everyone is over at the Christmas market which runs through many of the campi in town. There were Santa Clauses out in the gondolas this morning. There are Christmas cocktails and Christmas concerts and Christmas lights and Christmas parties. The only annoyance was the loud amateur "rock" band in Campo Santo Stefano, blasting music in the Christmas market -- a string quartet or a choir would have been much more pleasant and appropriate. Not that I'm against rock 'n roll -- I love it at the right place and time -- but it doesn't belong in an elegant square on the Sunday before Christmas.

Venice is a magical town, the only place like it on Earth. Educate yourselves before you come, and you will be sure to have a wonderful time.

Now, enough about aqua alta!

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aqua Alta? Acqua Alta? Wrong! Aqua Granda!

(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,[1] 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,

Friday, December 12, 2008

High Water Vacation in Venice!

(Venice, Italy) That image you see is not Venice, it is Rome. There has always been a bit of conflict between Venice and Rome -- Venice was excommunicated by the Pope on more than one occassion, which did not stop Venice from doing business as usual.

I spoke earlier today with a friend from Milano who was in Sienna. He was the first one to tell me about the flooding in Rome, where it has been declared a natural disaster by the mayor, and so far three people have died. The River Tiber is threatening to overflow its banks as I write this. He asked me how things were in Venice. Here are my observations:

On my way to dinner last night, I noticed the precautions the businesses had taken in response to the three level siren alarm. The restaurant downstairs on the riva was serving dinner right on the Grand Canal as the water licked toward the feet of the customers. I said, you are open? They laughed. "Always!" The wooden planks for walking had been set in place. A bank (as in a place to store your money) had very neatly moved everything off the floor and up on the desks, then locked up for the night. The doors in front of all the shops had their high-water blockades set in place.

Then, this morning we all had on our high water boots as we went about our day; otherwise it was pretty much business as usual. There was a feeling of comradery, as if we were all in this together and would simply make the best of things. A Canadian woman in Campo San Maurizio asked me how to get to the University of Ca' Foscari for a conference; she had on shoes, not boots. I said, you are not prepared. She was from Ottawa. I said, surely you have boots in Ottawa and she said her boots were too warm for Venice. With some deft twists and turns, I managed to bring her to the vaporetto stop at Sant 'Angelo without getting her feet wet.

There were very few tourists, and the ones who were here were having fun. It was easy to separate the wise from the uneducated tourists today because the latter either didn't have their boots on, or they were wearing the noisy plastic tourist boots. At the top of the Rialto Bridge I saw some very interesting boots similar to our boots, but different -- they were elegant, yet practical. I said, "Where did you get those boots?" They said, "We are from Northern France and we brought them from there."

I think this is a great new fad and that all tourists coming to Venice should bring their high-water boots from their own countries. In fact, perhaps we should start importing them. There's a fantastic new business idea for all you Venetian merchants, and I am quite sure you will make a profit. A store called Aqua Alta Supplies for all your high-water needs.

I hear the ever-enterprising hotel association is offering high water boots as part of a package, with a map of alternate routes. The museums and art galleries are dry. People are cheerful. The streets have never been cleaner. It couldn't be a better time to come to Venice!

Ciao from Venice,

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Level Alarm for High Water in Venice

(Venice, Italy) I must take back every bad thing I said about the new siren. I have already grown very fond of it after hearing it nearly every day. It just went off again now, the same Three-Level alarm we had when the high water in Venice was all over the news. I have to go out to dinner tonight:) I'll keep you posted.

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Sea of Angels - Un Mare di Angeli

(Venice, Italy) The week before the high water was a time of enchantment here in Venice, and I am going to go back in time and highlight some of the adventures I had the pleasure to enjoy. There is a lot of talk in town these days about human development, and, to me, there is no better way to develop human beings than through art and culture. The theme of La Biennale's theatre section this year was Mediterraneo, and the Director, as mentioned before, was Maurizio Scaparro, the director of the film L'Ultimo Pulcinella, which will screen in Los Angeles in February.

