Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Gondola in Glendale

On Saturday, August 2rd, gondolier Matt Schenk and I brought the Phoenix up to Glendale for a TV commercial shoot.

It was challenging, exhausting, brought us way out of our normal routine, and we had a blast doing it.

Glendale, California is pretty far inland (near Pasadena), so we got some great looks from people wondering what the heck it was that was sitting on my trailer.

While I'm not able to disclose some of the details of the shoot as of yet, I did take a pair of photos that might be interesting and don't give anything away.

Here's the Phoenix before dressing.

And here she is after, with full parecio.

When I can, I'll post details about the shoot, and a link to the commercial.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Unforgettable Varnished Boat

In September of 2000, during a visit to Venice, I saw this boat for the first time.
We had arrived at night and only saw a few standard gondolas on our way to the apartment that would be our home for the next week. I woke up early the next morning, made some coffee, stepped out on the balcony...and saw this boat.
Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera handy, and by the time I found it, the boat was gone.
I've seen many similar boats since then, but this one was easily recognizable, even six years later.
When I stumbled upon her in 2006 at the edge of Campo Santo Stefano near the Accademia Bridge...I had my camera, and took these shots.
Venice is full of beautiful black gondolas, waiting to have their pictures taken, but wander around a bit, and you'll see lots of other interesting and eye-catching vessels. To be honest, I'm not entirely certain of the boat's classification. She looks like a Balotina, but with traditional gondola rails and trasto da prua. In many ways she also reminds me of a shorter version of some of the big "desonas" we see in some of the rowing clubs.
If one of my readers would like to offer a more accurate name - please, post a comment. Until then, I'm calling her a "fully varnished gondola". Maintaining a boat with paint is one thing, keeping a boat up in varnish is much more difficult. Any wood discoloration is completely visible.
There's no forgiveness, no hiding stuff.
All the varnish in the world won't cover up a rotting corner or other imperfection.
If you look at the stern of the boat, you'll see a few dark spots. Take another look, specifically at the caenelo (that vertical piece next to the carpet), and you'll see "1971" carved in the wood. If this boat was built in 1971, I'd say the owner has maintained her well, even with a few dark spots.
The ferro is a classic iteration of some of the "hacking blades" seen on parade boats during Regata Storica. I wonder if it's the usual hardware for this boat, or if it was left on after the Regata - I took these photos shortly after Regata Storica. Mmmm! If I ever get the chance to buy that boat, I just might.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I See Gondolas - Ragú

Mark it off as "Gondola Greg is losin' it" if you like, but I thought a change of pace might be fun.

No, I'm not running out of blog ideas, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to give this piece of commercial graphic design the once-over.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
Ragú "Old World Style" spaghetti sauce!

My family is very Italian, and my wife and her mother routinely cook up amazing things in the kitchen - often with the help of our two daughters.
But the other day, (as a result of some great coupon deal, I'm sure) this giant jug of Ragú ended up on the kitchen counter, and I found myself critiquing it - not the sauce, the gondola!

We're looking at a pretty decent artist's rendering of a gondola.
It does contain some of the classic "American revisions" that occur in both drawn and built versions.
For starters, the gondola has been shortened in two key areas: the passenger space, and the deck between the seat and the gondolier.
This shortened caricature of Venice's most notable boat is so commonplace that I think the folks at Ragú decided that a "true rendering would have looked "wrong".

Not surprisingly, the artist decided against an authentic gondolier's deck, opting for a symmetric stern more reminiscent of the boats at The Venetian Casino.

The couple is sitting in a seat that's hard to get a good look at. It could be authentic, but it could also be modeled after the ones at The Venetian Casino too.

I'm not sure where I stand on the lamp.
It's definitely "old world", and I've seen similar lamps at some gondola operations in the US, but I suspect that Ragú stumbled upon it by accident.

The ferro, while it is presented in a brass or gold-tone, does have six teeth, with one aft.

The most authentic areas of the Ragú gondola appear to be the foredeck and the rails. I was quite impressed with how they captured the brass rubrails and plates on the trasto da prua. The artist also managed to capture the carvings on the trasto and the trim on the deck.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the bow is almost twice as wide as it should be, while the stern seems to be proportioned in the opposite manner.

Now, let's take a look at the gondolier.
Nothing about his uniform is totally wrong, although most gondoliers choose not to wear red stripes with a red sash and scarf. Contrast is often preferred. The sash and scarves are usually only worn in Venice with a marinera (overshirt in black or white), and usually only on special occasions. In the US it's common to see gondoliers wear them with only a striped shirt.
As for the question of red stripes vs. navy stripes - navy is the standard, but red is accepted in most circles.
Our Ragú gondolier appears to be wearing a standard issue gondolier's hat - again, with red ribbon.
His pants are correct - in fact, much nicer than some I've seen in Venice.

