Venice Postscript: The Working Man and Acqua Alta

Acqua Alta, Italywise

Sloggin’ Through Acqua Alta © 2017 Jed Smith

Yep, it’s that time of the year when Venetians start dealing with the acqua alta more frequently.

The high waters associated with fickle tides keep the people of Venice on their toes. Just a couple of weeks ago I published a photo essay and tribute to the working man of Venice. I forget to point out an added complexity of their lives. That’s the acqua alta. Locals stay abreast of the “odds” given by the local weather reports. Everyone waits and dreads the siren that goes off city-wide to warn people to “get ready”.  Usually, when you hear the sirens, the high waters will be making their appearance within a couple of hours.

Venice is constantly in readiness to respond to the acqua alta.

To the people who live and work in Venice, dealing with the sporadic high waters becomes second nature. Still, it can be exhausting work. Shop owners rush to move their wares to higher ground and they secure the metal dams in their doorways to help minimize the damage. Still, water often seeps ups from the floors.

Imagine factoring this unpredictability into your job, especially if you’re charged with getting goods in and out of the many businesses in Venice. In my estimation, those who do have plenty of intestinal fortitude and patience. I know I’d have a meltdown in short order.

Venice quickly assembles temporary sidewalks.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was strolling the streets of Venice with a friend who was visiting. I pointed to a stack of mobile platforms and asked, “Do you know what these are for?” I proceeded to explain that these are strategically placed throughout Venice so as to quickly provide dry passage during the acqua alta. Otherwise, the city would shut down and tourists would be stranded.

I’ve been in the thick of it.

Three years ago, my sister and a friend were visiting us in Rome (we had an apartment there at the time). We made a 2 1/2 day trip to Venice in early February. We landed smack dab in the midst of high waters, along with steady downpours and high winds. Holding onto an umbrella was a virtual impossibility with the more forceful gusts. We promptly bought waders that came up to our knees and made a pack to “just deal with it” and not let it dampen our experience.

As the above photo demonstrates, I seized the opportunity to capture the experience. In retrospect, I say to myself, “Were you completely out of your mind?” Yes, I was, and I doubt I would take my valuable equipment out in such conditions again. I was lucky there were no mishaps.

A bit of advice…

If you come to Venice when the probability of the acqua alta is disproportionately high, I urge you to pack light since you may be hauling your luggage in less-than-ideal conditions. I also urge you to quickly snap up a pair of really good waders. You’ll find plenty of people selling them (often at opportunistic prices). Just buy them, and don’t be cheap and get the things that go over your shoes and look like something that a doctor would wear into surgery. Those are a poor match for the conditions and they last all of ten seconds. Then you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t make a beeline for the real remedy.

When I dealt with the high waters for a solid two days, my big challenge was hauling luggage––mine and my sister’s (she had a bum knee). By the time we were on the train and heading out of Venice I was relieved. And then I remembered the men and women who make their living supporting the infrastructure of Venice. Unlike me, they can’t just run away when the going it get’s tough. And, tough it can be with the acqua alta!