Peter Popham: A high-water mark of tourist culture

Venice Notebook: Waiters splosh through the winding calle dressed in dinner jacket, bow tie and galoshes

Full moon, damp sirocco wind from the south, the wettest February in recent memory and the rain still seeping out of the clouds – conditions in Venice were perfect this weekend for an Acqua Alta ("high water") to remember. In 1966 when the tide in St Mark's Square reached 194 cms – well over six feet – the conditions were similar. On Saturday it peaked at 124cm or four feet.

The joy of Venice's perennial natural irritant is that it punishes the rich first – Harry's Bar, Caffe Chioggia and all the other posh emporiums crowded around this, the smartest corner of the city. The inundation is nowadays so regular that the natives waste no time gazing at it: forecasts are monitored attentively and within minutes of the angry little waves breaking over the St Mark's quayside, elevated catwalks are slammed into place across the piazza and in the other lowest-lying, most heavily frequented corners, and the tourists – of whom there are plenty even in soggy, post-carnival February – squeeze and jostle along them. Waiters splosh through the winding calle (lanes) bearing trays with outside orders, dressed in dinner jacket, bow tie and galoshes; shopkeepers near the square hawk bootees made of flimsy pink transparent plastic at €10 a pop, but many locals merely pull off their shoes, roll up their trousers and wade.

"What about Mose?" I ask the man who shows me to my hotel room. The famous mobile gate system of that name, designed to save Venice from flooding, was first discussed after the great flood of '66, and has been under construction now for the best part of a decade. "Who knows if they will ever finish it?" he says. "And who knows if it will even work?" Meanwhile the giddier young tourists snap each other frolicking through the flood and cackles of hysterical laughter echo through the watery city.

Sighs at a mayoral legacy

As Venice's philosopher mayor Massimo Cacciari approaches the end of his term, two things about him will stick in my mind: Silvio Berlusconi's identification of him as the lover of his (then) wife, Veronica, when by all accounts the pair had never even met; and his decision to allow some of Venice's finest buildings to be obscured by huge advertising hoardings. Today there is a socking great ad opposite the Duomo screaming "Istanbul – the ultimate destination"; a few steps away, the Bridge of Sighs is almost invisible under a carapace of publicity. The bridge's nickname has never seemed more appropriate.

The Orient expressed

There is something hallucinatory about Constantinople vaunting itself in the very heart of its ancient enemy; equally so is the fact that every other snack bar, in the town that invented trade with the Orient, is staffed by Chinese girls, some of whom speak no Italian at all.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine