Walking towards St Marks Square we saw a lady striding down the street wearing high fashion Italian Gumboots – black polished rubber, with a shiny gunmetal finish and with chains dangling gold charms strung all about the top.
Aqua Alta was coming.
St Marks square was SLIGHTLY underwater – the water crept across the plaza, bubbling out of storm drains in the paving stones until the café tables and chairs were ankle deep, and walkers were kicking through the water or creeping slowly around the edge of the piazza on narrow catwalks. The bands on the bandstands kept playing, and tourists sat and drank iced coffee with their shoes safely in their laps. Along the front of St Mark’s Basilica and the Ducal Palace, the water was shin deep. We crept along the edge of it on a narrow catwalk built of wooden planks, and watched Venetians in gumboots, stepping carelessly through the waves.
Tourists are truly alien creatures here – we creep across down flooded streets on catwalks, or splash through them playing at being children, kicking the saltwater skyward with every step. Salt on our skin, not in our blood.
Aqua Alta is a real problem for Venice – high tides are blown by winds into the long, narrow lagoon and stop previous high tides from exiting. The waters overlap, and Venice is inundated. Soil subsistence, channel-carving to allow the passage of large ships inside the lagoon, and the build-up of coastal islands that previously absorbed the water are all contributing to record levels of aqua alta in the new century – in bad weather, seasonal flood tides rise waist deep and make spectacular headlines all over the world. A massive system of sluice gates is being constructed along the entrance of the lagoon, and dunes along the coast are being rehabilitated, but rising sea levels leave the projected efficacy of these measures somewhat dubious.
On that afternoon, the water was low – knee deep, rather than waist deep. Closer to the quay, the ground was higher – and dryer. We jumped down from the catwalk and waded to dry land, only slightly damp about the toes, and we found a water bus to take us to Murano.