The Beat Goes On

Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain…la di da de di….la di da de da

And the beat goes on…

And on and on and on and on….

Why are Sonny and Cher singing in my bedroom?

Honestly, that was my first thought this morning when I was awoken yet again by the staccato beat of sledgehammers. I knew the sound was coming from workers digging up the nearby sidewalk, but it nonetheless caught me by surprise. There’s a problem with the water lines hidden beneath the heavy stones and there’s no other way to fix it, or so I’ve been told.

When the noise begins to blend into the background of every day life, an older man in dusty overalls comes and sits by our massive front door and slowly whittles away at the wood. The abundant spring rains have swelled the door almost shut, making it difficult to use. Eventually he’ll work long and hard enough for us to come and go with ease.

In a world of water, humidity, and five hundred year old homes, maintenance is obviously a big issue.


greengrocer goes home

greengrocer goes home


How do they get gas for cooking? What if there’s a fire? When someone needs to go to the hospital who comes to get them? These were the questions my friend Heidi asked when visiting a few weeks ago. She didn’t seem to care much about the history of the Serenissima or the great body of artwork only minutes away…but she was concerned about the trash.

“What happens if someone wants a new sofa?” Heidi questioned, sipping wine on our patio. “And tap water? Is it really clean? Where does it come from?”


beer delivery


So, here, Heidi and dear readers are the basics:

Venice is a mass of 118 tiny islands linked together by 354 bridges. Buildings were constructed on closely spaced wooden piles that are still intact after centuries of submersion. The piles penetrate a soft layer of sand and mud until they reach a harder layer of compressed clay. The city’s foundations rest on these piles that are now petrified and resemble stone.

The Grand Canal is Venice’s highway; the smaller canals its back roads. Absolutely everything is transported via water. The mailman steers a boat, not a truck and doesn’t have to worry about dogs. UPS has a logo-stamped barge with employees still dressed in their requisite brown uniforms, even though in Italy you would expect better. Policemen and firemen are quite stylish though, always posed for a potential picture.


On duty Police


Many of the boats that pass through town are the equivalent of delivery trucks. They bring supplies, construction material, loads of fruits and vegetables and even barrels of beer. If you do want a new sofa, that’s how it arrives. Then depending on your location it’s carried upstairs or hoisted via a small crane through a fourth story window.

If you call an ambulance, a boat will pick you up and deposit you in the hospital on Venice’s north shore, away from all the tourist attractions. The emergency room is linked by a covered walkway to a dock reserved for the speedy yellow and orange “vehicles.” Their sirens sometimes blare, alerting boat drivers along the canals to pull to one side and let them pass. Police* boats have the same privilege, but they usually cruise at a slower pace, enjoying the sun and sites, rarely in a hurry. Venice, you’ll be happy to know, is an incredibly safe place.





Garbage men steer a long barge with an attached crane. Trash is picked up twice a week by hand, deposited into steel bins and then pushed to the edge of a major canal for easy pick-up. There are separate days for paper, plastic, and glass.


garbage barge

garbage barge


At least once every twenty years each canal is blocked and drained for a good cleaning and treasure hunt. (God only knows what they find in those waters.) The process is time consuming and laborious. For a few weeks or even months the canal is empty and the wooden pillars exposed.


canal cleaning

canal cleaning


“The foundation of our house cracked a year after we bought it,” my friend Anna told me when I went to see her idyllic two-story property around the corner. “This is what happens when the canals are drained. The houses need the water and when it disappears problems sometimes arise.  We had to move into an apartment for over a year.”

All new construction, repairs, and renovations start with the prerequisite paperwork and permissions, and like Mexico it can take months for someone to acknowledge that you and your problem actually exist.

“Make sure the workers are all Venetians,” Anna informed me. “No one else understands these houses and the way they work.”

When acqua alta arrives and water starts to flow into the streets, a team of workers quickly raises planks of wood for walking. It’s well organized and efficient, many times waiting in place hours before the water begins to seep over the embankments.


Acqua Alta in St. Marks Square

Acqua Alta in St. Marks Square


Historically, drinking water was taken from decorative marble wells located throughout the city. It was clean and abundant. Today, the same water is piped into houses and hotels. Italians in general drink bottled water; however, Venice’s mayor has just launched a campaign to get people to drink tap water to cut down on the consumption of plastic bottles. (Hooray for the mayor!!) It will take time to educate tourists about the clean supply and get storeowners and restaurants to discourage the purchase of bottled water.


former water well


So even though sledgehammers keep pounding rhythm to my brain, I’m in awe of this magical place that manages to survive and stay afloat with such grace and beauty.


*Law & Order Venetian Style:

Scene 1:

Venice has a number of policewomen, usually dressed in skin-tight navy pants wearing practical yet stylish shoes. I’ve seen more than one of these women lounging on the stern (or would it be bow?) of a police boat as if it were the Lido beach, their heads thrown back, their lush hair fanning out over the white Plexiglas finish.


Scene 2:

Two police officers stroll at a leisurely space looking into the shop windows and chatting. The woman in the duo pops into a lingerie store and begins to ask her male partner’s opinion about colors and patterns for a new bra. She holds up each piece for him to inspector as he leans against the door frame, never turning to see if a crime is taking place.


It’s once again a wonderful day in the neighborhood…unless, of course, you’ve just been robbed.





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One Response to “The Beat Goes On”

  1. Dagmar Says:

    If been a couple of times to Venice but never got such a deep insight into the actual way the city works. It’s great that you can even share experiences of locals like Anna. Many thanks for your posting!
    Have to rush now… need to get a glimpse of these skin-tight navy pants and stylish shoes 😉

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