Friday, July 31, 2009

Headin' Home

I caught sight of these two while waiting for a vaporetto one early evening near the Accademia Bridge.

The Grand Canal was surprisingly quiet, and they were rowing alongside each other at a leisurely pace, carrying on a conversation as they went.
Both gondolas were buttoned up for the night, and by all appearances, they were heading home after a long day's work.

Maybe I'm biased, but gondoliering has got to be one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tim's Vogalonga post

Well, now and then I realize that I might as well take the day off, and today is one of those days.

You see, Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola (AKA Bepi Venexiano) picked up his pen the other day and began writing about his experiences revolving around Vogalonga. When he read a small part of it to me last week, I knew that it would be an awesome piece.

He posted it today, and I figure "why compete with it, when it's the real deal".

And of course, I encourage you to leave positive comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"White Gondola" Round-Up

White gondolas are few and far-between.

Long ago the Venetian government decreed that passenger gondolas were to remain black.
The only white gondolas I know of in Venice are racing gondolas. Each official regata is rowed in a group of identical boats. The only differences being the rowers choices of forcole, remi, and the colors that the boats are painted. Typically there are nine colors and white is one of those colors.
You can see a few racing gondolas among the many Commune boats in front of Santa Maria della Salute church. I shot this photo from the vaporetto the day before the 2005 Regata Storica. Somewhere in there you can see a white one. The unusual "vents" in the tail are unique to racing gondolas.
There are rowing clubs in the Veneto who's color schemes may involve white, such as the Cannotieri Treporti, but again, not a passenger vessel taking riders for hire.

One of the Cannotieri Treporti club boats.

I am not above correction though, so if anyone out there has seen a white gondola taking passengers in Venice, Italy, I would love to hear about it.

I'd be surprised though, as that would be a big, highly visible violation of Venetian law.

The Venetian Casino in Las Vegas does have one white gondola in their fleet.
She is known as the "Wedding Gondola", and while she has the same hull and passenger layout as the other boats there, her deck-accents and other metal accessories are gold plated.

Here in Newport Beach, there are a number of white gondolas afloat. Joe Munday's "Crystal Swan" is white, just like many of the other gondolas he built over the last two and a half decades.

Joe Munday on his Crystal Swan

Gondola Romance also has three white gondolas which were all built in the early 80's.

Interestingly, all of America's white gondolas have been motorized except one - the mysterious white gondola of Venice, California. The only photograph of this boat was on a post card circulated in the very early 1900's. To read more on this vessel, see my post from March 4th of 2002

Venice, California in the first decade of the 20th Century.

Here in the US, white boat paint is much easier to come by. Compared to black, it is easier to keep clean too. But a white gondola, in a field of white boats, is another white boat - it tends to blend in. While a black gondola with a background of white boats stands out beautifully, leaving little doubt as to what type of vessel she is.

The story of a "very large white gondola" transporting couples from Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore is a new one to me. The presence of a white passenger gondola in Venice would be highly unlikely though.

I have seen a photo of another white, crescent-shaped rowing boat in Venice that did take passengers...of a different kind. Back in the days when the only motorized vessels in the city were the original vaporetto boats, everything else was rowed...including ambulances. In one photo of the Grand Canal, which I have but don't know if I can post, there are vessels that look like white traghetti, with felze-like tops, that have red crosses on sides.
Were they "ambulance gondolas"?
The photos I've seen of these vessels have all been monochrome, so I'm only assuming that they were truly white. They could just as easily have been light gray or even bright yellow.

I did see a white Venetian gondola with passengers once.
It was in a photo from Ingo Stahl in Germany:

But I understand that the white on that boat was temporary.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Golden Angel Gondola

Sitting in the front seat on the vaporetto, I shot this series of photos of a gondola, which definitely deserves a closer look.

As we were passing under the Rialto Bridge, some of Venice's most eye-catching gondolas came into view. The cavalli on this one caught my attention, and I snapped off a few shots.

