15 July, 2006

51. Canal dump

I noticed a girl walking her dog on a leash somewhere in Santa Croce (although, to be fair, it wasn't this girl, nor either of these dogs, I wasn't quick enough that day. This picture was taken in Dorsoduro).

The young woman was in a hurry and walking briskly towards a bridge. The dog got to the bridge and decided to shit at the bottom of the steps. Her handler watched impatiently, tapping her feet while her dog crouched and completed his business. When the dog had finished, she fished a sheet of newspaper out of her bag, picked up most (but not all) of the poop with it, and then tossed poop and paper both into the canal. And walked on, up and over the bridge.

I stood where I was, momentarily shocked. How could she do that? How could she just throw her shitty rubbish into the canal like that? In Venice, for goodness sake! How could she befoul this precious fragile jewel of a city by throwing dogcrap into its uniquely picturesque waterways?

Then it occurred to me that I had witnessed something very commonplace and trivial compared to many of the things that the citizens of Venice must have dumped in their canals since the city began. The canals in Venice are reputed to be smelly and dirty, but today they are generally not nearly as foul as their reputation. You wouldn't choose to swim in them, and at low water on a warm day, the black sludge at the bottom of the shallower channels is sometimes partially revealed and is more than a bit whiffy, but what would you expect? Even then, it's not much smellier than the decomposing sludge at the bottom of my ornamental fish pond.

Go back a century or two, and the canals would have been far worse. Then they would have been open sewers, relying on the tide to gradually take the effluent of the city out beyond the lagoon. The canals of Venice have survived all manner of temporary insult, and still refreshed themselves.

One day the young Venetian and her dog – and us – will all be long gone, but other dogs will still be crapping in the canals, the canals will still be here, accepting our refuse and disposing of it, and Venice will still be Venice.

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