Monday, 14 November 2016

Letter from Venice (28) 14-11-16

Arriving by boat to Piazza San Marco even further underwater, during the time of a ‘super-moon,’ than the previous day, I negotiate the square via the duckboards and join the elevated queue waiting to enter the Basilica. I chat to two Americans, democrats from California dismayed by the recent election result in their country. Once inside the ancient building I am struck by the understated glittering and gloomy mystery of the place. On the arches and under five onion domes four square kilometers of golden mosaic forms the ceiling. This floats in gentle obscurity above the dusky marbled shadows of the walls and columns and the undulating floors composed of toothed circles of polychrome marble and glass patterning. With it’s velvety Islamic exoticism the place out-rivals any frisson Harry Potter can supply. I climb to the Museo Marciano above the entrance porch where I see ancient mosaic fragments close up and the original Quadriga – the four padding, turning, nostril-flaring and champing bronze horses stolen by the Venetians from Constantinople. They are green, dull yellow, brown and covered in scratches. I buy ceramic mementoes of the wonderful floors of the Basilica and, after contemplating for a while, from on high on the Loggia dei Cavalli, the flooded Piazza, descend to the Narthex and the way to the exit. As I leave I photograph the polychromes of the Narthex floor through the foot of water that covers it. No water had infiltrated the Basilica proper.

I descend to the Riva degli Schiavoni where a boatload of Vigili del Fuoco (Firemen) consult with two policemen wearing waders. The boat is navy blue and has flickering blue lights. The Vigili wear black beanie hats and dark fatigues hooped with luminous strips. A wooden pontoon between four piles, usually used by the Motoscafi taximen, has been battered by the rising seas. The seaward end is crazily positioned at right angles to the remaining portion connecting the pontoon to the land. As the sea is so high the landward end is under water and, as each wave comes in, the sea rises suddenly between the horizontal planks spattering a sudden spray around the legs of the Vigili as if someone is spraying their feet with machine gun fire. Using large jemmies, hammers and rope they eventually detach the broken section of pontoon working partly from their boat and partly off the safe section. At one point a Vigile loses his balance and falls onto the errant piece of pontoon. He is pulled back by his colleagues before he slips into the sea. Eventually, a rope attached to the broken section, the Vigili all climb back into their boat and tow it out to sea leaving the damaged remnant of the pontoon encircled with warning tape and out of use. I watch seawater leaking and bubbling up through the pavement of the Riva before boarding the boat for home.

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