Published: August 2009



Vanishing Venice

The world tugs at the lovely hem of the city Thomas Mann called "half fairy tale and half tourist trap."

By Cathy Newman
Photograph by Jodi Cobb

Nowhere in Italy, where calamity comes embellished with rococo gestures and embroidered in exclamation points, is there a crisis more beautifully framed than Venice. Neither land nor water, but shimmering somewhere in between, the city lifts like a mirage from a lagoon at the head of the Adriatic. For centuries it has threatened to vanish beneath the waves of the acqua alta, relentlessly regular flooding caused by the complicity of rising tides and sinking foundations, but that is the least of its problems.

Just ask Mayor Massimo Cacciari, broody, mercurial professor of philosophy, fluent in German, Latin, Ancient Greek; translator of Sophocles' Antigone; a man who raises the level of political intellect to just short of the stratosphere. Ask about the acqua alta and Venice sinking, and he says, "So go get boots." Let them wear boots.

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