In the 1955 film, Summertime, set in Venice, there's a scene where Kate Hepburn takes a step backward while posing for a photo and falls into a canal in Campo San Barnaba. She later blamed the dip for an eye infection that is apocryphally said to have plagued her for the rest of her life. But according to author Kevin Brownlow, La Hepburn used to routinely swim in the canals after dusk, and "her attempt to blame the film company for her ailment was just a bluff" .
Bluff or not, swimming in a rio is massively bad idea. Plainly put: the canals are Venice's toilet. While there are plans under consideration to change this, raw sewage mainlines right into the acqua, as it has for centuries. The tide sorta scrubs the waterways clean (in theory) twice a day ... but still ... you get the picture.
I've seen kids on Sacca Fisola in the middle of a heatwave jumping in the Canale Della Giudecca. But that's essentially a deep-channel river, so most of them likely lived to tell about it. Take a dip in a slow-running, shallow canal, however, and you're splashing and follicking with leviathan quantities of your good pal Escherichia coli.
Lord Byron used to prove his manliness with epic nude swims from the Lido to the end of the Canal Grande. Then again, he died at 36.
Despite all this, occasional crank tourists, amazingly, still strip down to their Speedos and make like vaporettos. Veniceblog reader David, from the UK, just drew my attention to a recent news report from the Italian press agency ANSA which descibed a 31-year-old Australian tourista who:
"was apparently an excellent swimmer and quite ready to cover the half kilometre between the Rialto bus stop and his hotel in Piazza San Marco in the water - even if it was 4 o’clock in the morning."