Sunday, May 31, 2009

Quick Report

As I publish this post, the church bells in Dorsoduro are ringing in the 9pm chimes.
In late May, Venice still enjoys a bit of daylight at this hour, and as my family and I sit in a restaurant in Campo Santa Margherita, all the typical aspects of Venetian life surround us.
Anyone who knows me - understands that I never want to leave.
We have been here for only three days, but have managed to cram about ten days worth into it.
Tomorrow we leave for a week but will return to spend three more days before heading home.
Vogalonga "happened" today.
I'd planned on writing that it "took place", but the truth is that it " all of us in different ways".
The weather, the sea, and so many other factors came together to create a Vogalonga that has been described by many as the harshest and most challenging ever.
If you were here - you know.
If you weren't, well, you can sit back and laugh, or wish you'd been here to experience it firsthand.
Either way, in the weeks to come, I hope to share bits and pieces of the adventure with you all.
While most participants did not see things unfold the way they'd expected, everyone still had an amazing time.
For now, as is probably the case for most of the folks who were on the lagoon today, I must sleep.
With any luck, by the time I wake, I won't feel like the boat is still moving back and forth beneath me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

L'Aviron Vénitien

We arrived in Sèvres at noon, ready for another beautiful warm day like we'd experienced yesterday.
But the bright sun and warm breezes had been replaced by cold winds and an overcast ceiling.
In short order, down came the rain - first in seemingly harmless droplets, and then much more convincingly.
We would not be rowing today.

According to plan, we met Richard Winckler with Vogaveneta Paris, who walked us over to the club facilities and gave us a great tour.
This organization is part of Nautique Sèvres.
Their three focus areas are:
Sailing - known as "La Voile",
Venetian boats - which they refer to as L'Aviron Vénitien,
and steam-powered launches - called Les Bateaux à Vapeur.

There are approximately 80 members in Nautique Sèvres and 30 in Vogaveneta Paris.
Currently, Richard has a gondola and a sandolo, with another sandolo under construction. Vogaveneta Paris had two mascaretas, which were very old and eventually had to be retired.
Richard showed me all of the different vessels in the various fleets, as well as a number of boats under construction.

We enjoyed a terrific picnic lunch provided by Richard, and talked about all things gondola. Not surprisingly, Misseur Winckler, who has been rowing Venetian style for about 25 years, knows a lot of the same people I do. The gondola world is a small one, and everyone in it seems to know (or know of) everyone else.

A solid contingent of French rowers will be heading down to Venice for the Vogalonga, and if you search hard enough, you'll probably see Richard rowing a poppa on one of the boats.

Merci beaucoup Richard.
Thank you for your warm hospitality and great conversation.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Travel Diary - May 24th and 25th

The day began early, and within minutes I had managed to "grind through all the gears" and was at full speed. Taking care of last-minute preparations and checking things off the "big list" was my sole focus.

Several hours later we arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport and experienced all of the joys associated with post 9-11 air travel.
My wife and I made a few important phone calls, the kids had a snack, and we boarded Air France flight 65 bound for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

A few minutes later I heard one of my favorite sounds:
the sound of the airplane door being closed and latched.
It's a simple noise, really.
Nothing compared to the call of a soaring eagle or a symphony by Vivaldi.
The cabin door closing is a favorite of mine because it signals the end, the end of packing, planning, stressing and all the craziness that leads up to a big trip.
When that door closes, there's nothing more you can do to prepare.
You're forced to stop.
You've done all the work, the adventure lies ahead, but for the time being, your job is to simply relax and savor the anticipation.

As the big Boeing 777 sped down the runway, my daughters smiled that "rollercoaster smile" as only children can do.
We rose up over the coastline, I looked out the window and saw, of all places, Venice Beach and her remaining canals glistenning in the California sun.
I had to chuckle at the contrast between L.A.'s "Venice" and the one I would soon visit.
Venice has touched the world. Like an old film star who once was the "prettiest girl in the room", she has aged as all beauties do - with all the grace and trauma, allure and dysfunction one might expect.
But like many aging beauties, she has not withered with the years - she has reinvented herself; sometimes with great plans in mind, other times out of desperate need.
L.A.'s Venice has changed with age too, but certainly not in the same way.

In the air
I ate, watched a movie, practiced my rusty French on the poor undesserving flight attendants, and then I closed my eyes for the rest of the flight.

Our first day in Paris was part discovery, part recovery.
We checked into a hotel in the business district of La Defense and caught a train out to Versailles.
The weather was perfect - warm and sunny with an occasional breeze.

