The Red Boot Diaries

I heard angry murmurs of “lazy thieves” and “Why do we pay taxes?” as I waded in knee-deep water spilling over from Venice’s canals. My fellow pedestrians, with their legs individually tucked inside large trash bags, were not in the best of moods.

I knew something was up this morning when a friend handed me a pair of bright red rubber boots and said, “Take these.” I hesitated, thinking she was being overly cautious. I mean, red boots really aren’t my thing. I’m not very good with bright colors, preferring to blend in with blacks and browns instead.


venice acqua alta


I’ve just returned to Venice and it’s been raining. It’s been raining all week and the water is high, creeping over the sides of the canals. Up until now it only formed shallow puddles that were easily avoided; however, I sensed today would be different and quickly changed my shoes.

I headed to Murano to audition a trattoria in anticipation of taking a group there in the fall. The boat ride over was choppy and wet, but at least the pouring rain kept the crowds away. I lunched on spaghetti alle vongole, spiced with garlic and peppercino and then headed back to the boat, briefly distracted by a sparkly window display. As soon as I stepped into the jewelry store the owner shouted “It’s coming” and quickly blocked the bottom of the shop’s entrance with a metal gate. I peeked outside and saw water gushing onto the sidewalk and lapping against the walls of ancient houses.


Italian-style high tide fashion

Italian-style high tide fashion


This was my first real “acqua alta” or high water–the kind I had only seen in pictures before…and I was stranded in a store with shelves of delicate, hand-blown glass jewelry. Well, you can imagine what happened next, but I’ll refrain from showing you pictures of my new collection of glass earrings.

After the rain subsided, I headed back to Venice where at the first vaporetto stop we were told to exit the boat. “But…,” I protested meekly. “Look!” the captain said, pointing to the bridge ahead of us “We can’t go under it. The water is too high.” He did have a point, so I started my hour-long journey sloshing through the currents, eavesdropping on disgruntled Venetians along the way.


View from above

View from above


They too had a point. It seems the sirens that alerted the town to impending high tides never sounded and the elevated wooden planks that always come to the rescue of fine leather shoes were nowhere in sight. “Where was the government?” the citizens cried.


Acqua Alta Venice

Acqua Alta Venice


Later I found out the government had a point too. They had spent the last few weeks putting all the planks, sirens, and even their thigh-high rubber boots in storage and they weren’t about to take them out again…too much work!

And so it goes—life in Venice.

The Red Boots

The Red Boots


Spaghetti alle Vongole

From Judith Klinger of Aroma Cucina in Montone, Italy (


spaghetti alle vongole

For 4 people


2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large peeled cloves of garlic

1 red hot chili pepper (pepperoncino)

1 preserved anchovy (either salted or in oil)

2 pounds small clams (vongole)

1 good sized splash of white wine

1 handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 package spaghetti


Put the pasta pot on to boil, remembering that you need a big pot.

The old saying is: “Pasta likes to swim in water as salty as the sea.”

In a large sauce pan, big enough to hold the clams, warm the olive oil. Firmly crack the garlic and add to the oil. Add the chili pepper and anchovy filet. Stir until the anchovy filet breaks apart and ‘disappears’. (If you are using salted anchovies, wash off the excess salt, debone, and let sit in cold water for a few minutes. Rinse with a bit of vinegar and ‘wring’ the anchovy of excess liquid).

The pasta water should just about be coming to a boil. Add enough salt to make the water as salty as sea water, usually about 1/4 cup or a small handful to a gallon of water. Add the pasta.

Add the clams to the oil, chili pepper, garlic mixture and add a glug of white wine (not too much as the clams will release more liquid than you expect).

Cover and let the clams open, occasionally open the lid and give the clams a good shake.

When the pasta is about a minute away from being done, add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the clam pot. Drain the pasta and add to the clam pot to finish cooking.

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