Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Outsider's Guide to Secret Venice, Part 2: The Regional Weather Control Center

The aggressively unassuming Regional Weather Control Center

As is the case for any number of our society's most venerated Truths, the origins of the Regional Weather Control Center in Venice, or RWCC, are shrouded in mystery, and are admittedly rather dubious.

Located in the waters just a short distance off Fondamenta Nove, the discovery of the top-secret site by my son Sandro and I was spurred by a long unbroken string of oppressively gray days during the second winter we lived in here.

We usually have no problem with sunless days during the winter; we expect them. But this particular stretch had gone on for far too long, without even a brief tease of sunlight, and with no hint of ever ending. So long, in fact, that Sandro and I couldn't help but start to wonder if something had jammed up the gears that usually kept our weather systems moving through at a slower or swifter pace, and if the person responsible for minding them had fallen asleep at--or even vacated--his or her post.

For elsewhere, as we could see on national news reports, meteorological conditions varied at least a little from day to day as usual. Only here in the lagoon had everything seemed to stall.

We pondered the question of why.

But we didn't hit upon any kind of satisfying answer until we stumbled into thinking about it in terms of where. Where did weather patterns originate?

Well, as it turned out, from a shabby little structure we passed nearly every day on the number 4.1 or 4.2 vaporetto line, while going to or coming from Sandro's kindergarten.

Indeed, one might take it as concrete evidence of the sheer brilliance of the RWCC creator (or creators) that it is essentially hidden in plain sight.

Like the earliest dwellings in the lagoon, as described in a letter to Theodoric the Ostrogoth by his prefect Cassiodorus in the year 523, the RWCC is stilted just above the surface of the water. Though it, in contrast to those sea bird-like homes of the earliest inhabitants, is constructed not of "osier and wattle" but bricks and cement. While the earliest lagoon structures must have been quite susceptible to drafts, the windowless RWCC appears impervious even to light.

No image of the interior has ever been disseminated, but according to those who have studied, or at least speculated on the matter (my then 5-year-old son and myself), the RWCC is manned by a solitary occupant who tracks national and regional weather conditions on a bank of computer monitors--many of them displaying a live feed from a far-flung battery of surveillance cameras--that nearly fills the small space.*

Based upon these regionally-oriented screens, along with a constant stream of information on broader weather conditions (both in Italy and internationally), the indefatigable controller adjusts meteorological conditions in the lagoon (temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, wind, etc) with an extensive array of levers--rather like those used backstage to raise the curtain or dim the lights for live theatrical performances. For finer adjustments there is also a selection of precisely-calibrated dials.

The fact that the RWCC bears a very general resemblance to the larger, windowed, wooden tidal monitoring (or hydrographic) station you can see near the Punta della Dogana has led to speculation that it was built around the same time. But there is no other evidence to support such a conjecture and, indeed, such a notion raises more questions than it resolves. Chief among them: Where was the RWCC previously located?

Moreover, the differences between the two structures are far more striking than any vague similarity. Unlike the tidal monitoring post, the RWCC is aggressively plain, even downright forbidding: it is both inscrutable and impregnable.

Which, of course, makes perfect sense. For while nobody ever complains about the tides, everyone--as the old saying goes--complains about the weather, though no ever does anything about it.

The appearance of the RWCC--at once inconspicuous and off-putting--seems specifically designed to forestall the possibility that anyone might even be tempted to try.

Not that Sandro and I haven't once or twice over the last few years been driven by a particularly nasty stretch of weather to talk about taking our little boat to the RWCC and pounding on its door to complain. But the consequences of such a rash and unprecedented action are unknown, and, moreover, the power of certain mysterious truths depends upon them never being put to the test.

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*Though interior space is limited, it is not so cramped as a purely external perusal of the structure suggest: the shape, proportions, and materials of the structure's exterior being cleverly designed to appear substantially diminished in the particular lighting conditions of the lagoon.  

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