Everything in Paris is bigger than I imagined it.
Versailles was a perfect example of that fact.
The grounds of the grand landmark which began as a hunting lodge and was subsequently transformed into one of the world's greatest symbols of decadence and wealth, have a number of waterways.
One waterway has rowboats on it.
I couldn't take my eyes off that water, then I remembered that centuries ago, the King of France kept several gondolas there.
Like I said: "Venice has touched the world:.
After Versailles, we dragged ourselves back to the hotel and slept more deeply than we had in months.

Nereo Rows in a Regata

Like a true Venetian, the Gondola Blog's favorite photographer, Nereo Zane has rediscovered rowing. For years he's taken pictures of them - now he's rowing them. The GSVVM held a regata last week for beginners and Nereo took part. He writes: "My rowing partner was a young girl (she's just twelve) but already very good in rowing. She rowed a poppa and drove the boat very well, inciting continuously, a bald tired old man to row with a good rhythm." They did well. In fact they took second place. And it wasn't a boring race: "We were lucky because other boats smashed just after the start and before the giro del paleto". Then, as they approached the finish line, things got even more exciting: "A few meters before the arrival in front of the docks we were passed by another boat (the third) due to an error of her "poppier" but got assigned the second place." I guess the quote all's well that ends well fits here. Nereo sent an overhead view of approximately where the race went.
In the top photo, you can see Nereo and his rowing mate holding flags. In Venetian rowing, racers who place are given flags rather than trophies or ribbons. The white flag is second place, first place is red, third and fourth are green and then blue. Many thanks to Nereo for the photos, the education...and the exciting play-by-play on how the race went.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vittorio Orio Embarks on Another Expedition

The legendary Vittorio Orio has begun another installment in his long list of historic rows.
This time he'll cross the border from Switzerland to Italy.
The new expedition begins in Locarno and ends in Milan, Italy.
Nereo Zane has a more exhaustive post on his blog:

The Gondola Blog salutes Vittorio.
We whole-heartedly support him...and maybe, just maybe we're a little bit jealous too.

Go Vittorio!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tirza and Hans in Venezia

Tirza sent these photos from the last time she and Hans were in la Serenissima.
They were out there for the Forcola d'Oro event in Padova, connected with members of the Remiera il Bissoleon, and probably got as much rowing in as humanly possible.
These were taken on one of the club's larger boats.
If you're going to Venice for the Vogalonga this month, Tirza and Hans will be among the many international rowers who make their way each year to take part.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Counting the Hours

Tim and I put one more solid training row in today before the big trip.

All of the California rowers are counting the hours at this point.

It's gonna be great!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Training Trio

This morning My daughter Cassandra and I drove to Sunset Gondola and took a row with Tim on the sandolo.
Our departure for Europe and Vogalonga is so close that we're already half-packed.

I've been gradually training Cassandra to row, taking her out for instruction and refresher sessions.
My goal isn't to get her on a boat for Vogalonga.
This is about preparing her for her first time rowing on the Venetian lagoon; a father-daughter excursion on another day.

The three of us took turns, switching each other out, enjoying the sunshine and perfect breezes that are so prevalent here along the coast.

Tim added a few very helpful tips, and Cassandra benefited even more from having two instructors on board.

About two-thirds into the row, Tim set up the boat to row with crossed remi in the valesana style. Cassandra had heard about it but had never seen it done; she was fascinated.

The training (and the packing) continue.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - The Estuary in Newport Beach - 1907

John Scarpa and his gondola can be seen in this early monochrome postcard from 1907.
Scarpa is said to have arrived in Newport in '06 or '07.
As such, this may be the earliest image we have of him in this waterway.

The setting of this scene is the estuary commonly known today as the "Back Bay".
The point of view is probably somewhere near Jamboree and the 73 fwy.

Back in the 1900's that area was referred to as the "Inland Passage".
Today it is one of the few remaining estuaries in Southern California.
This place, where fresh and saltwater mix, is home to as many as two hundred species of birds.
Several of those species are endangered.
During winter months, the bird population can swell to over thirty-thousand.

The image on this postcard appears to be an artist rendering made to look like a photo.
We can't be certain of this, but what we're looking at may actually be a painting produced to resemble a photo.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Today we have two postcards from "Expo67" -
the World's Fair held in Montreal, Canada in 1967.

Expo67 is regarded by many as the most successful World's Fair of the Twentieth Century.
The expo brought in over fifty million visitors, and holds the one-day attendance record among all World's Fairs.

