Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Review from the Back Deck - 2010

On the eve of a new year, I thought a lot about ways to put my thoughts into words, and decided instead, to post a collection of images taken from the poppa while rowing in Newport. In honor of the new year, I've chosen eleven of them.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Writing on the Wall

photos by Tamás Fehér

I thought about trying to give a detailed description and commentary on this photo, but I think it really speaks for itself.

Anybody out there want to give your best translation?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bacino Orseolo at Night - Tails

Most Gondola Blog readers who've been with me for a while, (or have looked back on earlier posts) know that Bacino Orseolo is a favorite spot of mine.
It's a great place to compare and contrast various parts of the gondola.
With so many boats stacked and packed, you've got a whole lot of variations on everything from parecio to hull shape. I also enjoy watching the different gondoliers there as they maneuver their boats in and out. And of course there are so many photos that can only be taken in that one spot.

One area of a gondola that gives it distinction or makes it unique is the tail.
As boats are lined up along the different quays of the city, you can compare a few tail sections, but in this one place, you can look down the rows, at five or six in a line.

Here, in these photos, we see differences in the "lama" - that metal casting which adorns the very tip of the stern.

Some lamas are simple, others quite ornate.
We see old ones, which may very well have decorated three or four boats before landing on their current perches.

We see new designs that may have only been seen on the water in the last decade.

There's the fold-down lama, which can be seen in a few posts here

One tail even has a lama so precious to it's gondolier, that he keeps it under wraps when not on the boat.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Arsenale Gate

photo by Martina Zane

Here's a nice view of the famous entrance to Venice's Arsenale.
Her twin towers date back to the 16th century, when things were very different in the Mediterranean.
So much could be written about this facility and the role it played in the history of Venice, and the world.

Known by many names throughout history, the term "a city within a city" stands out as fairly accurate - the Arsenale employed thousands. 
In the 16th century some 16,000 are said to have worked there.
Workshops produced all manner of things from various materials.
Warships were built here, using one of Europe's first assemblyline systems. 
At the height of the Arsenale's efficiency, workers could produce an entire ship, fully outfitted and ready to go to sea, in 24 hours.
This was an amazing thing to see, and an frightfully intimidating thing when displayed to visiting heads of state.

These days the Arsenale sits mostly empty and quiet.  
Like so many other icons of Venetian, her glory is faded but not forgotten.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Debris on Lake Las Vegas

photos by Sarah Longson

We've been getting a lot of rain on the coast of California. As the weather patterns usually behave, clouds come in from the Pacific, dump on us, and continue moving inland. Most of the rains we experienced here in Southern California, moved on to continue their deluge on the desert.
 The manager of my gondola operation on Lake Las Vegas called me the other day to tell me that she'd just returned from a cruise with "about 600 pounds of crap wrapped around the boat". She may have been exaggerating, but based on the photos she sent later that day, not by much.

The way the geography is set up in the Las Vegas area, much of the runoff water drains toward Lake Mead, stopping first in Lake Las Vegas.  Everything that washes down with that rainwater makes it's way to our lake as well.

You know you've got a debris problem when birds are walking around on it.

Eventually, most of the junk that washed into the lake will sink to the bottom and decompose, but some of the items found floating around (buckets, old shoes, coolers) will need to be removed.

Floating debris, mostly plant material, fills the foreground with gondolas and bridge behind.

This isn't any kind of disaster. The debris on the lake is merely an annoyance, a brief interruption of otherwise great conditions. But it makes for some interesting photos. 

Several years ago we had a dramatic delluge here in Newport following a long dry period.  The amount of debris left floating in one part of the harbor had onlookers speculating as to whether or not someone could make it across in snowshoes! 

Unfortunately, nobody had a pair of snowshoes handy, so we never found out if it could be done.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Enviable Finish

photos by Tamás Fehér

On a recent visit to Venezia, Tamás noticed this water taxi while walking along the fondamenta near the train station.  I'm guessing she's a brand new creation, but could be a recent restoration.  Whatever the case, the guy in charge of the boat has a clear understanding of just how nice that finish is.

