Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The LN Line

I caught the LN (Laguna Nord) boat on the Riva degli Schiavoni at the farthest of the San Zaccharia docks east of San Marco. The boat for San Servolo and the Amenian monastery of San Lazzaro degli Armeni (No. 20) leaves from here as well.

This boat is not a usual vaporetto, however. It's not a vaporetto at all. It is a two-deck commuter line, new and shiny, and the front cabin has windows all the way around so you can see directly in front of you (the bridge is above). It is a distinctly superior way to travel. The distance between stops is greater and it makes fewer of them. It's like the difference between a commuter bus and a light rail in a normal city.

The first stop is Lido, and as soon as we leave Lido we head past the channel opening into the Adriatic, making a lazy loop around the new island that is being built in the center of the channel on the lagoon side. It is part of the vast MOSE project to mount massive flood gates which will rise up from the lagoon floor and hold back the Adriatic during abnormal tidal surges (acqua alta). The gates will close the channels at either side of the new island between between Lido on the south and Lido di Jesoso on the north. In their prone position, they create an interesting new environmental challenge for the local marine life. Go HERE for a good overview of the MOSE project from NPR.

Once beyond Lido on this clear, sunny day, you see the magnificent arc of the surrounding mountains. They run from the northeast almost to Vicenza in the west. They are perfectly visible, covered with snow, and from this vantage the lagoon disappears behind the islands and there is nothing but a green carpet rising up to the knees of the snow-covered Alps.

In the opposite direction you can see the long flank of San Erasmo, which, until a century ago, operated as a natural barrier against the tidal surges. The frequency and intensity of these surges, according to the informational billboard on the fencing outside the MOSE project, escalated dramatically in the twentieth century, due in part to "improvements" in the mouth of the lagoon. (MOSE is an acronym for (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico or Electromechanical Experimental Module.) San Erasmo, which used to stopper the tidal flow into the lagoon, is larger than Venice proper but instead of palazzi and people it is covered with farms which supply the city with produce including the prized castauri artichokes, and, increasingly, residential development.

During the twentieth century the mouth of the lagoon was given a facelift. Stone jetties were thrust into the Adriatic, creating a triumphal entry for the ocean liners that stream in and out constantly during the season. Massive heaps of stone and pieces of concrete shaped like jacks, the toys for little girls, were mounted on either side of the channel to create the twin jetties, each with a lighthouse at its terminus. The channel was cleared and deepened and widened, and along with all the ocean liners came higher water than ever, the natural barriers having been compromised.The area behind the jetties was filled in with sand cleared from the lagoon. It's not hard to imagine the funneling of a tidal surge by these jetties, pointing it directly at San Erasmo, where it swirls into the surrounding lagoon.

The next stop after Lido is Punta Sabbioni, the southern extremity of Lido di Jesolo. From Punta Sabbioni north are the beach campgrounds which fill with campers from everywhere as soon as it is warm. Fortunately, it is too early for them today. The beach curves north, wide and empty. Between the vaporetto stop and the beach are farms. Via Dante Alleghieri runs from the vaporetto stop and parking lots around the edge of the channel and the MOSE construction and up to the beaches and campgrounds. There is a thin fringe of bars and restaurants and then the broad sweep of the beaches.

As you walk along Via Dante Alighieri, you can appreciate the massive scope of the MOSE project. In addition to building an island in the center of channel to mount the floodgates, both sides are being buttressed with terraces, some areas reserved for public use, including marinas, and some areas used for the technical operation. The project is as contested as it is ambitious, and feelings run high on the subject. The "No MOSE" folks are concerned about its long-term impact on the lagoon and also point out that there are less costly alternatives, partial solutions that are less invasive and damaging and possibly more pratical and with a better long-term prognosis. They tend to view MOSE as another huge government boondoggle, and endless money pit, with high potential for graft and corruption and incompetence. It's not an unreasonable position. The Pro-MOSE camp vaunts it as a brilliant high-tech solution to the increasingly high and frequent tidal surges that threaten to swamp the lagoon and flood the city.

Like it or not, MOSE is proceeding, but like all the big projects here, it proceeds very slowly.

From Punta Sabbioni the boat goes to Treporti, the northernmost stop on the line, and the farthest you can go by vaporetto. Lido di Jesolo runs northward from Treporti, to Cavallino and eventually the city of Jesolo, at the juncture with the mainland. From Treporti you can rent bicycles for excursions into the salt marshes that characterize the nothern extremity of the lagoon, the Laguna Morte, dead lagoon. It is still early in the season and nothing is quite open.

From Treporti you head to Burano (with its link to Torcello), Murano, and then Fondamenta Nove.

There are plenty of pictures in the [ GALLERY]. For more about Torcello, see below.

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