Let's start with the bow:

What initially caught my eye here, was the gold-plated fixtures. Many gondolas have impressive cavalli, but few have something more than a little canon or flagstaff on the bow. The owner of this gondola didn't just choose a nice statue-like flag bearer, he had it gold plated, along with many of the other fixtures on the boat.

She has brass trim, and upon closer inspection, we see a handcarved deck which indicates that we're looking at a "wedding gondola". While they are used for weddings, these special gondolas also take passengers for hire on a daily basis, and are considered by some to be the most luxurious of all gondolas.

In this shot, you can see the shadow of the Rialto as it darkens the water in front of the gondola.

While it's a little detail to some, I like the striped remo.
I think it adds to the overall look here. And while I could be imagining it, the gondolier appears to have chosen a red that's just a touch darker than usual - thus matching the other red accents on the boat.

And there's no shortage of red accent here.
The gondolier's carpet, known as the "tapeto" matches the pom-poms, which match the rope they hang from, which also matches the cushions inside.

He's also got a forcola with hand-carved surfaces, accented with gold.

is anybody else out there developing a case of "Gondola Envy"?

Just about every detail of this boat is exceptional.
I see white lace around the main seat - it wouldn't surprise me if it's handmade stuff from Burano.
Atop the seat, sits a shiny gold scimier.

The "pusioli", which are the arm-pieces on either side of the salon are unique too, not only do they have hand-carved details, accented with gold paint or gold leaf, but the top-edge is adorned with a red and gold rope.

That rope matches the rope which trails from the cavalli.

It's hard to point out such details when they are so outshined by the cavalli:
big, heavy, trumpeting angel-mermaids, which appear to be plated in real gold.


Nice gondola.

If I owned that boat, I think I'd get an alarm system for her!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Strap-Cam "Goes Rowing"

In the last two days, I've conducted an experiment in which I attached the "Strap-Cam" to my remo and went rowing. It may be the very first time anyone has ever done such a thing.

Here's video of the first-ever recording in my field experiment.

Kinda makes you dizzy doesn't it?
I must admit that when I came home and put this one up on the screen, my kids and I laughed our heads off watching it.
My younger daughter asked me how I made the gondola swing back and forth like that.

The remo at the center of our study is my "Bavarian Special", which I painted many years ago. Back then I had nothing better to do but cut little pieces of masking tape in unusual shapes and fit them together - kind of like a waving flag I saw once at Oktoberfest in Munich.

Next, I tried rowing and singing.
Because the Strap-Cam is waterproof, the microphone isn't the best, but it did pick up some audio. Without a doubt, it does a magnificent job picking up any audio caused by bumping, scraping, grinding and such.

During my investigation, I came upon an unexpected side-effect:

The Strap-Cam influences it's user.
I felt the need to do something more interesting with it.

So I took it out again tonight, and while I was waiting for my passengers, I conducted an immersion test.
Next thing I know I'm talking to it, saying things like "Strap-Cam takes a bath", and splashing around.
Folks on the dock were beginning to wonder who I was talking to.

I began to worry that I was falling under the spell of the Strap-Cam.

In the end I lost all control.
I've hesited to post this last clip, as it is totally out of control.
But in the interest of science, I think it's necessary to share it.

Dont bother calling the authorities, I'll check myself into the asylum.
But I'm bringin' the Strap-Cam with me!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tripod Off the Tail

When you wrap thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment to the tail of your gondola with a couple of bungee cords, It CAN make you nervous, but you get some cool photos.
Here are a handfull of the images I got today.
All were taken using a hendheld remote trigger.
Heading under the Newport Blvd. Bridge.

Turning left at the "Y".

Near the north end of Newport Island.

A smile for the camera.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ponte dei Pugni

One day I was walking with the Zane family near Campo Santa Margherita, and while crossing a bridge, Nereo pointed out these peculiar footprints; then he and his daughter Martina explained that it was a "bridge for fighting".

