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. 
Our hotel, La Calcina, is situated on the Zattere, the long promenade that overlooks the Giudecca canal – that’s the one that the huge cruise-ships sailed up to enter and leave Venice, until fairly recently. We knew that the Zattere had been flooded, but the hotel confirmed when we emailed them that they were back in working order. Indeed, when we arrived, there was no sign that only 7 days earlier the sea water had flowed over the Zattere, coming up to the level of the top of the reception desk. There was even hot water for us, though this had just been restored just an hour before we arrived.
In shops and restaurants, we heard tales of how the water had risen and been driven in by hurricane-force winds. Signora Debra from La Bitta restaurant told us how she had waded along the Calle Lunga to get to work, and the lady from our favourite pasticceria had drawn a wavy line on the shop window to indicate the highest level of the water. Yet life went on, though we saw damaged fridges, washing-machines and mattresses piled up on street corners. Yes, people were discouraged and tired and angry, but in the end, they shrugged their shoulders, cleaned up and started again.
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. 
Except when I got to the front, Mass wasn't being celebrated there at all! Instead we were ushered behind the altar, to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Salute, and then, after a moment to whisper a prayer for the health of our loved ones, swiftly ushered through the sacristy, and back outside to the campo. This wasn't my plan at all! I had to go back into the church, and tracked Mass down at a side altar. I found it all very moving and slightly exhilarating! 
My birthday was on the Saturday, and as it was a pleasant morning, we decided to go to Torcello. This is a distant and almost deserted island with a cathedral and a hotel (where Hemingway stayed when he wrote one of his worst novels) and several restaurants - Yes, that sounds peculiar, and it is but we enjoy the journey and we like to go to Villa 600, where we've seen the nice young waiter grow older over the years. It was a relaxing way to spend the day
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. 
The following morning was eerie. We watched the water rise steadily until 9:30 and it reached a depth of 8" - 10" outside. The dining-room and lounge were completely bare of furniture, and though the flood defences stopped the water coming in, it started to rise through the floor. The staff carried on, and served the guests breakfast in our rooms: cereal, ham, cheese, croissants, coffee, but no scrambled eggs that morning. When the water receded at 10:30, Corrado (the manager) and his team set to work cleaning up and carrying the furniture back downstairs. You wouldn't have known there'd been a crisis. 
We had acqua alta every day after that, but apparently, nothing out of the ordinary for Venetians. It didn’t stop us doing anything; we just had to tip-toe through the water just outside La Calcina.
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) 
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