01 December 2008

Acqua alta

I thought it was just the background noise of a strange dream I was having early this morning, but in fact, I awoke to the eerie, three-pitch whine of the acqua alta siren. Haunting, insistent. Punctuated by a stern voice over a loudspeaker, like that of a determined propagandist. The voice was predicting “il punto massimo…”

I knew it before I even saw it: the city was knee-deep in green-grey water. The lagoon was lapping at the door of my building; the smell of it was seeping through my windows. Shopkeepers on Calle dei Fuseri already had their pumps going full tilt.

The reality of living in the middle of an unpredictable tidal basin sank in fully. Still, I had to go look at this thing I had been secretly wishing to see for years. I guessed how worthless my sturdy, waterproof boots would probably be, but I pulled them on anyway and headed out for a look at La Serenissima underwater. Until one actually witnesses this, it cannot be imagined or fully described. Photos do not tell the story at all.

I planned to make my way to Rialto first, then head to San Marco. I cursed the idiot tourists who firmly planted themselves and their luggage on the passarelle (duckwalks, or raised walking platforms). Garbage bags and gift boxes floated down the calli. Glass-front stores, at least those with good, tight watergates, resembled inside-out aquariums. But to my amazement, A. Rosa Salva’s coffee bar was open and doing brisk business. (See it here.) I slogged in for a macchiato with my neighbors, a few in hip-waders. By now my own boots were buckets of sloshing, icy water and I was already soaked up to my you-know-what. (Note to self: buy hip-waders!)

Newly restored by the coffee break, I ventured on to the Piazza, the water level becoming higher at every turn. I began to wonder if I had done something terribly foolish because the tide was still rising, well over my knees now, and I was really feeling the rush and pressure as the water funneled through the columns, which appeared to be coming straight up out of a small lake. There were no people in the far end of the Piazza so I couldn’t gauge the full depth, and I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be forced to actually dog-paddle in a few moments. I feared for my cellphone in my coat pocket and my camera already held above shoulder level. Nitwit! What are you doing?!, I thought, Should I turn back? Trudge on? Tune in next week when…

I lived to tell! The slope to the bridge leading to Bacino Orseolo provided my getaway and I was soon safe at home. A good shower and some hot tea washed away any nasty traces of lagoon I had dragged in with me. And then I was faced with my idea of great luxury: a long day of cozy solitude with no responsibilities and no place to go.

The only casualty of the day? I lost my incredibly expensive glasses somewhere during my trek. I suppose they are floating out to sea right now. I hope there’s a mermaid out there with acute presbyopia and a slight astigmatism who can use them…