Like so many other World's Fairs, Expo67 had gondolas, but very little is recorded about them.
In fact, thus far, I've only got these two images to go on.

The first postcard shows a gondola cruising in front of some eye-catching buildings, which I am sure were meant to look futuristic by 1967 standards.

Because this expo took place in Montreal, everything is in both French and English.
The text on the back of our first postcard, in English, reads:
Passing along the way the beautiful pavilions of Monaco, Haiti and France."

The gondola appears to be a few feet shy of the traditional length, has lines similar to a Venetian gondola, and most notably - is motorized.
Taking a closer look, we see a gondolier who is either seated or kneeling. He seems to have his left hand on a drive handle, steering the gondola with an outboard motor.

The gondolas' overall shape is somewhat faithful to the original craft she was inspired by.
The stern deck is different: it follows the same cathedral-shape as the bow, and was obviously not meant to be stood on.

Seating is laid out in more of a tour-boat fashion.
I've seen some American gondolas fitted out similarly.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference
(aside from the presence of a motor, of course)
is the stem area. The tip of the prow rises to an exaggerated point, accentuated by a ferro blade similar to some I've seen in cartoons.

Looking at the second postcard, we see more "futuristic" buildings, we see a larger tour-boat, and in the lower right hand corner we see three of the same gondolas.
The English text on the back of the second postcard reads:
"GENERAL VIEW ON ILE NOTRE-DAME - showing colorful gondolas in the foreground and looking towards Theme Pavillion, "Man the Producer" and the Expo-Express Station with its brightly striped roofs."

All three boats have the same red bench seats, and on two of them, you can see the white shrouds of their outboard motors.

Sixty-two nations participated in Expo67.

Instead of tickets, fair goers were issued passports, which granted them admission to all pavillions and mass transit systems, and they could have their "passports" stamped in many of the Nation pavillions.

Expo67 only ran for six months as a World's Fair.
It was viewed by many Canadians as the greatest cultural achievement in the history of Canada.
After 1967, much of the grounds remained open during the summer months until 1981. During that period the attraction was renamed "Man and His World"

I was curious about the gondolas, so I did an image search and came upon one more image:

Looking at the flickr image, it appears that the boat may have actually been fiberglass.
If that's the case, one or more of these gondolas might still exist, buried under debris,
in some barn or shed in Canada,
like a red Barchetta.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The "Duffy Gondola" in Huntington Harbour

I took these photos while on a training row Wednesday in Huntington Harbour. Years ago I had a conversation with the owner of this boat, and since then, whenever I've been in the area, I've tried to get a glimpse of her.

In truth, I'm not certain that the boat is a Duffy,
but if not, she began as an electric cocktail cruiser of the same type.
Named the "Tranquillante", it's safe to say that the owner either finds serenity on the boat, or hopes to.

This isn't the first time I've seen an electric cocktail cruiser modified to look like a gondola. It doesn't happen often, but when I see one, it certainly catches my eye.

As for the green color, I was once told that the boat "matched" the house, leading me to believe that the house was once green too; maybe it was just the trim.
Many modifications appear to have been made in order to transform the boat into her current configuration.
The tail section was probably the biggest task on the list. It appears to be a "bustle", which is the boat building term used when referring to an extension of the hull which is attached at the stern.

Bustling the stern of a boat usually affects her steering and maneuverability, but in this case, the extension barely affects the footprint of the vessel.
Even so, it must have been a great undertaking.

While the aft deck looks like it can support the
weight of a gondolier,
I doubt if anyone stands
a-poppa very often.

The most distinguishing feature of the boat, of course,
is the prow.
They got the "six fingers" in front, but the placement of the three ornamental pieces is a little off.

The top blade isn't too far from the right shape.
The whole thing would look more genuine if it were narrower and metallic, but it's doubtful that producing an exact replica was a priority.
All in all, not a bad job.

As far as I know, this boat has only ever been used for private cruising, but it wouldn't surprise me if one day she pops up somewhere as a passenger vessel.

Whether or not you like the boat,
she certainly is interesting.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Venezia on the Label - Biscotti

This package of biscotti ended up on my kitchen counter a while back.
I think it was part of a gift basket, but I'm not certain.

At first glance I was taken, both by the appearance of the biscotti and the snappy label.

"Federico's Gourmet Italian Cookies" was the name of the product. It was classified as "parasemani", which is an almond variation of biscotti (my favorite kind).

