Venice Visit: November 2019
Venice is our favourite city, and we have visited it frequently. We know our way around, and we’re welcomed back in the shops and restaurants that we go to in the Dorsoduro, the district we like best. I had the bright idea of spending my birthday in Venice, as it coincided with the Feast of La Saluté. This is a major feast day in Venice, when they build a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal to the Salute, the church that was built in thanksgiving for delivering the city from the plague. It didn't seem such a bright idea to go when Venice had its worst floods in 50 years the week before we arrived.
The Feast of the Salute took place on Thursday 21 November, and the temporary bridge stretched from the Giglio vaporetto top across the Grand Canal to the traghetto station on the Dorsoduro side. On the streets behind the approach to the church, there were stalls groaning with Italian street-food: panini, arancini and ciambelli of all flavours and lurid colours. Balloon sellers were doing a brisk trade too.
In the church, there was Mass every hour on the hour. I decided to attend at 4pm. It's a big church - deceptively so, as it's round inside and seems quite compact. Thousands of people were swarming in, and I couldn't even see the ceremony at the main altar, though I could hear the priest over the microphone. I was swept forward by the crowds - volunteers were holding them back and then admitting us to holding-pens in front of the altar. We were then brought forward to the high altar in fairly large groups. It was impressively well-organised.
But we had a shock when we got back La Calcina. Lorella, the receptionist, advised us that there would be acqua alta that evening about nine o'clock, and that it could be so bad the following morning that all the furniture would be moved from the ground floor. Before long, all the male staff in the hotel were carrying tables, chairs, armchairs and couches to the first floor.
Acqua alta means “high water” and is caused by the tides. Some of the canals overflow, and water comes up through the drains. It normally occurs between November and April, in certain low-lying areas of the city. Houses and shops are fitted with flood-barriers at their doors, and duck-boards are set out to help pedestrians find their way through the flooded areas. The waters generally subside within 2 hours, when the tide turns.
At 6:30, I went to Mass in the nearby Gesuati church and when I came out at 7:15, the water was already lapping over the edge of the canal and up to the door of the hotel. As we'd booked dinner at a restaurant about 25 minutes walk away, I hurried Mike out before the water got too high (not an easy task, as he was absorbed in downloading his photographs). And indeed we did find the water rising along our route - fortunately, we know the area well, and were able to take detours to avoid the worst of it. Before leaving home, we had wisely invested in overboots that came up our legs, and we needed them as we sloshed our way through 4 inches of water.
We'd booked a table at Anzelo Raffaelle in San Sebastiano, a higher part of Venice that isn’t often affected by acqua alta. We had a leisurely dinner and when we were ready to go home at 10 o'clock, the owner Patricia said the water should have gone down - or perhaps not. When we crossed the bridge to San Basilio, we were ankle deep in water; but fortunately a vaporetto arrived as we reached the Zattere and we jumped on it to get back to the hotel.
On our last evening, we went to St Mark's Square at 10pm, and sure enough, water was gurgling up through the drains and covering the paving stones. This is the lowest part of Venice, and people just ignore the puddles and walk round them.
It was fascinating the see how Venice copes with this recurring hazard, and it was impressive that for most of the time, there was remarkably little evidence of the disruption that the high water causes. It certainly didn't spoil our visit, though I'm glad I wasn't involved in the cleaning-up operations!
An unusual, memorable birthday, and one of the very best!
Fredo 09/12/19 (Photos by Mike)