Aside from the big topo parked next to it selling fruits and vegetables, it looked like most of the other small bridges in Venice. It certainly didn't look like people had been doing battle there. Then they explained that it was something that had happened hundreds of years ago but the name and reputation had stuck.

This isn't the only bridge in Venice with a fighting history. There are others, such as the Ponte della Guerra at Santa Fosca and San Zulian's Ponte della Guerra. But the Ponte dei Pugni is the most well-known of the bunch. The name literally means "Bridge of Fists".
You might wonder why such a thing existed, when Venice seems so peaceful, and her political system has been recognized as the "longest running republic". Why would there be so much fighting? For the longest time Venice was a city defined not only by sestieri, but by the two "clans" which inhabited her; they were the Nicolotti and the Castellani. The Castellani took their name from the district of Castello, where they lived. Castellani also inhabited San Marco and part of Dorsoduro. The Nicolotti acquired their name because they originally came from the parish of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli. For the most part they lived in Cannaregio, San Polo and Santa Croce.
Before settling in Venice, these two groups came from different places, making up a large percentage of Venice's original inhabitants. As generations carried on their culture and traditions, so too did they continue this feud - one who's origins may never be fully understood.One traditional belief is that the two groups came from Heracleia and Jesolo - two towns on the mainland, and that this thing began as a rivalry between the towns. Much of the stories we have today about the Castellani and Nicolotti are widely believed as fact, but many of the details cannot be verified.
One fact remains, the two clans did battle - here and in other places.

Bridges were popular for many reasons:
- They often stretched between the two territories,
- The boundaries of the fighting area were clear,
- The winner was determined when one side had claimed and kept the bridge,
- The prospect of flinging an opponent into the water was both inviting to the winner, easier on the loser (than falling onto stone), and a great crowd pleaser to be sure.

These were not skirmishes or seiges though; they were pitched battles - agreed upon by both parties and well prepared for. There appears to have been a true discipline associated with how it was done.

Someone would first present a challenge, and then "godfathers" were selected to serve as judges of the match. Next, a bridge would be selected for the brawl. On the day of the guerra, much pomp and circumstance would precede the main event.

Usually the fight would begin as a one-on-one, or two-against-two match; in fact the bridge has a single footprint for each of those four contestants. As accompanying faction members got riled up, they would almost always join in the fight. These would go on for hours sometimes. Because the bridge had no railing, fighters would go over and into the water quite a lot, and if they could get back on to land, they would often charge back into the mele. Things got fierce, and fatalities were a regular result, especially during the brief period when combatants would wear armor and carry poles with steel tips.

This armored spear-fighting proved to be too deadly and was abandoned in favor of the bare-knuckle approach.

So where was the government in all of this?
On the surface they condemned it and issued decree after decree forbidding it, but the fighting continued.
Some say the two clans had such a presence that it would be futile to try to enforce such laws.
Some say the leaders of the republic secretly viewed the rivalry as a way to keep the men of Venice tough - a good thing to have in case Venice went to war.
Still others believe the leadership of La Serenissima allowed and/or encouraged the rivalry and fighting to continue as a way to ensure that the two groups wold never unite, possibly rising up against the government.

Finally, in 1705, the government put a stop to the violent matches; from then on, tests of strength and skill (similar to some we see in the circus today) were used to settle disagreements. Walking through Venice is like walking through history. Every building, every church, and yes - even every bridge - has a story, some more intriguing than others. Years ago I learned that every boat has a story, now I can honestly say that every bridge has a story too.

A special thanks goes out to Nereo Zane for not only introducing me to the famous bridge, but for assisting me by proofing this post to give it the Venetian stamp of approval.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The "Synco Video"

Friend and fellow gondolier John Synco (known by many here in Southern California simlpy as "Cinque"), sent me this video recently.

He'd told me a little about it during the event at Sunset Gondola; that it was "just a bunch of footage he'd shot in Venice", and how he "thought I might like some of it".

He was wrong.

It's fantastic. While watching it, I can't help but think that the guy with his eye in the viewfinder either shot it just for me, or else he suffers from the same affliction as I do.

