When you look at the interior of most gondolas, you’ll notice a common theme: black. Some brass trim is present here and there, seat cushions are usually black but other colors can be seen such as red, and blue. The most common accent color is the floorboard paint. Gondola floorboards, or “pagioi” are usually painted in a theme color with the edges scalloped in black to tie into the boat’s interior. The theme color on many gondolas is red, although blue is commonly seen as well (see the other gondola in the photo). Some rare exceptions do exist; they are often done in a unique hue and can really catch the eye of a gondola fanatic. I’ll cover some of those eye catchers in another post. In this post I want to spotlight a gondola that doesn’t have an accent color – it has something much more impressive: varnished wood.
The gondola in this photo is exceptional on so many levels.
First there’s the look; most gondolas have varnished wood, but it’s only in a few small places. One look at this gondola and you know that it’s special. It’s not “one among many gondolas owned by the cooperative”. Many private owners set their boats apart by using non-traditional colors, but this guy took it to a new level.
Second, there’s the maintenance; so few gondola owners are willing to commit to the upkeep of so much varnished wood. Whoever owns this boat needs to do twice, or three times the work to keep her passenger area looking good. Most guys can just slap another coat of paint on – never worrying about anything but good adhesion. That’s the beauty of paint – you can cover up yesterday’s sins with today’s paint. With varnish, you must take great pain to make sure everything looks good before you varnish – leave something undone, and it will remain on display for all to see until the next time you tool up to recoat. Mix it incorrectly or apply it in the wrong conditions and you may end up with a milky, translucent look, or what I like to call “raisin skin”. Of course there are ways to mess up even worse with varnish but usually you have to be either reckless or stupid to venture into such territory.
On top of all the above, the guy who maintains this beauty must sand each and every corner before varnishing. With a black interior, you can often get away with “skipping” some of the more hidden corners when sanding and painting; I’m not so sure this guy can get away with such corner-cutting. If you look closely, you’ll see parts of the varnish that reflected the flash from my camera. Great varnish, not so great photographer.
I also like the cavalli (brass horses), which are usually left with the brass finish. This boat appears to have nickel plated ones instead – a nice contrast against so much warm varnished wood.
If you’ve seen the Vogalonga or Regata Storica, you know that varnish is not unusual in Venice. In fact there are many all-varnished boats within the many clubs in the Veneto. It is rare to find so much varnish on a passenger gondola. It shows an enviable level of dedication.
The true test with this boat will be whether she is kept up. I speak from experience when I say: anyone with money can buy or commission a beautiful boat – it’s quite another thing to maintain one.