Today's "La Nuova Venezia" newspaper (21 June 2005) reports that an twenty-one year-old American tourist from Illinois was fined yesterday for swimming in the Grand Canal, and said, "I didn't know it was illegal."
Illegal, nothing! As the newspaper story continued, the waters of the Grand Canal are "fetid" and "as polluted with chemicals and bacteria as you can imagine" (translation mine). Now, it's not really at all as bad as Love Canal, but it's certainly not clean, by any stretch of the imagination! (After all, while most Venetian buildings have septic tanks which accumulate solid waste, grey water often goes directly into the canals, to be flushed away at the lagoon's next change of tide!) During one of my many odd jobs, I once took a group of Romanian high school students around Venice, and they wanted to see really nothing other than the crypt of the Indiana Jones' library that had been a church (which, by the way, doesn't really exist!) Their last day, for fun, I took them for a quick ferry ride in a gondola across the Grand Canal. And, smack dab in the middle, one kid reached in and grabbed a handful of water and drank it! I was so shocked that I started shouting at him in Italian to spit it out... but, problem was, he didn't speak Italian! By the time I realized it was the wrong language and switched back to English, he'd already swallowed it. I was thankful that it was my last day leading them around, cuz I'd have hated to have seen the aftermath! :)
So, be warned... there's water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink (or swim in!!!!)