April 24th, 2015


River of dreams

Walking to work in Padova had the benefit of walking along and crossing the series of artificial canals, some dating to Roman times, that flow from the Brenta through the city. The bridges, likewise, date from the Roman Republic up to the 1800s, with the Ponte de Ferro built in 1881. Two of the Roman bridges carry vehicle traffic, and two are buries under a covered-over canal. One of the newer bridges faces the Specola observatory, which is built on the tower of the citadel which which built around the year 1000, and during good weather a localc painter sets up there and paints the Specola ad nauseum in the same leary impressionist oranges and reds and blues. The medieval bridges have coats of arms carved in their balastrades, and one such has a waterfall and an atmospheric pizzeria nearby, on a stretch of the riveria that cars rarely use.

One branch of the canals, the Naviglio, has a retaining wall on one side from the 1500s, dating from before other canals were cut to channel water to the Venetian lagoon without flooding Padova. It is still possible to tell from the height of the river when Venice will flood, and when the flood has passed and the water drops, how long before the flood-relief measures are turned off and the river rises again to its normal level. These measures, I was told, include natural caverns, expanded recently (though what recent means in a place with such a long memory is unknown), which are flooded and then pumped empty when need arises.

Tiger mosquitos, originally from Indonesia but introduced to parts of Europe, breed in the waters and make housing near the canals, like mine, unbearable in summer without netting. Their bites last for over a week.

In the winter, when the atmospheric conditions are right, fog eminates from the canals and bathes the city. Walking home under the street lights when the fog is so thick you can't see the other side of the canal, the setting is reminiscent of film noir.

On one such occasion, walking past the canal with the old retaining wall, now pierced with iron gates for river access, I saw an animal, larger than a cat and much heavier.

To be continued.