Venice in the rain

It's a rainy evening. When its wet for an extensive period of time and I start to carry my umbrella every day, my mind turns to memories of other cities I've seen in the rain: Seattle, London, Milan, Venice...

Have you ever been to Venice? I remember visiting in the 1980s during a rainy period. I was standing in St. Mark's Square. The rain was falling and the tide was rising. Within minutes water started lapping up from the gondola moorings. It rose up the steps and came creeping onto the square. In the middle of the square, water bubbled up from underneath, through holes in the stone and marble and through grates, the water burbling like a pot boiling, and within minutes the entire square was flooded. Crews of workers appeared and laid out platforms, rows of wooden planks, for the public to cross the square. Like walking on long tables, we used those raised footpaths to walk around the centre of the city.

It's a scene that's repeated many times in Venice when the "acqua alta" - high water - comes calling. A huge project is underway to create a barrier that can be raised in the lagoon when high tides or rain surges hit the city. The "Moses" project, (MOSE in Italian, "Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico") should be completed by 2012. As concerns about global warming and rising water levels grow, other cities will be watching this project with interest (New Orleans, for one).

Like the water, memories of Venice come flooding back. A restaurant by the canal. The lamp lights and couples walking down quiet narrow alleys at night. The bridges and worn marble steps. Boatmen and business people at the espresso bars in the morning. A living city, not just a tourist attraction.

Venice, whether water-logged or dry, leaves an impression and is worth preserving.

Like so many visitors, American writer Paul Theroux was smitten:

"I took a water-bus from the Lido to Venice proper, and approaching this city in the sea, glittering in brilliant sunshine, I began to goggle, trembling a little, feeling a physical thrill and unease, in the presence of such beauty, an exultation amounting almost to fear."

"...It is man-made, but a work of genius, sparkling in its own lagoon, floating on its dreamy reflection, with the shapeliest bridges and the last perfect skyline on earth: just domes and spires and tiled roofs. It is one color, the mellowest stone. There is no sign of land, no earth at all, only water traffic and canals. Everyone knows this, and yet no one is prepared for it, and so the enchantment is overwhelming. The fear you feel is the fear of being bewitched and helpless. Its visitors gape at it, speechless with admiration, hardly believing such splendor can shine forth from such slimy stones." (From The Pillars of Hercules, 1995, Putnam.)

(Photo courtesy of Paola da Reggio -- Public domain, Wikimedia Commons.)


  1. it's moving, renato. thank you for this... atmosphere, i should say - much more than an article.
    venice is exactly like this: a place of the soul, belonging to our "immaginario collettivo" (how do you say that in english?), a
    land made of water and stone which keeps on whispering emotions into our ears. provided they are open. yours definitely are.

  2. Grazie, Erica.
    Venice certainly lives in our collective imagination. The best aspect is that it's not only a beautifully preserved historical place but a living, breathing city at the same time. Despite all of its challenges, it still stands. No one knows Venice like you do, so thank you so much for your kind comments. Ciao!