The Arrival of Acqua Alta | Mark Lindsay

Venice is a city of changing moods. Of changing cycles. It is a city that never seems at peace for very long, the victim of its stunning location and aching beauty. There always seems to be comings and goings to give Venetians something of concern.

On the one hand, Venice is of the sea and that sea is poised to someday take the city back into its womb. It reminds the city every time a high tide swallows up its streets, monuments, and shops. A full moon, low atmospheric pressure, and high tides conspire with alarming regularity to attack the city with Acqua Alta—the notorious, high water. Acqua Alta has gotten worse as the city has sunk lower into the lagoon, the victim of local industry that has pumped too much water out of the surrounding land. What local industry has started, global warming might indeed finish. The sea teases and torments. Someday it will tire of the games and simply swallow everything up, once and for all.

The other high tide of Venice is that of the tourists. One can predict their onslaught as easily as the tides. They come with certain seasons and the confluence of events. As the locals have learned to live with high, rubber boots to wade through flood waters, they work their way past thousands of gawking day-trippers who come to say they've been to Venice and then leave without contributing much else than discarded trash. The high tide sweeps away the garbage until the next wave. And on it goes.

An Acqua Alta seems to be much worse on the Venetian psyche than does the daily attack of tourists. Most Venetians have learned to tolerate tourism and its gaudy malignancy. The high water is much more quiet than a cruise ship full of Germans or Americans but probably more destructive. It tries to sneak in at all hours but the Venetians have coded sirens that intercept the attacks. Short blasts tell of the incoming tide's height. Venetians efficiently dam their doors and construct elevated walkways. They don boots. They navigate to higher land. They somehow cope. But, the little door dams only slow down the water's invasion. The water has even more patience than do the Venetians. It finds its way everywhere. The only relief is low tide. And then the whole cycle starts over again.

In come the tourists. In comes the tide. The Venetian women watch it all as they do their shopping, their carts towed behind them. The Venetian men stop at a wine bar for relief, a glass of prosecco in one hand, a bar snack in the other. They speak in dialect to protect their privacy. They somehow find a way to maintain the sense of neighborhood as the day-trippers and the sea assault them. Both visitors and the sea have been around for many centuries. It's simply gotten worse with time.

Venice has survived it all, it's still the most beautiful city in the world. It still has the best wine bars in the world. And even after Napoleon stole much of its art, it still has more art per square mile than most anywhere. The waves come and go but Venice still gleams and shimmers—and braces itself for the next onslaught—something which is surely only a few moments away.