A Sinking Feeling

By Jim McCloskey

I’ve seen something of the future, and I’m afraid this part of it at least is going to be very, very sad.

We’ve just returned from a glorious vacation that took me and Judy to Venice, Italy, to celebrate her retirement after a long career as a teacher.  She’d been there before, more than 40 years ago, but I’d had to bypass it in my own travels through Italy at about that same time.  As someone who called Venice, Calif., home for many years, I’ve held onto an ongoing desire to see the real thing for myself.

More than that:  The canals, bridges and architecture have been calling to me professionally to witness one of humankind’s greatest-ever exercises in mass-scale watershaping.

About a week before we started our trip, however, my sister sent me a photo of St. Mark’s Square sloshing under several inches of water during a high tide.  This reminded me forcefully of stories I’ve heard for most of my life about Venice sinking and, in a double-whammy of epic proportions, more recent reports of its eventual inundation by rising sea levels.

1We went for a good time and certainly had it – great food, fantastic wines, incredible museums and a vibrant, nearly electric atmosphere – but just about everywhere I turned, I could see evidence that Venice is indeed in trouble.  Even at low tide, water laps at doors along parts of the Grand Canal, and there’s evidence everywhere that use of bottom floors of buildings across the city has been affected and limited by regular intrusions of seawater.

2On several of our stops, we could see three or four steps (including those at right, exposed by low tide) that once led up to these bottom-level doors have been effectively submerged by the famed canals’ water.  The problem is real, and it’s apparent everywhere throughout the city.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be either a property owner or civic official faced with the inevitability of what’s happening, but I have to say that life goes on:  During our six-day stay, Venice was utterly packed with tourists (we were there during Biennale, a gargantuan, six-month-long arts festival the city hosts every other year).  Commerce and community marched on, doubtless because there’s no alternative.

3Yet there is clearly a general awareness of what’s happening and apprehension about what the future holds — and it’s only comfort of the very coldest sort to Venetians that their city is just a local manifestation of what’s happening or is going to happen to low-lying coastal cities across the globe as sea levels rise.  At least Venice already has an ample supply of boats!

It also has great creativity and defiance:  Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn, for one, sees what’s coming and has, along the Grand Canal – with the cooperation of the historic Ca’ Sagredo Hotel – installed gigantic hands to reference the peril in which the city finds itself.  Called “Support,” the composition (seen at left) is an epic reminder to passersby (of which there are hundreds of thousands daily) that what they see is all at risk and that Venice is likely beyond its point of no return.

If you’ve haven’t been there, go see Venice for yourself soon – while you still can!

In the months to come, I’ll be writing a couple Travelogues about this trip, which also included a long stop in Iceland.  I promise those stories won’t be so gloomy!

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