Many of you, like myself, are guilty. We are guilty of having visited a sick but beautiful city. We have been at the bedside of a dying patient and have done nothing to cure her of illness. She is slowly slipping away, without a sound, accepting that her fate is sealed. She answers to the name of Venice and, despite her afflictions, remains a most beautiful lady.
As I gazed into the setting sun, a stone’s throw away from the Piazza San Marco, a sense of fulfilment took me over. Of all the marvels that we are blessed with, Venice is the one place I have always dreamed of visiting but never did. Until three years ago.
It is hard to say what makes Venice so special but has surely something to do with the waters that are part of the city’s soul. The attractive power of water, the very presence of which, will condemn the city to death.
The supreme goodness is like water.
It benefits all things without contention.
In dwelling, it stays grounded.
In being, it flows to depths.
In expression, it is honest.
In confrontation, it stays gentle.
In governance, it does not control.
In action, it aligns to timing.
It is content with its nature,
and therefore cannot be faulted.
Tao Te Ching – Passage #8
The terrible flooding that has taken place – the worst for over fifty years – must not make us forget that the beautiful lady is sinking at a rate of 1-4 mm per year. She is sinking under the weight of her own history and under the trampling feet of uncouth tourists. Her still waters are being displaced by gigantic cruise ships, filled with passengers who have nothing better to do than destroy the world with their money. What else can the displaced water do but erode the underwater foundations that the historical buildings in Venice are built on?
We are millions to have scarred her skin with our dirty shoes, and taken away her breath with our own. Venice is dying, and we just do not care. Venice is dead, Long Live Venice – I have captured the image of a dying soul on my mobile phone, so what do I care! Just like Notre-Dame, I visited Venice just in time. Their deaths are symptomatic of a lethal epidemic that affects only the most beautiful ladies of this world.
But what are the Italians doing about it? It is their city, after all. The Italians do what Italians do best – corrupting every dream they have, every promise they make. They should be helping Venice – a city suffering from underpopulation, over-tourism, and sinking foundations. Instead, Italian politicians and big businesses are helping themselves. In 2003, the Venetians began a multibillion project aimed at protecting their city from such a catastrophe. The project, named MOSE (Experimental Electromechanical Module) and run by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (New Venice Consortium), has been subject to repeated delays and has been riddled with corruption scandals. The project’s aim was to build the world’s first submersible floodgates that would separate the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea during acqua alta high tides.
In 2014, the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, was among many arrested on suspicion of corruption, bribery and money laundering.
Instead of masking this useless and damaging work we could erect a tombstone at the three mouths of the port with the names of all the politicians, technicians and businesses who approved this extreme example of criminality and corruption… – Ambiente Venezia
The consortium is still active but under the supervision from Rome – a city where corruption is nonexistent, of course. To date, the project has cost much more than the initial estimate and has been subject to multiple malfunctions, including the rusting of key underwater components a mere 10 years after their installation. Due to be operational in 2011, the consortium now estimates that the dam will be finished in 2020 and maybe operational in 2021, after testing.
The Dutch learned the hard way of the malefic effects of rampant water. In 1953, severe flooding was caused by 20 hours of a north-westerly storm, which pushed the waters of the North Sea up to a height of 4.20 meters above Amsterdam ordnance zero. Over 150,000 hectares were flooded and almost two thousand people lost their lives. Within 20 years, a Delta plan was put in place, the aim of which was to block all the estuaries of the North Sea. The Delta Works, using concrete with a 200-year guarantee and 45-meter wide steel doors protects the province of Zeeland, reducing the risk of flooding to less than once every 4000 years.
Venice’s fundamental problem is that it is a city blessed with beauty, culture and class. But it is a city that depends on the tourist trade for its very survival. Even the plan to charge €10 for day-trippers will not affect the number of tourists visiting the lagoon – more than 20 million each year. The beautiful lady will always get the attention she is seeking. The big question is whether she is willing to accept paying the price for her popularity.
As I enjoyed the warm Venetian sunshine on board of a water taxi, I took a photograph of a Dutch cruise ship that could destroy Venice all on its own. I thought to myself that the ship was certainly part of the problem, but the country that it belongs to could have been part of the solution had the Italians not just been Italians. Instead of pouring thousands of tourists onto a more than delicate city, the Dutch could have sent two engineers on a bicycle, to help the Venetians protect their treasure and save their souls.