There aren’t very many of them these days, but you can still spot one from time to time. They are most often seen at large gondola operations in Venice. Their name: “Ganzer”, is as unique as the Venetian dialect it comes from. Nereo Zane (born and raised in Venice) tells me that a “ganso” (“gancio” in proper Italian) is a hook. So “ganzer” can be translated into “hooker”. Yes, yes, feel free to insert your favorite off-color joke here. The hook we are talking about here is a boat hook, which is fastened to the end of a short pole and used to help pull the gondola in. I’ve seen photos of old, ornate boat-hooks from Venice – decorated with gold coins and precious stones, but whenever I’ve seen the men who use the hooks in Venice, they’ve always been using standard boat-hooks, like you’d see on any boat. Ganzer is the most typical spelling but I’ve also seen it as “ganzar” and “ganser”. Usually a Ganzer is a retired gondolier who works at a traghetto (gondola service), helping the gondoliers in and out, and receiving tips for assisting passengers as they board and climb out of the gondolas. Often, he will have an upside-down hat located nearby for passengers to place tip money in.
In Gilberto Penzo’s book “La Gondola”, the Ganzer is an old gondolier, unable to do the job. He earns tips helping passengers out of the boat, while holding the gondola in with a hook.
In the book “Free Gondola Ride” by Kathleen Ann Gonzalez, (see post from October 20, 2007 for a review of the book), Kathleen writes about her visit to the San Moise traghetto, noticing it was one of the few stations that always had a ganzar.
Like so many things in Europe, the job, and the men who perform the job are becoming scarce. In my opinion, there will always be old gondoliers who want to stay in the realm they grew up in and had so many great memories of. I hope I’m correct in the assumption, that while the gansers may dwindle, they will never fully disappear.