As today is the most important General Election in living memory, and the most disgraceful campaign in living memory, let's talk about the weather. A lover of wild weather, so long as I'm at home watching from the window, last week's wind and rain were a treat. There's something comforting about the sound of whistling wind and driving rain battering against the window.
Many years ago, my boss and I used to daydream about taking a storm-chasing holiday in the US Midwestern states which are highly prone to tornado activity. Of course, the reality would likely be terrifying and 'Tornado Alley' tourism does seem a tad insensitive, to put it mildly. A tornado sprang up in the Med this year off the coast of Formentera and even I was surprised at my unadulterated joy seeing one, albeit a squirt of a thing, for the first time.
Although not an extreme weather event, I was reminded of this watching the news on Monday with extraordinary footage of the erupting volcano on New Zealand's White island, a popular tourist destination. I can understand why tourists take a trip to the island, the buzz of excitement visiting somewhere so dangerous. But this time, catastrophe struck. As more detail emerged of the scale of the disaster, as I write this, at least six people have died and a further eight are feared to have perished.
New Zealand police have launched an investigation, possibly a criminal one, into the eruption of NZ's 'rowdiest' and most active cone volcano. Not an investigation into the eruption itself (which is how I first ludicrously read it), which was entirely God's fault, but to look into whether anyone is responsible for the deaths and injuries. In short, should the privately-owned White Island have been operating as a dangerous tourist destination? For those of us who have a rather cavalier attitude to risk and its associated thrills, chances are taken, for sure. But more rational types would retort we need our heads examined. Indeed.
Although I've been in Italy many times, I've never visited Venice, the shimmering gem of European culture. A special trip was planned at some point in the future, possibly in a February or November, in the hope that the number of tourists would be reduced. Now I guess I'll never see it in its full glory, following the city's deluge by floodwaters from tidal surges last month. The historic flooding, causing the Italian Government to declare a state of emergency, is the worst in a century, highlighting Venice's vulnerability.
Flooding of 70% of the city prompted the mayor to blame climate change, in obvious conflict with the Veneto regional council. Located on Venice's Grand Canal, the council was flooded for the first time in its history just minutes after it rejected measures to combat climate change. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Perhaps global warming is to blame, who knows. But the unrelenting drive for more and more tourist hordes to invade this fragile city, who have done more damage to the city than Napolean in 1797, must have something to do with it.
Strategic dredging to bring massive cruise ships right into downtown Venice has played its part to upset the delicate balance of the waterways. Furthermore, the flood barriers meant to protect the city, have been delayed by bureaucratic incompetence, wrangling and corruption. Even more damning, when the flood barriers become operational at some point in the future, they will rise at 110cm. But San Marco Piazza, at its lowest point, is 80cm. Why on earth would they do that? Apparently, so as not to interfere with the passage of these monstrous ships full of selfie-takers.
In February 1992, in the halcyon days, I visited Italy for the first time. Although the weather was miserable, I was enchanted. In Pisa, I marvelled at the tower's angle. No photograph of it, nor of the astounding Field of Miracles with its monumental Campo Santo, does it justice. And here's the thing, there were hardly any tourists. When I entered the Duomo, I was completely alone.
Similarly, I was truly awestruck by Florence's Duomo. It was pretty dirty back then, but the sheer majesty of the cathedral, bell tower and famous baptistery, was breathtaking. In Rome, on the same trip, I wandered into the Vatican. No queues, then. There at the entrance was the most beautiful object I'd ever clapped eyes on then or since: Michelangelo's Pieta
, carved from a single slab of Carrera marble. I ran by hands over the cool, smooth stone, the detail and touch of it I'll never forget. Now, it is locked in a recess behind bullet-proof glass.
There is talk now of surrounding San Marco Basilica with glass to protect it from future flooding. I guess I'll never see Venice as it was intended to be seen. It's a good thing, imagination.
Finally, back to this awful General Election. I predict, with my mighty political antennae, one of three outcomes: Johnson will win; Corbyn will win; a hung parliament. There, sorted. Oh, the joy of it.