That image you see is the amazing Greek soprano, Myrtò Papatanasiu, in Un Mare di Angeli, or A Sea of Angels, which premiered on November 29th at the Goldoni Theatre here in Venice. Myrtò performed Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata produced last year by Franco Zeffirelli and directed by Gianluigi Gelmetti at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, "a performance that earned the applause of audiences and critics alike," according to the notes from La Biennale.

The Fondazione Alda Fendi–Esperimenti produced the show, and Alda Fendi, one of the renowned Fendi sisters, was here herself. (At a press conference she wore a necklace made out of aviator sunglass lenses -- it was clever, and really worked.)

Cameras flashed inside the lobby of the Goldoni as the hip, glam audience flowed in the door--the younger Venetian aristocrats in town put in a strong appearance. Marco Loredan was one, and with three Doges in his family, you can't get much more noble than that! Marco also has a reputation as being one of Venice's greatest dancers, a fact to which I can personally attest:) There had been some discussion about what to wear to the show, and the guys set the tone by deciding on jackets and ties. A British journalist remarked to me later at the Caffè Florian that he found it quaint -- had it been in London, everyone would have dressed in jeans. Well, no one does "quaint" better than Venetian nobility of any age -- amusing, clever and refined, with a lagoon twist.

There is something magical about the Mediterranean Sea... there are long shafts of sunlight that beam past the surface and down to the depths. It really is like a sea of angels! It is difficult for Americans, perhaps, to appreciate how the Mediterranean Sea links vastly different cultures. Names like Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, and Bosnia sound exotic, existing in another universe and time. Perhaps it's time to look at the map:) You can see that Sicily is just a skip away from Tunisia, and that Spain is almost kissing Morocco.

Maurizio Scaparro joked that someone asked him if the diving image for this year's Biennale was that of Barack Obama.

From La Biennale:

"It is the Mediterranean that slips from island to island, the thousand islands of Greece and the Italian, Spanish and North African islands. It flows softly, or stealthily, along daring, imaginative, hospitable coasts. For centuries it has bathed and surrounded temples, amphitheatres, arenas, villas. ... It saw the gods of Hellas, the diaspora of the apostles of Christ, the Roman triremi, the arrival of the Barbarians, the silent work of the hermits in the monasteries high above the wave.

"A Sea of Angels: the sound of their wings lingers above the water. It comes from Crete, visits Constantinople during the siege of the Turks, sounds the hammers of Lord Elgin, who perpetrated the massacre of the Parthenon, touches the cheeks of the Empress Theodora and dances with Irene, Melina, Zorba and the fishermen of Piraeus. ..."

The performance was on Thanksgiving night, and I imagined myself in an audience of present-day angels. I loved the show, which incorporated film, music and images of airplanes that transformed into angels and flew gently around the theater. A lot of Italians said they did not understand it, especially since much of it was in Greek. I have no particular history with the Greeks, and with all the languages floating around this city, I can't understand half of what I hear with my ears anyway -- I usually depend on the language of the heart. From my point of view it was uplifting and beautiful. Everyone did agree that Myrtò Papatanasiu's voice was stunning, and she was given a round of applause when she entered the Caffè Florian with her entourage later in the evening. The difference between Myrtò in and out of costume was striking -- she's so natural and engaging off stage, it's hard to believe she could transform effortlessly into an Uber Vocal Chord Woman. We nibbled on hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine until about midnight.

The next day, much of the same crowd braved the rain for brunch over at the Guggenheim. I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because I was having Thanksgiving dinner that night, and needed to fix the stuffing and the turkey -- which the host (who is a great cook) ended up preparing without me. Lesson: never put food in the house of a cook or they will cook it without you! And this year Antica Drogheria Mascari actually had imported cranberry sauce! Yay!

That was only ten days ago, and today there is violence in Greece. Today, December 8th, is the birthday of my protagonist, Harley Columba. It is also the day John Lennon was killed; the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the day Buddha was enlightened; the Festival of the Egyptian goddess, Neith; and the birthday of Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. It is the day that the United States declared war on Japan. Extreme negative, extreme positive energy all on one day. It may surprise some of you to learn that unlike John Lennon, I don't believe in peace on Earth -- but I do believe in harmony.

