The Ever-changing Waters in the 'City of Water'

3.10.2017 | art.

Dawn Chan

Venice Biennale Intern

How can I not love Venice?

In this well-known Italian city, you can find the best scenery, best art scene, best ham and cheese and gelato, without cars and horrible traffic. I love to bring my own lunch and sit next to the Grand Canal at noon, watching the boats, the ships and the ferries passing by the harbour, taking in the late-summer breeze.

However, in the first few days of arrival, we have encountered our first flood (or high-water, acqua alta) nearby our apartment. Our way back was completely blocked by water and I was shocked, holding huge bags of shoppings from the market having no idea what to do. I have been in Venice twice before working as an exhibition intern and have never encountered this kind of disastrous(for me) situation before.  All the Venetians next to us are calm and relaxed. You could be able to distinguish the tourist out from the crowd – those who were taking pictures and moaning just like us. The waiters of the restaurant at the flood boundary told us to be patient and wait, “It will go down after a few hours.” “Okay.” Yet, as a typical Hong Konger, we went straight to an exhibition around the corner right after we agreed to be patient.

Luckily, until now, we have not encountered high-water or flooding nearby our apartment again. (Fingers crossed)

Venice is a living city. The weather is unpredictable, the wooden structures swell and collapse in different directions everyday according to the change in humidity (and that is why we have to reset the profile lights day by day), and the weather forecast on Google is never reliable. Our Italian colleague developed a habit of weather forecasting – he observes the clouds and will come to a conclusion for the next day. He is way better than the observatory. Maybe all the Venetians have this kind of super power too.

However, you cannot predict the high waters unless you work in the marines. As a citizen or tourist, you can check out the website below: https://www.comune.venezia.it/it/content/la-previsione to check the water level for each day. When the level goes up to 80 cm, it is said to have high water in the day. In the city of water, the government do have a more accurate prediction on the water than the weather. We use the water forecast to decide the type of shoes to wear for the day. There are a lot of places selling the normal water boots but there is one special type of water boots you can see only in Venice – the raincoat-type water boots. You can buy them from the supermarket and they are well designed. Easy to use, all-rounded protection and not expensive. When there is a high water around your area, take the compressed boots out from your bag, wear it in 3 seconds, and you are ready to go!

Venice water boots – photo from sharingvenice.com

Although we have not encountered any more floods near where we live, we do have high waters in the exhibition venue. The forth piece of Samson’s work, “Lullaby(World Music)”, is located right next to the canal and we have 3 rope positions for the different water levels. As invigilators, we have to walk pass the area frequently when there is high water forecast. If the water rushes in, we have enough time to get the rope back to the highest position before getting wet ourselves as we do not wear the water boots in our venue (except our Italian colleague). It was amazing and astonishing to see how the water changes in few minutes.

I am here in Venice the third time in my life. Sometimes she is a bit chaotic, but most of the time she is adorable. You have to be in her rhythm, go with her flow, stay calm, relaxed and enjoy. I am so glad that I could be able to have this opportunity to stay here not as a tourist but as an intern. Then I could be able to experience Venice in another way – the Venetian way.

Some funny water-related micro-geographical issues:

The floor in our apartment cracked last night. The concrete right below the surface is exposed. We were scared and texted the landlord, yelling for help. He came in the morning, saying that it is very normal in Venice because the whole city is always moving in the water. Just like the plate tectonic movements – a micro one. So, we had a nano-sized earthquake at home and we are now safe and sound.

Dear landlord, I am so sorry to be hypersensitive. I will try my very best to keep calm and relaxed from now on.

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