Remo and forcola? He's got both, although it looks like the Ragú artist used a broomstick as a model for the remo. It also looks like the gondolier is poling rather than rowing, and that forcola appears to be half-sized and bent the wrong way. But hey, I'm still impressed that the gondola has a forcola.

In summary, I think this rendering was made by someone with photos of several boats clipped to the edges of their project-board:
Photos of gondolas in Venice, The Venetian, and a few American operations.

It's certainly a better rendering than I've seen in some other places...and the sauce isn't bad either!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Il Redentore - the Bridge

photos by Bob Easton Bob Easton saw my post with the photo of the roof of Il Redentore, and e-mailed me, asking if I'd like some of his photos of the temporary bridge that is built for the feast day celebration.
My answer:
"Heck yeah!"

Here's a great shot of the sign, on display to explain the bridge. Click to enlarge - it's worth a read.
The temporary bridge covers most of the distance at about sea-level. A center section rises up to allow boat traffic to pass under.
Originally, this bridge was built each year on the tops of boats. Reportedly, some 80 galleys were used to support, what is now suspended by modern float-docks with traditional pilings. Bob shot these the Monday after the festival this year, which explains why the bridge is not very crowded and has few boats around it. Thanks for the great photos Bob,
some day I'd like to cross that bridge myself.

Til then, I'm jealous of you!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

OKC Expedition - Going Through the Locks

With every expedition, there have been new experiences or factors that the rowers hadn't yet dealt with.

On the Buffalo Bayou in Houston, it was getting clearance from the Coast Guard to pass through a "security zone".

On the Hudson River in New York, we faced the challenges of navigating a river that flows backwards as it is affected by the tides of the Atlantic.

In Oklahoma City, Chris and I got to add another adventure to our list of things we'd experienced on a gondola: locks.

One of the spillway/lock facilities on the Oklahoma River.

Locks aren't nearly as challenging as, say, rowing against strong wind and tide. I'm sure there are many things more perilous than passing through locks, but anyone who has done so can tell you that it's a weird feeling to pass through one for the first time.

Rivers throughout the world are dotted with locks. Chances are good that at least one gondolier reading this has traversed a lock or two on their gondola.

In the past, I'd gone through locks as a passenger in a punt in Denver (see Venice on the Creek

http://www.veniceonthecreek.com/), and on a cruise ship through the Panama Canal.

This was my first opportunity to do so as the operator of the vessel.

The locks on the Oklahoma River were designed and built to accommodate sixty-foot tourboats, so we had a little extra room to move around inside.
We entered the lock and watched the gates close.
I must admit, I was disappointed when the gate make a loud slamming noise when it closed, in fact it made no sound at all.

Entering the lock chamber.

Once in the chamber, the water was drained in order to bring us down to the next level.
Being on a boat in a lock is it is drained, reminded me of the "Tidy Bowl Man" commercials when I was a kid.

Exiting the lock chamber.

I was surprised how quickly the locks operated in Oklahoma City.

The fill/drain time clocked in at around 2 ½ minutes.
I think we waited longer for the gates to open and close.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Under the Rialto

From underneath, the Rialto looks like many other bridges, but if you've ever passed under it, you know - there's something special about it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Church Roof - Il Redentore

I shot this from the vaporetto one summer afternoon a few years back.

This church was commissioned after the devastating plague of 1576 that swept through Venice and killed a third of the city's population.

In 1576 the Doge had vowed to built a church dedicated to Christ the Redeemer (Il Redentore) for bringing an end to the plague.

The feast day for this celebration is the third Sunday in July where much like the celebration at Salute, a temporary bridge of boats spans the waters from Zattere for the faithful to cross and give thanks.

Designed by Palladio and said to be his finest work, it was finished after his death in 1580 by Antonio da Ponte who remained true to the original plans.

To read more about this church, and see some great photos from another blog, go to:


Monday, September 22, 2008

I See Gondolas - the Realty Signs

I see gondolas everywhere. It's gotten to the point of ridiculousness. Anywhere there IS a gondola, or something that simply looks like one, and I'm totally locked-in on it. Here's a recent example: These realty signs have popped up in the area in the last few years. It's the Surterre Properties realty, and their logo features the company name engraved in a stone, which just happens to have a shadow across the bottom, that looks remarkably like the profile of a Venice-built gondola. Here's a shot of gondolier Steve Elkins on one of my gondolas in Newport Harbor. Now compare it to the Surterre stone: The shadow across the bottom of the stone may not look exactly like a gondola, but when you whip by it in a car, your brain registers it as such. That is, if you're a gondola fanatic. Not a day goes by that I don't drive past one of these signs and do a double-take at the image of a gondola, which is "disguised as the shadow under a rock".