The dedication at the beginning certainly made me feel special, but I think the original quote spoke to me the most.

Nice work Cinque - I loved it all! Watched it again and again.

I believe the music is an original recording by musicians in Venice.

Positive comments are always appreciated.

Negative ones, as you might expect, can sometimes foster negative feedback from other blog readers. Have something critical to say about some of the rowers in the video? Feel free to share your thoughts, but it automatically begs the question: "could you do it better?"

If you have any criticism for Synco's work, then you obviously don't understand the obsession that we all suffer from here on the Gondola Blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Typical Last-Minute Cruise

So last night I was enjoying a relaxed dinner at a local ribs and barbecue restaurant, tucked into a comfy restaurant booth with my family.

Suddenly the phone rang, and my mother-in-law Anne (who handles much of our sales calls) answered the line. It was a guy who wanted to cruise that night.

My wife flipped open her laptop and my father-in-law rolled his eyes - he'd seen this a few times before.

It was 7:30pm.

On the phone, Anne was telling him that "yes, we can arrange a cruise for you tonight".

Next I start to get the look from her that says "you're on".

I shove what's left on my plate into my mouth and chew like mad.

"Oh, you're going to propose! Well, no wonder you want to cruise tonight" she says.

I drink a few more gulps of my Diet Coke.
My wife is rapidly entering information into her computer.

"Sure, we can get you out soon, in fact..." Anne checks her watch, it's 7:34, "oh, I'm not sure about eight o'clock".

I shake my head vigorously with a "no thank-you" look on my face.

"How about eight thirty?" she says.


"Well, eight fifteen might work", she looks at me with a "Come on, you can do it" look, I concede, after all, this is my Sicillian mother-in-law here.

We pay the bill and shuffle out the door, dragging leftovers along for later.

I drive fast, warn the family when I'm about to take a corner hard, and pull up to the house.

It's 7:45 and I charge upstairs to change, muttering something like "I can't believe I got talked into an 8:15".

By 7:50 I've changed and thrown my gondolier's bag into the car.

I kiss my wife and run out the door.

At 7:55 I'm zipping down towards the office with the stereo blasting.

I turn off Metallica to warm up my singing voice.

Some jackass pulls out into traffic right in front of me and I hit the breaks, waving my hands in the air like a good Italian.

At 8pm I've parked the car and am hurrying down to the docks, keeping in mind that my passengers may already be there watching me fiddle with my keys and make funny faces.

First order of business: uncover the gondola and make sure there are no surprises.
Boat is uncovered, clean, and everything is in order.
It's 8:05.

I set up the seat with pillows and blankets, place my boombox and bag on the back, and go for serviceware.

At 8:10 I've placed a bucket of ice with a bottle of sparkling cider on the port bancheta, complete with glasses, chocolates, and electric candles. As was requested by the client, I spread rose petals on the gondola and put my makeshift running-lights in place.

Standing by my gondola at 8:15, I smile as my passengers arrive with Starbucks cups un hand.

At 9:40, after much rowing and singing, I've created the perfect environment for what's about to happen.
9:41, the gentleman in my boat scoots off the seat, hits one knee, and asks his girlfriend to be his bride.
To provide this guy with such an opportunity makes all that hurrying and stress worthwhile.

He pulls out a ridiculously sparkly ring, puts it on her finger, she says yes, and for the three of us on the gondola, all is right with the universe.

Such is the life of a gondola operator.

This post is dedicated to Tim, Sean, Megan, Matt, Sarah, Angelino, John, Debbie & Dave, and the list goes on (you know who you are). A list of people who know exactly what I'm talking about here. I have yet to go for a workout row with Tim at Sunset Gondola without his phone ringing with a client on the line. I always say that such inerruptions are a good problem to have. Truth is that when the phone stops ringing, that's when we really get stressed.

As a business owner, I learned a long time ago, that:

"There are two kinds of people - business owners, and those who get to clock out at the end of the day."