Notice how this guy buffs out the finish without placing his shoes on the deck.

He works his way back, polishing the places he's been.

And with a final rub, he gets that last spot of mirror-quality finished wood...

...and he's ready for business.

I love my gondolas, but I must admit it:
I've got some boat-envy here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas in Venezia - Night Shots

photos by Nereo Zane

I was looking through previous posts for photos relating to Christmas and I came upon these three - posted originally here in December of 2007.

The photos were shot in Venice by Nereo in December of '06, and they give us a nice view of what we might see if we were to walk around la Serenissima right now.
This shot was taken from the Riva del Vin – a spot along the Grand Canal that’s just a stone’s throw from the Rialto Bridge. The buildings in the photo are the Palazzo Farsetti and the Palazzo Loredan. Both palazzi were built around the year 1200 and now contain the offices of the Mayor of Venice among other things.

Most of our views of Piazza San Marco feature the dramatic Basilica, the towering Campanile, or maybe the clock of the Torre dell'Orologio.  For Christmas, someone added a little holiday cheer to a less-photographed portico and it looks like it's right out of a movie.

Finally, here's a striking view of the church known as Santa Maria della Salute. Completed in 1687, this famous hall of worship was built to give thanks for deliverance from a terrible plague which devastated Venice.
During the Festival of La Salute in November, gondoliers have traditionally brought their oars to be blessed on the steps of the basilica.

Merry Christmas from the Gondola Blog

photo by Nereo Zane
Merry Christmas my friends.
Thanks for reading the Gondola Blog.
Please know that your reading and commenting means more to me than words can express.
Thanks to all of you who have sent in photos and stories.
I've enjoyed rowing with some of you already, I hope to share a boat with all of you one day (but not all at once!)

Buon Natale!
-Greg Mohr

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some Christmas Photos from Previous Posts

Over the years we've seen some terrific images around Christmas time.
On the eve of the holiday, here are a few of my favorites:

Sean Antonioli sent this photo of a Christmas tree lot in Venice.
It's not something most folks would think in such a place, but Venetians need to buy trees too.
The photo originally appeared in the post "Christmas Tree Lot - In Venice" from 2008.

Two years ago this one appeared in my inbox.
Robert Dula sent it in when he was operating his gondola in Huntsville, Alabama.
The guy on the left is Robert, the guy on the right, well, you know who he is.

Dawn Reinard of Sunset Gondola shot this photo of a few of us rowing in last year's Christmas Boat Parade in Huntington Harbour.  We had a blast, leading the parade the whole time.  Tim did a great job lighting up the boat, and it came in handy on more than one occasion - anyone who's ever rowed a gondola at night knows that a black boat in the dark is stealthy...sometimes too stealthy.
A series of posts which include the words "Adventures of the Lead Boat" posted up here during the second week of December last year. 
The above photo comes from: "Adventures of the Lead Boat - the Row".

The GSVVM rowing club in Mestre tends to do some fun things for Christmas. This image comes from a procession where club members transport a symbolic Baby Jesus to a manger scene by boat.
Take a close look and you'll see the baby on the bow.
Here's a link to the original post:
photo by Nereo Zane

Not long after our expedition down the Hudson River in New York, I opened my mailbox to find a Christmas card from John Kerschbaum. To my surprise, it featured one of Nereo Zane's photos from one of the more wild days of rowing.

Two years ago when I was in NYC with my family, we took the kids to skate at Rockefeller Center.  I have always loved the tree displays they do there.  Here's one I shot on December of 2008.