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Squero Scene - Bending Wood with Fire

Here's a photo, taken a few years back, at Squero Canaletto in Venice.

Sean Antonioli was entrusted with many tasks, and he learned a lot about Venetian boat building.
Here, he was caught in the act of "bending wood with fire" - one of the coolest parts of the craft.
Traditionally, swamp-cane is used as it produces an almost moist smoke, but in a pinch, a propane torch will also work.

I just got an interesting e-mail from Sean:
He's been working in NYC for a company that builds things for display windows in department stores.
One of the funny things he wrote:
I was doing carpentry work for them. It's funny...you make big things small and small things big. I made a 3 and a half foot high jack in the box.

Hey Sean, I'll be in Manhattan in December - I'll try to find that giant jack-in-the-box and get a photo.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

OKC Expedition - Dockside before the Row

photos by Elisa Mohr

In the days leading up to the expedition in Oklahoma City, the sky every day was a mixture of cloudy and rain.
Honestly, clear sunny skies were the last thing we expected.
Here are a few images taken on the morning of September 12th in OKC.

First, we got to know the scouts,

then we took some photos with the scouts and a regional scout director,

...took some more photos to help promote popcorn sales,

next we had the scouts help cast us off.

Finally, we pushed off the dock.
I love this photo:
It's got a press photographer on the dock,
news helicopter overhead,
cool cloud formations,'
the decals on the side of the gondola are visible,
and Elisa caught us just as I was pushing off the dock with one foot.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Italian Fest in Illinois

This weekend, Collinsville, Illinois holds their annual Italian Fest.
2008 marks the 25th anniversary of the event.
Here's a list of some of their events:

Paisan Pedal Push

Grape Stomp

5-K Run Walk

Wine Judging


Bocce Ball Tournament

Cooking contest

WheelBarrel races

Kiddie Parade

Children's Area

Wine Garden

and much more!

There's a fair amount of attention paid towardds Italian heritage in the Midwest.
Consider this link on the subject.


To visit the Italian Fest website, go to:


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Regata Storica - Ina's Report

photos by Ina Mierig

Ina Mierig is back home now in Hamburg, Germany - after a brief but exciting visit to Venice, where she witnessed the Regata Storica.

"we went there with a Sanpierota, with the owner and his wife, both don't row very often. And we had the company's photographer and Mathias. After I rowed the whole bunch to the best place, where they do the big party, we all squeezed ourselves and the boat alongside a Gondola and then we started to drink Prosecco and eat meatballs."

The view across the Grand Canal from the Sanpierota.

some of the interesting boats with rowers and spectators.

Along with thousands of others, Ina and her friends watched as the boats went by.

"It was really amazing, how good they are and how fast. We saw a lot of crashes and I assume they do it to give few boat-builders a good job. After the gondolini, which are the last race, we went for a party in a Garden overlooking the Canal Grande and so the day was perfect."

The mascareta race coming...

...and going.

The caorlina race.

Rowers celebrate and recover after the caorlina race.

Lastly, Ina writes:
"I hope you're all in good shape. Maybe we'll see you at the Vogalonga, I booked flights today."

Thanks for the report Ina.
We hope to see you at Vogalonga.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

OKC Expedition - Summary

It’s been a few days since Chris Harrison and I rowed the Oklahoma River.

And while I was “in recovery” for the first day or so, after that it was simply a matter of catching up on all the other areas of my life that I’d neglected.

Finally, I have time to report on last weekend’s adventure.

For weeks I’d been monitoring the weather around Oklahoma City.

My experience in Houston had shown that when it rains, bodies of water go from calm to crazy.

The recent introduction of Hurricane Ike made things even more interesting.

A storm that big can affect weather patterns all the way up to the Great Lakes region.

By the time we reached Oklahoma City, the rain had been falling, off and on for about a week,

This caused the river above the first dam to flow more.

Before I go further, it's important to understand the Oklahoma River.

It begins as the "North Canadian River", then, at a certain point, a dam was built. The North Canadian River is more of a stream, or a "drainage ditch", but with the dam, it fills up to a much wider, deeper waterway that is great for boating. They added another 2 or 3 dams, each with a lock system so boats can travel between the sections. After the last dam, the river goes back to being a "drainage ditch", and is once again called the “North Canadian River”. Only the section between the first dam and the last dam is called the "Oklahoma River". It was renamed in 2004.

The full length of the Oklahoma River is about 7 ½ miles.

Our plan was to row the entire length in both directions.

Once we were able to examine the river in-person, I realized that the portion of the river we were planning to row, didn’t really get moving like a normal river, mostly because it is partitioned, so one basin fills up, the water then spills into the next segment, which eventually fills before spilling into the next.

