Thursday, February 12, 2009


This particular seaweed was especially noticeable in the spring of 2007. I was staying in Castello at the time and I would see it every day walking along the canal in front of the Arsenale.

At first I was taken by the graceful way it swirled in the wake of passing boats; then I saw it on a Sunday when there were no boats and the tide was uncharacteristically still. It looked like the swirling braids carved in baroque picture frames or the amazing stucco work on the ceilings and walls of sixteenth century palaces. At other times it moved in a sinuous dance, driven by the action of the waves along the sides of the canal, flinging it against the mossy stone stairs. It brought to mind the carved stonework that trims the crests of the arches on the facade of the Basilica of San Marco.

Most of it grew fringelike from the stones lining the sides of the canal; some of it grew up from the bottom in sinuous stalks, rising to the surface like the exploratory tentacles of submerged creature. It clearly had an expansionist foreign policy.

Out came the camera. It became an obsession. The seaweed changed with the light, the conditions of the water, the day of the week, growing ever more florid.

Later I found out that it is an extremely unwelcome guest who snuck into the lagoon on the keels of ships, perhaps from China (remember the massive lake cleaning prior to the Beijing Olympics? They harvested so much seaweed you could see it from outer space... Left to its own devices, this particular seaweed would proliferate exponentially and choke the life out of the lagoon.

An interesting paradox: gorgeous and deadly. That is the formula of the most scintillating femmes fatales in literature and history.

To me it's a metaphor. Inexpressible beauty is married to extraordinary danger in this garden of which we are the stewards.

For now the seaweed, which was shorn away, is under control. It's growing back, not quite like it was, but with the potential to wipe everything else out. It can't be entirely eradicated, only controlled.


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