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Acqua Alta and the Art of Venice

by Arthur Wooten
The Art of Venice

Part of this trip to Venice was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of artist Tintoretto and to discover the best of his paintings throughout the city.

Image by Martina Badini

For the anniversary celebrations of Tintoretto, da Vinci, and art collector Peggy Guggenheim, I traveled back to my favorite city in the world, Venice, Italy. I was there during the now infamous week of November 12, 2019. An Acqua Alta (extreme flooding) traditionally occurs once, recedes and everything is back to normal, but during the course of my stay we experienced record breaking flood levels 5 days out of 7. This was to be the 2nd highest flood in 50 years.

The day before my travel mate Bud and I flew to Venice, the manager of the apartment I was renting from through the Red House Company, sent me a text suggesting I bring boots on the trip. He informed me that we were arriving at high tide. I was an old pro at this, having traveled to Venice previously and experiencing an Acqua Alta that would become the 6th highest flooding in recorded history. Acqua Altas tend to happen around November and the perfect recipe is a full moon, a high tide, and a storm. I guessed I could wait till I arrived at Marco Polo Airport to buy a pair of wellies if need be, I wasn’t going to use up precious room in my luggage for a pair of boots. Well, guess what? There are no shops in Venice’s airport that sells wellies or even the slip over your shoe, knee high plastic booties. I’m going to move to Venice, open up a shop at the airport, sell boots and booties during flooding seasons and make a fortune.

Around 11 A.M. the morning of November 12th we landed at Marco Polo during high tide, but there was no rain, and I asked a woman at the information desk if the vaporetto (water bus) stop called Ca’Rezzonico was under water. “No, no, signore, Ca’Rezzonico is high. No problems.” Phew, that’s a relief.

Venice- the highest tide in a century

The Highest Tide in a Century
Photo: Stefano Mazzola

Instead of dealing with the public water bus and morning rush hour I hired a pricey private water taxi, through the Red House Company (or you can easily book your own through Venice Link) and right on cue Alberto arrived at our pier ready to whisk us off to Ca’Rezzonico. Did I say whisk? It was more like an amusement park ride. I’ve ridden some choppy water on the Venetian Lagoon before, but we seriously needed seat belts and neck braces on that day. It wasn’t vintage, but it was a beautiful wooden, covered motorboat, but the retractable roof, which allows you to stand up and take in the breathtaking views of Venice as you approach her, needed to be sealed shut. It still wasn’t raining, yet, but the waves were quite high and eager to spritz all over us. Not the kind of spritz I was looking forward to. When we’d hit a large squall and be thrown about the boat with our luggage, Alberto would periodically look back to see if we were still alive and give us the thumbs up.

As the boat slowed down to circumnavigate the fragile canals of Venice’s inner city, finally, I recognized the Ca’ Rezzonico Palazzo that our water stop is named after and was anxious to get onto dry, solid ground. Well, it was solid and my former gymnastic days came in handy for managing to exit a small bouncing boat up onto the platform without doing a dismount into the choppy canal. Waiting at the stop for us was a young woman who works for the Red House rental company whom we had met on a previous trip. And what did she have in her hands? Slipover- your-shoe booties. I think the woman back at the information desk in the airport needs to brush up on her Venetian neighborhoods and their water levels. At the vaporetto stop the water was mid shin high. Raised wooden boardwalks had been erected by the city to help tourists as well as natives navigate the pooling of sea water. Luckily, the apartment was nearby and the platforms took us far enough down the walkway to reach our apartment—the booties were not needed…yet.

The apartment was quirky, ancient, charming, had a gorgeous rooftop deck plus it was toasty warm. One odd layout was that the original beams on the floor of the dwelling were not flush with the regular floor boards. A tricky and conscious stepping over of the beams was a constant must. Rather than a negative, I saw it as…character. Plus, in the apartment were wellies, well, one pair.

Christ Healing the Paralytic by Tintoretto (Saint Roch's Church) - Art in Venice

Christ Healing the Paralytic by Tintoretto (Saint Roch’s Church)
Photo: Arthur Wooten

After unpacking and catching our breaths, we decided to head out. Remembering that high tides occur every 12 hours and 25 minutes and that high tide to low tide is a span of 6 hours and 12.5 minutes, I knew it was okay to head out and explore. To be safe, I wore the wellies and Bud, the slip-ons.

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