The label held a striking resemblance to some of the works of Venetian painter Canaletto. Who knows, the scene could be part of a Canaletto.
the boats in the scene look similar to those in Canaletto's paintings - with the lines that were typical of the late 1600's and early 1700's.
Most of the boats are rowed by two people, and some have felze covers.

Now that we've spent ample time oohing and ahhing over the package, let me address the "eatability" of these biscotti.

I was excited to try the product.
The packaging and all other influencing factors brought me to the point where I couldn't wait to munch on them.
They could have been mediocre and I would have raved.
I was primed.

I opened the container, fished one out, took a bite, and "Holy masonite Batman, these things are like concrete!"
I nearly broke my jaw, honestly began to worry about doing damage that would require a visit to the dentist.
They were within the freshness date too.

Now in all fairness, once I had gnawed the thing down to the point where it was swallowable (which took some time), it did taste good.
It just didn't seem worth the hassle.

I did dunk one in coffee, and then in milk in an effort to soften it up. This yielded a soft exterior, but the core remained granite-like.

In summary, if you're looking to buy biscotti for sheer looks, buy this product.
If you need something rock-hard to throw at men or beasts, a real self-defense item - they're just the ticket.
I found them "highly chuckable".

But if you'd actually like to eat and enjoy biscotti,
I cannot recommend these.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fundraising night at the Auld Dubliner

Last night a group of us got together at the Auld Dubliner in Tustin.
Eric Johnson and Dave Copley have a bunch of these pubs, and they're held in high regard by gondoliers in the region.
True to form, EJ and Dave let us come in, set up a table, hold a silent auction and a raffle.

From left to right - Andrew McHardy, Dave Copley, Eric Johnson, unknown patron.

The star of the show was, without a doubt, Erin Grissom - who single-handedly made the raffle portion a success. Tim, Andrew and I essentially "got out of her way" for most of the night.

Erin and Andrew with raffle tickets.

Big thanks to EJ and Dave for their support and hospitality.
Tim and Andrew - it was great to see you and raise a glass together.
And Erin - you rock!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Training Day in Huntington Harbour

With the Vogalonga fast approaching, those of us who are going, have been training up in preparation for the "long row".
Erin and Andrew have been out on the water several times on Sunset Gondola's brightly colored sandolo.
Today Tim and I took a spin in the little boat.

It was a perfect day for such an excursion.
I tried out a new camera mount for the bow of the boat.
I'm happy to say that it did succeed in preventing the camera from going in the water, but the lens was too long so the forward rower ended up being photographed from the neck down - not such a bad idea with me in front, but the perfectionist in me wants a better shot.

Today's row was only a fraction of the distance we'll travel in the Vogalonga, but it was a nice installment.
One more step towards making our experience in Venice the best it can be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Boston Gondolas are in the Water!

photos by Mark HuntI spoke with Megan in Boston today.
She was happy to report that they'd had a successful launch and are looking forward to a great season.

Megan is also looking forward to participating in the upcoming Vogalonga.
We'll meet her in Venice along with many other friends who are going out there for the regata.

We'll see you in Venice, Megan!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Squero dei Rossi

photo by Nereo Zane
While exploring the Giudecca a few years back, Nereo and I stumbled upon one squero - a big productive one - and were not treated with much hospitality. Sure, they weren't expecting us. We didn't have an appointment, and we weren't there to buy a boat, but it wasn't memorable in a positive way.

They didn't chase us off with a shotgun.
it was more of a "move along, nothing to see here" treatment.

We wandered a bit further and found Squero dei Rossi.
They also were not expecting us, but their attitude and demeanor was polarly opposite.
We talked a bit and realized we knew some of the same people, they gave us a great tour, answered lots of questions, and I even had a fun conversation with the head guy Roberto about power tools.

I had heard great things about the dei Rossi folks from Angelino in Oakland, and was not disappointed. I quickly realized why he had said so many good things about Roberto and the squero.

I hope this post doesn't inspire a bunch of people to go hunt down Squero dei Rossi and try to get a free tour, because they do have work to do, but if you're looking to work with a good group of craftsmen, these guys are legit.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Images of the day - Mother's Day in Newport

I love this job.
I showed up at the docks in a foul mood.

Not happy at all.

Spent a few hours on the gondola, rowed in the wind, and came back a happy man.
...And I got paid to do it.
Life is good.

Here are a few shots from the day:
One of my friendly competitor's boats passes under the Newport Blvd. bridge.

That same gondolier rows through the canals.

Gondolier Matt Schenk takes his family for a cruise on "take your momma to work day".

Sebastian Muller cruises by looming charter yachts.