As I've said repeatedly, I try to avoid religion and politics, which is difficult if one lives in a place where the Arab, Christian and Jewish cultures converge -- not to mention the zesty ingredients the various countries and languages add to the mix. Difficult, also, when these themes run through many cultural events and conferences. A few evenings before, on November 23, I attended a bittersweet performance entitled Salonicco 43. This is from the La Biennale website:

Thessaloniki, also called the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ or the “mother of Israel, counted a population of 100,000 in 1939, 50,000 Jews, many of Italian origin and nationality, present in all the different social classes and perfectly integrated with the Greek population. Historian Albertos Nar remembers it as “the largest and most prosperous Sephardite Jewish community in Europe, and one of the most important in the world”. Of the 32 synagogues in the city, fourteen of which were built by people from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia, all that remains are faded old photographs…

During the terrible months of 1943, the Italian consul in Thessaloniki was Guelfo Zamboni, a Fascist functionary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, in the face of the inhumanity of the Holocaust, began a personal, heroic battle to try and save as many lives as possible by providing forged Italian identity cards that would allow their possessors to reach Athens and save their lives.

His tenaciousness, his courage, his perseverance saved more than 500 Jews from Nazi barbarity, men, women, children who became the protagonists of our cultural project, and who transformed our Zamboni into a new Italian Schindler. In 1992 he was given the title of “righteous among the nations”.

The project "has received the High Patronage of the President of the [Italian] Republic for the high ethical value and for the originality of the themes it addresses."

To read the entire summary, go here:

On Saturday, I read an article in the New York Times by Rabbi Menachem Froman that I liked: Because the Jews and Arabs are “so mixed up,” Rabbi Froman proposed the establishment of two countries without borders, or two states in one land. He envisages a shared Jerusalem where the Old City, containing the main sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, is ex-territoria, a Jerusalem that houses the headquarters for international institutions. To read the entire article, go here:

Sound impossible? Like John Lennon, I am a dreamer. Remember -- I live in Venice, where everything is possible.

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Venice - The New Atlantis?

(Venice, Italy) First, I must correct Monday's blog about the high water in Murano. Apparently the person I spoke to on the phone was the only one in Murano who was not affected, because, as you can see by that photo there on the left, Murano received more than its share of aqua alta.

Yesterday, British Sky TV asked me to participate in a feature Sky News was doing on the flooding in Venice after finding Venetian Cat - Venice Blog (which "amused" the producer), and I agreed -- especially since the ninemsn online chat scheduled for 7AM that morning (5PM for those of you in Australia) never happened due to a "glitch." We will reschedule after the New Year; I'll keep you posted, or check the ninemsn website for updates:

So, off I dashed to an Internet Point, and we did the Sky News by webcam and Skype. I'd never used that technology before, and it was so cool to be hooked up with England while sitting in Venice with a headset. Nan McElroy, who also lives here in Venice and has her own blog, Living Venice, participated by phone. To read Nan's blog, go here:

Apparently our mayor, Massimo Cacciari, would like to clarify his remarks that tourists should avoid coming to Venice. He was correct to say such a thing on Monday, because it was impossible to move, and tourists would have only been a distraction, if not an outright impediment. You can come now if you behave yourselves:)

This morning at the gym we spoke about how we felt: almost as if we had been abandoned. It was kind of spooky -- as if we were here all alone, just the handful of residents. We wondered if that's how the people in New Orleans had felt when the water starting gushing in. It all happened so suddenly, without much prior warning. We thought that a tide so high would have been anticipated, and that it was one more trick to get rid of us:)

Later this morning, however, I did see Marino Folin, who is the former Chancellor of IUAV University (for architecture), over by Rialto -- I sat next to him on the jury for the Festa delle Maria during Carnevale two years ago. I said, "I am so happy to see you! We thought we were left here all alone. As long as you are here, it means we are still alive." Marino laughed. "That's the most important thing. That we are still alive."

The Venetians explained to me what they were concerned about. Underneath the buildings are septic tanks. If the water had risen just a little higher, the sediment in those tanks would have bubbled up through the toilets on all the ground floors of Venice. When the tide goes out, they can clean up after the sea water, but the septic tank water is sporca and smelly, and would have left a dirty, unsanitary residue.

