Leonardo’s Ferry Left High and Dry by Global Warming and Red Tape

On a recent sunny morning on the banks of the Adda River in northern Italy, schoolchildren on a school excursion to Imbersago (“Leonardo da Vinci’s ferry town”) gathered beside a moored boat to see how their guides would react. I listened to her explain how the ship had traveled. The flight of river birds, their rock formations, and the movements of their ships inspired Leonardo’s genius.

“Why aren’t you moving?” one of the students interrupted by pointing to a ferry parked behind a chained ferry and a sign that said “Out of service.” It looked like a deserted summer deck on top of two rowboats.

“You need water high enough for the current to move it,” replied Sara Asperti, 45. Well then, if you are interested, go ahead. ”

Since at least 500 years ago, when the opposite bank of the Adda belonged to the Principality of Milan and the Republic of Venice, ferries have been sailing over a narrow stretch of the river with water currents and ropes. Leonardo spent a lot of time in the area, sketched Around 1513 the motorless ferry was invented. He was later credited with inventing or improving the ferry, but locals say no one knows for sure.

For the past 100 years, replicas of the original ferry have connected Italy’s provinces of Lecco and Bergamo, where knit factory workers commuted, young Pope John XXIII visited his favorite shrines, and more recently tourists and cyclists. Enjoying the trails and yellows of nature. Rapeseed field.

But just a year after Italy’s worst drought in 70 years and much of Europe gasping for more rain, northern Italy’s dry winter gave way to a dry spring. changed to In Piedmont, water tanks already supply drinking water to small mountain villages. The Po River Valley, normally lush and rice-rich, is parched. In March, MPs brandishing river stones collected from the dry Adige River denounced the inaction of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“I am not Moses,” she replied.

This month, the government established a task force to tackle the rainfall shortage. This is also the swan gliding over very low water to the emergence of an island, rowing boats beached and hitting the last one, the Adda, which the town calls the “Leonardesque” ferry. It has become a permanent landmark.

As Imbersago Mayor Fabio Bergani said as he sat on a ferry big enough for three cars and dozens of people, “When it comes to monuments and static things, it makes sense.” The boat was a tourist draw and an economic engine, but more importantly, “it’s a family jewel in town, and you can’t leave it without.”

The mayor said Ferry’s tragic incident was “evidence of a global problem”. He continued: We are feeling the real effect. North Africa’s problems may become a reality in Southern Europe. Lack of rain and desertification of the territory. ”

But some townspeople say a problem in Italy more daunting than climate change is the real reason the ferries have been stuck since May.

“Bureaucracy,” said John Kodala, who runs a gelato shop next door to the ferry.

Since the last ferry operator left to run more profitable water taxis on Lake Como, no one has made a €4,500 annual concession, even though the town has thrown in mountain bike rentals as a sweetener to the deal. is not bidding to take over.

The mayor said no one wanted to operate the ferry because it would not work in weak currents, and tried to explain it to Ms. Kodala at the cafe. But the gelato maker wasn’t buying it. However, he was confident that the ferry’s technology could handle the low tide.

“So Leonardo wasn’t stupid,” he said under a framed photo of Leonardo. He demonstrated how the ferry works with a small wooden model made by a local pensioner. At €500, or nearly $550, the operator claimed he needed grease to move his elbows across the cable connecting the two banks due to low water levels and weak currents. bottom.

“This is Ferry’s power,” Mr. Kodala said, pointing to his biceps.

What they didn’t need was an advanced nautical degree. “Harvard, Harvard, Harvard,” Mr. Kodala said sneeringly, pointing to names. “They all went to Harvard.”

Roberto Spada, 75, said his father was one of the ferrymen, he helped navigate the ferry when he was 12, and is interested in helping the town by volunteering to run the boats again.

Spada told the mayor as he leaned against other signs posted next to the ferry that feature both Leonardo’s sketches and excerpts from Dante’s “Inferno” about Charon. ”

Mr. Spada, a former truck driver and president of the local fishing association whose logo is the ferry, had a boating license, but the mayor said all the credentials he had to jump over to steer the ferry. and explained the bureaucratic procedures, and seemed perplexed. ferry.

“This is a really long process,” Mayor Vergani said.

Meanwhile, the river is at one of its lowest depths in decades.

Volunteers tending the flowerbeds along the river bank noticed that the soil was very dry, so they put down hoes and used leaf blowers to clear it up. The cyclist straddled the chain and clicked her cycling shoes onto the ferry platform, taking pity on the low water levels of the river. One of them, his 63-year-old Roberto Valsecchi, recalls taking a ferry crossing in his car as a teenager, saying that the scanty snowfall on the ski slopes this winter “would make this summer I was worried that I would suffer.

Bergani said officials at Lake Como, which supplies water to the river, should store water and “keep the taps closed” to ensure the survival of the lake itself, even if the skies open. The situation looked bleak. Hydroelectric power plants in the area had already begun to distribute water.

Giuseppina Di Paola, 64, has stopped feeding geese and used to ride her mountain bike on the ferry, but now walks along the shore and says, “I found a lot of dead fish. ” he said.

70-year-old Flavio Besana, the local park’s environmental guard, spent his holidays walking the centuries-old trail along the river. He is Leonardo’s “Virgin of the Rocks

“Usually all of that is covered in water,” Bethana said, pointing to the bottom of the rock. “I haven’t seen a river like this in 40 years.”

A large wooden model of a ferry adorns the roundabout near the small town center of Imbersago. The loss of major attractions means weekday tourism is dwindling. His 66-year-old Valentino Riva, whose father was a ferryman in his 1970s, reminisced on more vibrant days ironing shirts at his dry-cleaning shop outside her square in Maine. rice field.

“There used to be people in the square,” he said with a hiss of iron. “That era is over”

Evening came, the breeze of the day had died down, and the river was as quiet as a tar pit. Across the sea, on the Bergamo side, 64-year-old Angela her Maestroni was sitting with her husband, Leonardo da Her Maestroni, next to her Via Vinci, in front of a small port where no ferries come and go. They remembered commuting by ferry, watched birds, and wondered about the future.

“There are months without rain,” she said. “Summer is hotter. Last year the sun burned everything.”

Just then, a light drizzle fell from the sky, puncturing the river and finding the ferry on the opposite bank. Then it suddenly stopped in the same way and the sky cleared.

“It’s two drops,” she said. “Not enough.”

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