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  • A Ghost Story of the Lagoons
    Page 1

    FOR many centuries the lagoons of Venice have been divided into districts for the purposes of fishing. These tracts of water are not distinguished by any boundaries visible to the eye; but their limits are well known to the fishermen who make their living upon them. In the shallower parts, where the oozy bed of the lagoon is left bare by each receding tide, the fishermen mark off a certain portion, and surround it by a palisade of wattled cane called a grisiola. Inside this palisade the mud is dug into deep ditches, so that there shall always be water in them, even when the tide is low. These enclosures are called valli and here the fish are driven in spring to spawn. Each valle has a little hut belonging to it, built either on piles or on forced soil, and made of bricks or of wattled cane, plastered with mud. The hut usually contains one square room, a door, and two windows. The fishermen require these cabins, for they sometimes spend three or four days together in the remote lagoon, sending their fish to market every morning by one of their number, just as the deep-sea fishers of Chioggia do. In the fifteenth century there were sixty-one of these valli; but many have now been destroyed; and the high tides flow uninterruptedly over the larger portion of the lagoon surface. Those which still exist lie, for the most part, in the remote and little-frequented reaches, and follow closely the line of the mainland, while towards the lidi hardly any are in work.

    The landscape of these distant fishing-grounds is vast and solitary. The sense of loneliness is heightened by the isolated hut, rising square from the water, the only habitation visible. On all sides the seeming-endless plain stretches away. For though these valli lie near the mainland, the earth is so low there that the eye perceives no difference of level, but passes on until it rests at length upon the faint blue Euganean Hills; or, on the other side, across the long grey water levels the sight may range—mile upon mile of pearly surface trending away—till on the very offing it finds Venice, a rosy-orange lotus basking on the water; or the Armenian convent, a burning crimson point; or, further still to the right, some few solitary trees by the port of Malamocco. In the sky, too, is the same feeling of vast expanse. Its tone is usually opaline grey, or filmy blue. But at sunrise or sunset come flashes of richer colour. Now flames of burnished bronze shoot suddenly and far across the levels as the sun's arc gains and surmounts the horizon; the bronze mellows into gold, as the sun rises, and fades at length into the paler and clearer yellow of pure daylight. Or again, as the sun sinks, the whole heavens will be lit up and glow, an illuminated scroll in orange, crimson, and purple; then that splendour too dies away and leaves the sky a pale translucent blue, just melting into green where the first star trembles.

    It is a solitary life these fishermen lead in the middle of this vast sweep. Ranging the lagoon, you may meet them either quite alone or in groups of five or six dotted about at distances of four or five hundred yards. Their figures look strange as they stand rigid in the stern of the long, light boat, the prow tilted up out of the water; each erect black silhouette with shoulder bare and fishing spear poised motionless in hand; the shadow still upon the lagoon below him; and all around the mellowing grey of air and sky and sea. Or more strange and fascinating still when the men are fishing with nets, and the drumming and booming that they make to frighten the fish sounds like some weird incantation across the water.

    And the very names of some of these valli have a suggestion of the uncanny about them—the Val dell'Inferno, or the Valle dei Sette Morti, for example. Of the Valle dei Sette Morti there is a story current among the gondoliers and fishermen.

    Page 2 >

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    Brown, Horatio F. In and Around Venice. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905. 165-170

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