These particular Venetians accept MOSES because they think it is the only hope, and they wished the money had been spent first on that than on the Calatrava Bridge. Personally, I believe we should incorporate everything -- MOSES, changing the direction of the tributaries that run down to Venice, restricting the cruise ships, raising the level of the ground -- even incorporating the irrigation system of the San Francesco della Vigna friars wherever possible.

Aqua alta is nothing new. Venetians have been raising the level of the ground for centuries. But, somehow this aqua alta felt different, and not just because it was the highest in 22 years. To me, it's another warning that things on this planet must change, and change quickly, or Venice will really become the New Atlantis, a once thriving civilization filled with sophisticated thinkers. Humanity will lose all the magnificient art, culture and information we have stored here. There is only a small window of opportunity.

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, December 1, 2008

Venice Underwater - Eyewitness Report

(Venice, Italy) The "sirens" for aqua alta, or high water, first went off this morning at around 7:30AM (I think). It's hard to tell because we have a new siren. It is three melodic, rising, harmonic tones, and sounds a little like Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- as if we should welcome the flooding waters with open arms. The old siren was frightening and insistent, like an air-raid siren warning of great danger to come. The Venetians did not dance to the music. As their years of hard labor were silently, slowly destroyed, the Venetians were furious.

This from Times Online, by Richard Owen from his front row seat in... Rome...?(!):

"Sirens sounded the alarm in Venice this morning as sea water surged into St Mark's Square and the authorities gave warning that the acqua alta (high water) could reach its highest levels for 30 years."

(Um... that's aqua alta, Richard, not acqua:)

I put on my high water boots, and headed off to the gym as I usually do. I arrived about 9:30. My gym is the best gym in Venice, I think. It is where the Angels stay fit, and is 90-95% Venetian and residents. The owner of the gym was agitated; I have never seen him like that before.

"The new siren is soothing for the tourists," I said. "So they are not alarmed."

"For my forty years we've had a proper siren," said the owner. "What did we need a new siren for? It's only more wasted money."

The owner paced back and forth, checking the water levels. At 10:15AM he said, "That's it. We have to shut down." At that point, the high water had flooded into the entrance. It was bubbling up through the floor and heading toward all the valuable exercise equipment. The owner was understandably distressed as he watched the manifestation of his hard work licked by the lagoon. The women's changing room is upstairs, and it was impossible to reach the steps unless you were wearing boots since the water was ankle-deep. Luckily, I had left my boots downstairs, and the attendant got them for me.

I splashed out the door. The water gushed through the calli. It was really serious. I stopped at the tobacco shop. The tobacco shop owner was even more agitated than the gym owner, and he is usually cracking jokes. "We are closed! This is not a normal day!" I said, "If it's not normal, then I need cigarettes even more." He stopped sopping up water and said, "Okay. What kind do you want?"

Out in the campo the tourists, who were standing on a small island of dry ground, starting taking photos of me as I trudged through the water, and now I became agitated. "This is not a joke!" I scolded them. "This is real life!"

I had planned to go to the supermarket, but it had already shut down. On the corner, the old woman who sold bread was still open. She is another Angel -- she was my first bread shop in Venice. So, I stopped there for bread and milk; inside the water was up to my calves. She asked, "Would you like regular or skimmed?" as if everything was fine. I said, "Skimmed." She swiftly opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the milk. She had to be fast or the lagoon water would have flooded inside the refrigerator. Soon more people poured into the shop for supplies; she had some of the only food left in town. The old woman calculated everything properly on the adding machine, and receipts were duly given. "Ciao!" she called as I left, a twinkle in her eye, and I thought she was a Truly Wise Angel.

It soon became impossible to avoid getting water inside my boots, it was so high. (That is a photo taken by Andrea Merola/EPA.) More from Richard Owen in... Rome...

"The Venice Centro Maree, or Tide Centre, which monitors water levels, said that high tides had reached 144cm (57in) above sea level , with 96 per cent of the lagoon city's surface area covered by water."

At Rialto, there was a man selling plastic boots to the tourists. I asked, "How much are those boots?" He said, "Ten euro." I said, "Last year they were five." He said, "Well, this year they are ten."

