In less than thirty minutes, life in Venice changed on 12 November 2019: A devastating flood (aqua granda) submerged the city for six days on end, similar only to the aqua granda of 1966. Few people came to Venice at Christmas, and Carnival ended early when the first cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed.
Everything else happening during those ten weeks, when Venice was under a strict lockdown, feels like a gap in history, a thread that has been cut. But when the first images emerged in early April, they showed surprising glimpses of a city recovering, its water shimmering turquoise in the morning and purple-azure at sundown. Fish were breeding in the canals, and a sea horse was spotted in a quiet side canal, as even gondolas weren’t allowed to move.
This year, spring in Venice may have seemed like a black box to many of you, ten weeks missing completely in the story of our city when everyone was out of touch. When the lockdown was lifted in early June, the world watched Venice waking up, a city that had suffered immensely but in a way, didn’t show it! On the contrary, colors were harmonious and bright, far from the fatigued and pale impression the city had made only four months earlier.
What happened to Venice during the lockdown, and was there a turning point instilling hope and courage? Venice Rising, the new book edited by Kathleen Ann González, can give you answers: 31 personal accounts and stories shared by Venetians tell how they witnessed eight challenging months between November 2019 and June 2020, when the world was out of touch with Venice.
Left: “Venice Rising: Acqua Granda. Pandemic. Rebirth.” Right: Just before the cathartic rain on 29 April 2020. In its wake, the double rainbow appeared over the city. Venice, 29 April 2020, 3:55 pm.
A week before Kathleen invited me to contribute a chapter to her book, a double rainbow had appeared over Venice which lifted our spirits incredibly. But there was a second memorable day, which I describe in my chapter in Venice Rising:
“At noon on April 25, 2020, the bells of Campanile di San Marco were the only sound in Piazza San Marco. The Marangona bell, ringing at noon and at midnight since the year 1173, could be heard clearly almost everywhere in Venice because the city was so quiet. It was a warm and cloudless day, and I felt that we had come a very long way from the dark inferno of November and a very harsh and tiresome summer. April felt like Venice was waking up in another age.
Watching our empty Piazza on the webcam was the one really bad moment in the ten-week lockdown for my grandmother Lina. Our neighbors told me they had felt the same. That strangely beautiful 25 April, and the double rainbow following after a cathartic thunderstorm on 29 April (also mentioned in the book), was the turning point in the minds and hearts of the Venetians.
Venice Rising shares many examples how Venetians overcame their silent spring and of their strong will to start over: You can read the story of Monica Cesarato, who tells how her film project Anima Veneziana took shape in spring, or Elena Almansi, who writes how Venetians started a food delivery project for people unable to leave their homes.
What the 31 authors of Venice rising have in common is the hope that a new city will soon welcome back friends and visitors, and I asked Kathleen how she would be spending her first day back in Venice:
“Ah, my first day back in Venice would be a dream come true! I would have stracciatella gelato, and a spritz at Bar Tiziano. I would walk and walk and walk around the city, a nice long giro, to smell the salt water, to feel the breeze off the Lagoon, to hear people speaking veneziano and the gondoliers calling “Oé!” I would find a fruit and vegetable market to buy my produce for the next couple days, enjoying the colors, seeing what is in season, and thinking of what to have for dinner.
Or maybe I would go out for a pizza with arugula and walnut on it. Then I would begin to make plans with friends to see who wants to meet for an aperitivo and maybe meet with the authors of First Spritz Is Free or Venice Rising!”
Kathleen Ann González, editor of Venice Rising and First Spritz is Free, and many other books on Venice.
Read more about Venice Rising: Aqua Alta, Pandemic, Rebirth on Kathleen’s website. You can purchase the paperback book on Amazon and the e-book on Smashwords. All proceeds go to Venetian non-profit organizations: We are here Venice, No Grandi Navi, and Venice Calls.
Kathleen Ann González is a teacher who also founded the Seductive Venice Blog. She is author of a series of books dedicated to Venice and Venetian history: First Spritz Is Free, A Beautiful Woman in Venice, A Living Memory: Immortality for Sarra Copia Sulam, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, and Free Gondola Ride.