Return to the Lagoon

The second part of this lagoon assignment was quite a lottery. On my first visit, I realized the weather in Venice is completely unpredictable. And in October, you cannot rely on any of the long term forecasts. Hell, you can’t even rely on short term forecasts.

I spent most of October comparing long term forecasts for Venice, trying to figure out which of them might be right. And each one of them was different. They even opposed each other. It was important to aim for a period of sunny weather. I planned on staying in a hostel again and doing all that I still needed to do, including aerial photography. But I was going nuts over the forecasts. One day, they predicted clear weather during my preferred week, the next day it showed the whole week full of clouds and rain. What the hell?!

When it stabilized and I finally knew when the sun will come out, it was a week before my departure. But making a room reservation a week before is again a lottery. And I’m the kind of guy who can’t get two numbers out of seven right at a lottery, so the hostel was full. But since an Indian summer was predicted I figured a longer period of sunshine was ahead, so I simply postponed my departure for three days.

The lagoon floor…

As it turned out, the forecast changed and the date of my departure coincided with an onset of a long period of nearly cataclysmic weather. Yap, that sounds like my luck.

So I cancelled my reservation and went to plan B. Going broke. Best way to do it is to drive to Venice and back for as many times as needed during the only week that will still have any sunshine. But the good part is that I went bankrupt in company. Nina joined me when I went to the North Lagoon on Tuesday. Summary of the day: a hundred thousand mosquitos.

We drove very deep into the lagoon, surrounded by mudflats and salt marshes. I know now why there’s so few people outside there. Because it’s literally a horror movie scenario. Imagine stepping out of the car and immediately getting swamped by swarms of mosquitos trying to suck you dry from every patch of exposed skin. A mosquito repellant here doesn’t even work the entire time it should. It just wears off half way through. And the minute it does, the bloodsuckers are all over you. So it took soaking myself in the repellant. In addition to that, it took dressing up as a ninja at dusk. Good thing I don’t smoke, because I’d seriously risk bursting in flames with so much flammable repellant on me.

 

We drove around using small roads meandering through the lagoon, stopping along the way to photograph the patterns and birds. Everything went according to plan. I knew all the stops and all the locations even though I’ve never been there. Google maps satellite imagery is awesome.

A few days earlier, we came to a solution about the helicopter flight. We were of course looking for very good visibility, sunny weather. I dropped the idea of doing it while I’m there for a week. That plan failed anyway. So the pilot was supposed to inform me a day earlier that we can do the flight the next day, any day, and he did. Right when we were in the middle of the lagoon that Tuesday. I expected it, because that week was practically the last sunny week of the autumn. In fact, the weather in Italy has been catastrophic ever since.

I got the message in the evening, when Nina was mostly hiding in the car and I was taking pictures while fighting demons. At least that’s what it looked like when I kept slapping myself and waving my arms around to fend off continuous attacks of mosquitos.

We left for home when it went dark and we took some of our bloodsucking friends with us. We killed them one by one. My stupid gps wanted to go to Trieste again, but I ignored it (I learned my lesson) and went straight to the highway. That didn’t stop me from cursing the hell out of the stupid thing.

The next day we drove back again, the both of us, because assistants of course are allowed to join me on the flight. And we were right on time. The Nicelli Airport is on Lido island and I have to say Heliair Venice is quite busy flying people around. It’s really something to see the lagoon from the air, although most people only take the five-minute flight and see the real lagoon only from afar, but they see Venice. Well, my focus was on the lagoon and other islands. They removed the door for us and we took off so gently that I didn’t even notice when we started lifting. In fact, the flight was extremely calm, which is something I wasn’t used to from a helicopter. But then again I did only fly in the Bell 412 helicopters. This was much smaller. It looked like something you get in a Kinder Surprise.

Helicopter fuel is extremely expensive, which is why we had a stop watch in the cockpit. In those thirty minutes or a bit more we had to cover everything I needed, the patterns of the lagoon, mudflats, salt marshes, the islands of the north lagoon, barrier islands, the murazzi wall and especially the MOSE project construction sites on the lagoon inlets.

That was basically the end of the story. The rest of the day was mostly relaxing and enjoying Venice. We had our twelve-hour vaporetto tickets and a whole day ahead of us, so we decided to go see the place I liked the most. Pellestrina. After sunset, we went back to Venice in the quest for the runner-up in our best pizza competition that has now extended beyond the borders of Slovenia. Unfortunately, the best things do not come easy. Again, we missed the day that Gianni restaurant is open. But I overheard the waiters in the restaurant next to it talking about how they take turns, so now I know which days I’ll be able to get that number 2 pizza. :) Not that I’ll be travelling to Venice very often, especially because of what happened next.

No, I wasn’t banned from entering Venice for some reason. I had one part of the story yet to photograph. The reason why we were actually addressing the issue of protecting the lagoon. The floods. One of the worst floods came quite early. I actually didn’t believe it’ll happen so soon. I was monitoring the tides on my Venice tide forecasting app on my cell phone, and when the alert showed red for Wednesday, November 1st, I couldn’t really believe it. So again I waited and when it became clear that it really would be extreme (140 cm), I decided to go. Logistics was pretty tricky this time. Because I couldn’t park very far from the city. For the sake of carrying all the gear. My camera in an underwater bag, another camera … I had to put on my neoprene waders that I use for fishing. So this time we parked at Piazzale Roma which only has full day fee of 24 eur. Well, not a problem generally, but I did kind of went bankrupt a few hours earlier…

Yeah, well… I realized I had 11 eur in my account when I stopped at a gas station. Luckily I had enough cash on me. It turned out that the whole story, although so close and although I kept to the cheapest options, was still devastating for someone working as a freelance photographer in Slovenia. Old news, I know, but I never had proof. I do now.

On November 1st, the tide in Venice was at about 130 cm. 50% of Venice or more was flooded. It took us almost an hour to get to Piazza San Marco. Tourists walked on boardwalks. Some were wearing boots, others wore plastic waders that could be purchased all over Venice. Most of them were taking pictures of the square and other sites, but almost half of them were taking pictures of an idiot submerging his camera in the water. They stopped next to me or in front and stared at me like I’m some natural wonder. They just couldn’t get their heads around it. Not only did they stop and stare, they actually came closer and started taking pictures of me. My hobo feeling is not yet entirely developed (but will have to develop soon when this country finally destroys all the unconnected little people, without relatives in high positions that could provide them with jobs) so it didn’t occur to me to start collecting money. :) Every show has tickets, right? There you go.

And if I could’ve made some money in show business, Nina could’ve made some in services. :) For some reason, everybody thought she was the best person to ask if she could take a picture of them with their camera. Well, they would’ve asked both of us, but since most of the time I was pointing my ass at them while bending over dipping my camera in the water, they targeted Nina. Some asked for a whole photo session.

If you think that’s funny, try taking some really good pictures when someone in the photo keeps staring at you. I don’t want that. I’m not here, remember? Fly on the wall. A seagull in a flooded square. A pigeon. Stop starring at my gear! :)

Despite all the precautions not to get wet and not to get the camera wet, only the camera got out dry. I was wet, Nina was soaked, and I was tired as hell, because wading through all that water in those clumsy waders is not a walk in the park.

The entire story consisted of around 8650 photos. Imagine editing this thing down to a hundred or less.

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