Monday, 25 July 2011

My Love Affair with Venice

I have been carrying on a secret love affair with Italy for years. When I wrote The Memory of Roses (to be released in October by Rebel Ink press), I set it on one of my favourite Greek islands, Corfu. But I could not resist putting my characters at least briefly in Italy. The denouement of The Memory of Roses takes place in Venice, to my mind the most beautiful city in the world. A city made for lovers.

The last time I was in Venice it was late October. October can be a very chancy month in northern Italy. It can be mild and sunny, or it can be dismal, windy and rainy. The Bora, a cold wind from the north, comes all the way down from Russia. We watched from our balcony one day as it swept in suddenly, bringing hail in its path. One minute people were strolling along the wide walkway beside the Grand Canal, the next, everyone was scurrying for shelter from the icy bombardment.

The wind from the south, the Scirocco, is a warm wind. It brings even more problems. This is the wind that brings the aqua alta, the flood waters, to Venice.  There are only three openings to the sea in Venice. The southern wind pushes the waters of the high tide inside the lagoon, into all of Venice’s waterways, and doesn’t allow it to flow out. When the next high tide comes, it is piled on top of the already high water levels.

We were there once for an aqua alta. The night before, we wandered in the Piazza San Marco and saw what looked like platforms piled all around the arcade. We wondered if a performance of some kind was scheduled for the next day. We were correct. The performer was Mother Nature at her worst.
The next day, in the Piazza San Marco, we were walking on those platforms, above two feet of water, while water shot into the air from all the drains as if from fountains.  Vaporetti, the water buses everyone uses to get around, were not running on most routes, because they could not get under the many bridges that connect the islands that make up this city. The water levels were too high.

Aqua Alta routes were posted at every vaporetto stop.  These were pedestrian routes, and in Venice, everyone is a pedestrian. The only modes of transportation are boats and feet.

Our innkeeper told us that two massive installations are now being constructed that will help prevent these frequent and damaging floods. Gates that will close off two of Venice`s three waterways to the sea, preventing high tide from piling upon high tide. We hope they will work. Venice is a work of art. It`s loss would be immeasurable.

Four million people a year visit Venice. This is a city with only sixty-five hundred inhabitants. According a hotelier we spoke with, most tourists spend only one night in Venice. This man, who used to be a concierge at the Danielli, one of the most prestigious hotels in Venice, told us that ``tour groups would check in at six pm, take a gondola ride, have dinner, and check out the next day, having seen Venice.`` He said that Venice was sinking as much under the weight of tourists as under the aqua alta.
Be that as it may, if Venice isn`t on your Bucket List, it should be. It is the most magical of cities. If you can only give it a day, so be it, but if you can spend a week or more there, do so. If you do, I guarantee you will return. It gets into your blood.

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Blair McDowell