Aqua alta in Venice

Today’s news is bleak.

As the waters in Venice rise yet again, the apostles of fashion gather for safety behind the shop windows along the Campo S. Moisè:, only the Deity, Georgio Armani, is absent. But cardinals Prada and Gucci are there, along with archbishops Ferragamo and Fendi, Msgrs. Valentino and Versaci. Even the harlot, Miu Miu, shows her ruffles. Prada’s slacks and sport jacket make an appealing vestment, assuming you have 1,300 euros in the pockets of your shabby jeans; you’ll need another 1,300 for shirt, tie, cardigan and shoes.

Shoes, the italian status symbol, are delicate things, and at this time of year must be protected. High water, aqua alta, afflicts Venice throughout the winter months, especially in the low-lying Piazza San Marco, but the city’s network of temporary wooden walkways, the 30-inch-high passarelle, extend like tentacles even unto the side streets.

On the Piazza itself, they’ve been working for years to stem the tide. Part one, literally stem the tide. Locally, to be sure, but out in the lagoon as well, with a complex system of underwater baffles. Second, restrain the groundwater from seeping through the centuries-old surface stones. Third, prevent the city’s own sewer system from backing up. When they built the great campanile in the Renaissance, it was as solid as a rock. Now, its foundations are beginning to crack and crumble. Legions of technicians are working feverishly to prevent further deterioration, God forbid.Boatman on Traghetto

In the chilly off-season, the gondoliers wear down vests over their blue-striped jerseys, but they still call out “Gondola, gondola!” with clear, strong voices to entice the few travelers who remain into spending 100 euros or so for a 40-minute ride. Few American voices, plenty of Germans, though; they’ve always had a soft spot for Italy (Thomas Mann, after all, set his “Death in Venice” on the Lido).

Wandering in the damp and dark fog, you reach the Grand Canal, where you stumble into a gondola called a traghetto. You pay the ferry man his toll, and he steers the slender boat through the gray traffic of vaporettos and water taxis to the opposite shore, where you alight and continue your quest. Half a euro was never so well spent.