We are located in Campo Santa Margherita, in Venice, in front of the Orient experience, a restaurant founded and run by refugees and asylum seekers, which serves a mixture of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is a very international place, but also very Venetian, linked to the territory and your social fabric, in short, the ideal place to meet Jane da Mosto.
Born in South Africa and raised in London, she has lived in Venice for almost thirty years: “I would like to be considered Venetian,” she says with a slight British accent, as if to justify herself. This makes me smile a little, because all those who are interested in Venetian things consider it one of the reference points of local civil society, of that slice of the population that fights against the depopulation of the city, uncontrolled mass tourism. and, more generally, the environmental damage to the lagoon.
A few months ago, the world knew her as the lady on the small boat: at the peaceful protest organized by the Venetians against large cruise ships, incompatible with the delicate lagoon environment, she too was standing in the Giudecca canal. aboard a small rowing boat. The photo, taken by chance by the photographer Michele Gallucci, who immortalized her, so small and so decisive, next to a huge cruise ship, ended up in many newspapers, in Italy and abroad.
Jane da Mosto, 55, is a scientist and activist. She seems to me the exact opposite of a pasionaria: she speaks in a calm way, so much so that in the din of the restaurant I struggle a little to hear her, she has a courtesy almost of other times. But in her tone there is also a surgical precision, she punctuates the words well, worried that she will misunderstand some scientific term. She orders a trio of vegetarian dishes, rice with nuts, curried vegetables and palak sabzi, the spinach-based dish popular in the Indian subcontinent, and she tells me her story.
After graduating in zoology at Oxford, she obtained a masters in environmental technology from Imperial college in London: “The name can be misleading, it was about applying the scientific method to environmental issues, which we were beginning to be interested in in academia. just in that period “.
It was the beginning of the nineties, “the Rio years” she calls them, referring to the first world conference of heads of state on the environment: “We were discussing sustainable development, an expression that very few used before”. After completing her studies, she moved to Milan for one fellowship to the Eni Enrico Mattei Foundation: “Our work consisted of trying to understand how to integrate climate change into econometric models and help create indicators for sustainable development”. In 1994 she married a Venetian, and she moved.
Living in Venice, da Mosto immediately realized that the city and the lagoon that surround it are “a microcosm that encompasses many issues that are important everywhere”, she saw “the relevance of the social fabric, the exploitation imposed by tourism mass, climate change, rising sea levels, and the urgent need for radical change ”. She also understood that, despite the declining population and the apartments that give way to bed and breakfasts, the Venetian civil society is alive and active, there are many people who would like to change things. She became convinced that she, as a scientist, could make an important contribution: “I wanted to find a way to combine local experience with fact-based science.”
In 2015 he founded, together with the architect Liza Fior, We are here Venice, a non-profit association which, as stated on the website, is partly a study center and partly an activism platform. We are here Venice participated in the events organized by the No Large Ships Committee that prompted the authorities to remove the largest cruise ships from the heart of the city, starting last summer.
In collaboration with the Ca ‘Foscari University, the association is working on a project funded by the European Union on sandbanks, ie those areas of the lagoon that have emerged or submerged according to the tide (“wetlands” as they are called), and which play a fundamental role for the local ecosystem: the goal, which is part of the European WaterLANDS project, is “to accelerate the renaturalization of the entire lagoon, starting with the typical species of the salt marshes”, he explains. Then there are the workshops and meetings, always with an attitude of openness towards the local community: “It is an exchange of knowledge, they are not only opportunities to sensitize others, but also to learn”.
Chatting with her, I realize that until now I have always considered the social problems and environmental problems of Venice as two separate issues: on the one hand the fact that the city is transforming itself into a place for tourists rather than for the inhabitants, on the other hand the sea level rising due to global warming, soil erosion, flora and fauna that are disappearing. Da Mosto is convinced that this is not the case: “They are two parallel paths, mirrored. Venice is depopulating just like the salt marshes are depopulating and eroding, and if we want to keep the city alive we have to reverse both paths ”, she explains to me. “Venice is the lagoon. Venice cannot be saved without saving the lagoon, and vice versa ”.
Dorsoduro 2920, Campo Santa Margherita, Venice
Tris menu: biryani, kofta and eggplant
Tris menu: rice with walnuts, curried vegetables and palak sabzi
1 small beer
2 glasses of green tea
Total € 32.50