Sleep well amici.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Common Sight on the Lagoon

photo by Martina Zane
Martina captured this simple but striking image on the Venetian Lagoon.
As simple as it is timeless - a rusty chain wraps around a bricola.
I think maybe it's the lighting that makes this one "pop" for me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santas Row through Venezia

Nereo Zane's blog has a great new post with photos of GSVVM boats being rowed by crews of Santas.
Take a look and enjoy the unusual spectacle.

"Babbo natale in Piazza".

Wet December

Yes folks, it has been wet here in Southern California.
There's a pile of wet clothes in the corner, near the washing machine in my garage that serve as evidence that I know what I'm talking about.

But sometimes we need to take measurements so we can be sure that we're not just imagining things.
Luckily, while I've been slogging around with bilge pumps, sump pumps, shop-vacs and other such devices, someone else took care of the measuring - someone who knows a thing or two about rain. 
Scott Sistek is a meteorologist in Seattle. 
Yeah, they know a thing or two about rain up there, and they're worried...worried that L.A. will steal their crown as the "wettest large city on the West Coast".

Here's the story:
"L.A. could steal December rain crown from Seattle"

So the next time I put on my raincoat and charge out there to fight the rain (which will probably be soon), I'll have bragging rights.
Tim, Sean, and all of the other guys in my neighborhood who are entrusted with "keeping their boats on top of the water" will be able to say to their grandkids one day:
"Oh that's nothing sonny, I fought the great rains of December, 2010!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter's Back!

Welcome to the first day of winter, my friends.
Some of you out there may be enjoying snow, but here in Southern California, we're experiencing quite a lot of rain. 
I just spent the first half of my day dealing with water in my gondolas. 
Many of them have automatic bilge pumps, but you've still got to check them. Murphy and his law are always watching me.

California has been in an officially declared drought for a very long time. 
I'm hoping these rains will do something to solve that problem. 

At the top of the Gondola Blog as I write this, we've got a great photo of snow on gondolas which was sent in February of '08 by Ingo Stahl of Wörthsee in Bavaria.
I'd like to post some more good "snow on gondolas" photos this winter, so feel free to send them in to - be sure to include who took the photo and any details I should include.

Now I think I'll step into my warm, dry garage and brush some fresh varnish on some oars which won't be needed for a few days.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Peeling Plaster

photo by Bryan Kemper

Here's a classic view from Venice.
My friend shot it while walking around.
he just liked the look of the building. 
He can't remember where it was.
Anybody out there know where he might have taken this photo?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sandolo Sequence

photos by Tamás Fehér

Here's a nice collection of images from Tamás of a sandolo he spotted while traversing the city.

The boat - still wrapped and sleeping.

Close-up on the tail.  Notice the red wrap on the remi.

After climbing aboard, the owner of the sandolo gets down to business.

He gets the boat moving "canoe-style".

Watch that bridge!

Rowing in-morso, he heads off to wherever he and his sandolo are going.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Huntington Harbour Boat Parade - Video Ride-Along

Perepare yourselves for a whole lot of video my friends.
I'm posting over a dozen clips to this post (a record here on the Gondola Blog).  Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to once again be part of the Sunset Gondola rowing team, which followed this year's boat parade.  On Saturday they had a few other rowers aboard, who had a fun and challenging time, but on Sunday we had an "A-Team" as one of the guys put it.  All four were seasoned rowers, having done this route last year. 

Here's the first video clip, taken dockside at Sunset Gondola:

From bow to stern, we had Chris "Rotto Sorriso" in the "prua" position, John Synco rowing "lai", Greg Mohr in "sestina", and Tim Reinard captaining the boat on the "poppa".

As we left the dock and started rowing I shot this clip:

The phrase "hurry up and wait" seems to best describe the beginning of almost any boat parade. Here's a piece of video shot during that time when we were in position, having hurried to get there, so someone on a committee boat could make sure we were there and ready, and then we waited.  Of course there are no dull moments on a boat like this; friends rowing together, catching up on what's going on in each other's lives, sharing a drink and simply enjoying the company - all make for an enjoyable waiting period.