The Venetians had on their thigh-high fishing boots. All the shops were closed except for the pharmacy, another tobacco shop, and another bread shop. I needed food for Cleopatra, my cat, and decided to risk going over to the pet store. It was open! Sebastian had valiantly gathered what articles he could away from the rising water, and was still selling pet food. "Try her on this," he advised, handing me a bag. "It's for cats that have been spayed and are putting on a little weight." "You are molto simpatico to stay open today," I said. Sebastian laughed. "My apartment is already flooded."

When I got home, the water was inside my casa and had risen up to the second step. Luckily, I live high enough that if my apartment gets flooded, well, it's probably the End of the World anyway, and I can't think of a nicer way to go than into the arms of the lagoon. I sloshed into my apartment and went out on the balcony. Chairs from the restaurant below bobbed in the water. No vaporettos appeared to be running on the Grand Canal, and people were hailing water taxis and heading toward Piazzale Roma (I wish I had asked how much they were charging:). Some Venetians rowed their sandolas. Eventually a vaporetto came by and picked up some of the people who were intrepid enough to navigate the moat around the vaporetto stop.

I went in the bathroom and tried to take my boots off, but they wouldn't budge, they were so waterlogged. Finally, I ran hot water over them to make them expand, and after great effort, they came off.

Cleopatra was alarmed, dashing about, howling. I spoke to friends on the phone. Everybody was flooded. The animals were all alarmed. The only place that sounded normal was the island of Murano.

I started thinking it would not be such a bad thing if we continued to get flooded like this because then the masses of tourists would not come, and Venice would be forced to find real work for its residents. The price of housing would drop, and all the out-of-towners who own apartments here would have to reduce the outrageous rents. The Chinese businesses would not be profitable, and being pragmatic people, they would invest elsewhere. The universities would be fine because students are adjustable; perhaps they would find it a great adventure -- especially if there were subsidies. The Venetians themselves would be fine -- especially if there were subsidies -- because there are plenty of boats and gondolas, and they know how to row. There is plenty of fish from the sea, and fruit and vegetables on the islands. They could still make glass on the island of Murano, and return to lace-making on Burano. The gondoliers, needing work, would have to row the residents around. We could have high-tech businesses that use cyberspace and WiFi, and create video games. We could hold even more international conferences than we do today (just not on the ground floor:), so that the hotels could operate. Do we still have the film festival? Why, yes! Only we would have to row up the red carpet, which would float gently on the water, and the stars could adjust their attire to a more Neptunian theme.

More from Richard Owen in... Rome:

"A floating flood barrier is under construction at three entrances from the Adriatic into the lagoon, but is not due to go into operation until 2012 at the earliest."

That flood barrier would be MOSES. I have said repeatedly that I don't know enough to make a judgment as to whether MOSES is a good or bad thing. I do know, however, that the friars at San Francesco della Vigna have their own irrigation system that has served them for 200 years. I know, also, that there is a room in the Archivio di Stato that is dedicated to how the Venetians have managed the high water over the centuries. I have seen both with my own eyes. This is an excerpt about the State Archive from an article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily dated August 30, 2002:

"One of the most important holdings is the series of volumes of the Senato Terra, a continuous record of daily decisions of the Venetian government that spans the period from 1250 to 1792. The Venetians were meticulous record-keepers, and noted in detail anything pertinent to the entire Republic. A brief search revealed that news of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence traveled rapidly by way of the Venetian representative in England and reached the Doge's inner circle on August 12, 1776."

As I write this, the water has receded, and a brilliant patch of sun beams on the church steeple across the canal, tumultuous clouds in the background.

"Massimo Caciari, the Mayor of Venice, said that today's flood water level was 'exceptional. ...'
...However Mr Cacciari played down alarm, saying that flooding was part of everyday life in Venice. "We get sea levels of 140, 160 cm every few years," the Mayor said. Italian meteorologists said that the entire country was being experiencing bad weather, with driving rain, snow, hail and high winds causing flooding 'from the Alps to Palermo'. Many roads in Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy have been closed."

To read Richard Owen's entire article, go here:

I just can't get a Chiffon Margarine commerical that I remember from the 70s out of my head, with the punchline, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" I can't seem to embed it, but if you want to have a look, go here:

Ciao from Venice,