On the afternoon of the 11th (the day before the row), I was told that the folks at the Chesapeake Boathouse would be pulling all of their boats out of the water “to avoid all the debris” which would be floating down the river “once they opened the gates”.

It was a “this changes everything” moment.

It turns out that those “dams” that break up the river, can be opened hydraulically to allow unrestricted flow.

The rains up-river had been heavy enough that the authorities were planning to open things up…on the day we were going to row.

Could we still row the river?

I decided that the best approach would be to proceed, one section at a time, turning back if river conditions became dangerous.

We ended up covering two of the three sections, which amount to about 10 miles.

It was not exactly how I’d planned things, but I feel that we chose an approach that allowed us to cover the maximum amount of river while still handling things in a safe and responsible manner.

In all of my research, I heard everyone say the same thing: “there’s not a lot of wind on the Oklahoma River because it sits down so low”.

We had wind.

We had a lot of wind, often hitting us broadside, and requiring a number of adjustments to be made in order to keep moving forward.

In the end, we gave some good publicity to the Boy Scouts of America, and represented Venetian rowing well to the rowing and paddling community in Oklahoma.

Right after our arrival, we hauled out the gondola, checked out of our hotel early, and drove five hours back to Irving, Texas, where we launched the gondola – just in time as the effects of Hurricane Ike really came in after that. I would not have wanted to trailer the gondola down in that kind of weather.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Palio di Porto Cesareo - the Regata

After the processions in Porto Cesareo, a number of contests took place, including a greased pole-climb.

Our American County-Fair version has the pole fixed vertically in the ground.

The Cesareo version is a little bit different:

The pole is mounted almost horizontal off the bow of a boat with a flag at the end.

The winner is the first person to grab the flag.
What makes it so difficult is that the boat that the pole is mounted to...is bouncing around in the waves.

This year only one guy could get ahold of that flag.

The Palio
The main reason Bepi and Nereo were brought in, was to oversee the regata.
In contrast to most rowing regatas, the one in Porto Cesareo is the only race these guys row each year.

Nereo writes:

Unlike Venice's "regatanti", who train for and row many regatas during a concentrated season, the folks in
this race are hard-working fishermen. The Palio is the only regata, their one shot at a trophy. Like many other contests, the winner holds the prize for one year, until it is handed over to the winner of next year's race.

Bepi gives a pre-race briefing.

Porto Cesareo is split into five districts, and each district gets assigned a crew with their own boat.
Bepi Suste attended to the Palio like a judge and before the race he gave the rowers some instructions and a lot of prompts on how such a race is run.

The Palio in action.

Nereo explains:
The boats are usually built by the owners (fishermen) and are, as a consequence, different a little from each other.
The palio takes place inside the port in front of the docks crowded with people - both residents and tourists.

Bepi poses for a shot with the rowers of Porto Cesareo.

One of the unique fishing boats used in the Palio.

Big thanks go out to Nereo Zane for the photos and information on the annual regata in Porto Cesareo.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palio di Porto Cesareo - the Processions

photos by Nereo ZaneRecently, Nereo Zane posted a number of photos on his blog about an unusual regata in another part of Italy. I asked him about it and here's what he told me:

"In the first half of July I found in my mailbox, an email that surprised me a lot.
The sender was the vice-president of the Festival and feast of the patron saints committee of Porto Cesareo (Lecce - Italy).
They found my email on the blog gondolasolidale.wordpress.com and decided to invite a champion of voga alla veneta to participate in the Festival like a special guest. I immediately thought of Bepi Suste because, among the rowers and gondoliers I'm in touch with, he is the guy who won the highest number of regattas. Bepi accepted with one condition: I would have to participate in this adventure with him.
With that said, on August 20th we arrived at Brindisi Airport welcomed like movie stars by Paolo Peluso."

Porto Cesareo is in the "heel of the boot" of Italy, facing west about sixty percent of the way down the coast of that peninsula. The event began with a procession which included a statue of Santa Cesarea, followed by a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child.

The statues were loaded on boats which took them to their respective churches, all the while followed by pretty much any boat that could make the trip.

After that, there was a regata.
more to come, I promise.

"Santa Cesarea" is carried by men in suits with red-white-and-green sashes.

The Virgin Mary with Christ-child is carried by civil servants in uniform.

The procession continues by boat.

regata champion Bepi Suste supervises the procession as it continues on the water.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Vittorio Orio Remembers 9-11

Nereo Zane's blog has some great photos, taken on September 11th, of Vittorio Orio.
Not surprisingly, Vittorio maintains his reverence to the fallen heroes of 9-11 and dressed his gondola accordingly, rowing once again in tribute.

Check it out at:

Friday, September 12, 2008

OKC Gondola Expedition - a few photos

Eveything went well, and we're quite happy.
Just a few photos to tie you over until I get some sleep!