But when you're standing on the back of a 36-foot gondola, rowing towards the horizon just after sunset, with the sky painted in radiant colors, with a cool breeze in your face and passengers who are more relaxed than ever - you love your job and life is great.

Really great.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Morning in Dorsoduro

During my stay in Dorsoduro, this was my view each morning while crossing the Rio di San Barnaba on my way to get breakfast in Campo Santa Margherita.
In the distance the campanile of San Barnaba's church can be seen.
Mmm, just looking at this photo and I get a craving for cappuccino.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunset Gondola Celebrates Three Years - part

Here are three video clips from the evening.

The first one I shot after the meal, when folks were hanging around, just about to head down to the boats.

I was fortunate enough to have some of Southern Cal's most experienced gondoliers on my gondola. In this video, we were just climbing aboard and getting situated.

As we approached Captain Jack's, Andrew McHardy was playing the easily recognized "Lime in the Coconut" song. Grigory-never-get-there pushed record and described the scene (which pretty much came out on video as a mixture of dark...and really dark). I joked with someone from another boat, and two guys in my boat discussed brands of whiskey. Towards the end of the song, a few passengers took to thumping the boat in time with the music. Andrew really is phenomenal with a guitar - just about everything he played was spot-on. Feeling the gondola thump to the beat under my feet just added to the experience.

this video shot by Grigory-never-get-there.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sunset Gondola Celebrates Three Years - part 2

some photos by Dawn Reinard

Here are some more images from the third anniversary celebration at Sunset Gondola.
I don't even remember the joke Tim was telling me here...

I just remember that it was dang funny.

At some point, Andrew was talking about going "snail hunting" with an old Venetian. The story was great - a classic McHardy tale. Next thing I know, there's a garden snail cruising by. We took a few photos and then Andrew put it back.

Synco cracks up.

The obligatory "group shot"

from left to right:
Andrew McHardy, Eric Johnson, "Trish the dish", Grigory-never...", Senior Synco, Mike Almquist, Charlene, "Barrissimo" McCabe, Eric Sjoberg, Allison Wilson, "Rotto Sorriso", Jeremy, Darren, Erin Lee Adamson, me.

If you were there and I missed your name or got it wrong, send me a "Hey Greg, you're a jack-ass" e-mail or comment and I'll square it away.

Io a poppa.
John Synco rows the coolest pupparin in the Americas.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sunset Gondola Celebrates Three Years - part 1

On Wednesday night, July 15th, Sunset Gondola invited some friends over to help them celebrate three years of operation in Huntington Harbour.

Gondoliers from around the region were on hand, and we all enjoyed some great food and drink.
Tim's wife Dawn invited some of her best friends.

Typically, these get-togethers begin with a meal and wine, as guests trickle in. Folks swap stories and talk until everyone invited has arrived and is ready to row.
Next, the group climbs aboard all the gondolas and other boats. Some row, some ride, a few bring guitars, most bring refreshments.

For a while now, I've been jokingly calling this journey "the pilgrimage to Captain Jack's", because once on the water, we all row to a restaurant/bar which bears that name.

Two thirds of the way to Captain Jack's, all the boats stop under a certain bridge and people take turns singing songs. This is a lot of fun because not only is it a rare opportunity for a bunch of gondoliers to hear what other gondoliers have been singing, but also because you never know what the next song will be, or who will sing it.
Once at Captain Jack's, the boats are tied up and everyone goes inside to toast to whatever they feel deserves toasting.
Some toast much more than others.

After that, they row back to the home dock and eventually sleep off all the fun.

I must say that these get-togethers at Sunset are among my favorite things to do.

Where else can I hang out with a bunch of people who understand and/or also suffer from the same gondola addiction as I do?
Most of them were also willing to put up with me snapping all over the place with my camera.

It's nice to be tolerated. Here are some of the photos of the evening:

Chris, Kaitlyn, and Eric Sjoberg enjoying libations..

Eric Johnson makes an appearance.