Last year the "hurry up and wait" period ended with a more abrupt start than it did this year:

Rowing while shooting video isn't always easy, and I chose not to reach for my camera during some of the more crazy moments, but here's a typical view from a guy rowing in "sestina" as we cruised along:

The Huntington Harbour Boat Parade had a "Wild West" theme this year, which explains some of the decor seen on a few of the boats.  Tim doesn't usually call out to people in cowboy lingo either, but it seemed fitting this time around.

Last year we took the lead position, and the yachts, sportfishers, and other motorized boats didn't always keep up with us. Four men in a rowing boat may not sound faster than a sportfisher, but our ability to spin through the turns proved to be a great advantage.

This year we took the second to last spot on the rotation and loved it.
I must admit, that when I first heard about our new position, it didn't seem like good news, but we found that being at the tail end meant that we received more cheers from shore because not everybody is there to see the first boat come through.

One drawback however, is that when the hundred-foot yacht in front of you stops - you've got to stop too. Typically a "no voga" order from the captain is heard at that point.

When you're rowing a gondola, people tend to yell things like "why aren't you singing?", or "sing us a song!"  One time some guy hollered out "sing something in italian", so Tim promptly did just that:

Sometimes you get tired of saying the same things.
Sometimes you get creative. 
At one point Tim decided to wish someone a "Mazeltov Christmas":

There are a number of places on the route where the parade makes a U-turn and doubles back on itself.  Things can feel a bit more chaotic sometimes as parade vessels are passing each other in tighter canals:

Here's another moment of interaction with folks on shore - looks like John has a lot of "favorites".

As we neared the end, things were easy and relaxed:

finally, here's the dockside wrap-up:

We had a great time rowing in the parade last year, I don't want to downplay that row, but realistically, this was one of the most enjoyable team rowing experiences I've had in a long time.

Everyone on the boat knew what needed to be done.
When Tim would call out "no voga" or another piloting command, we all knew it was coming and were already prepared to carry it out.
Moreover, it seemed like this team had power to burn.
We could get that boat moving fast in a short time, and as the evening progressed, we got things "dialed in" to the point where the crew worked like a well-oiled machine.
There were no "Oh $#@&" situations, and speed was never an issue.

Boat handling was also worthy of note:
we pulled a number of fast spin-turns in places where the parade would come to a dead-end and double back.
Towards the end of the parade, we approached the end of one canal where a bridge crosses and the procession turns around.  A large group of spectators stood on the bridge and along shore.  We shot towards the bridge, executed a perfect spin-turn, and heard the group emit a loud collective "WHOA!"

All-in-all, it was a great row.
Many thanks go to Tim for hosting the row, and Chris and John for their expert rowing.
I'm already looking forward to next year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Three Cheers for the "Three Steves"

At my Newport operation we have a unique problem:
We have three gondoliers named "Steve".
Steve Elkins - my "right hand man" these days,
Steve O - another senior gondolier who's been with us for several years and is a great singer,
and Stephen Anastasia - expert rower and all-around great guy to have on the back of a boat.

Steve Elkins has been with us the longest so he gets to go by his full name. 
The second Steve has an unusual last name beginning with an O, so he is known to most as "Steve O",
and our third Steve generally goes by "Stefano".

Problem solved.

Tonight, the "Three Steves" solved another problem for me, as they each went out in the pouring rain with passengers eager to watch the Christmas Boat Parade in Newport. 
I was proud to have them as gondoliers tonight, and I understand that their passengers had fun despite the efforts of Mother Nature.

Three cheers for the "Three Steves!"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grabbing the Wall

photo by Bryan kemper

I believe this was taken near the Frari.
The gondolier makes good use of the wall next to his boat.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Clamp-On Forcola

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a clamp-on forcola.
At least to me.

this image was captured during the Huntington Harbour Boat Parade last week.
I've got a bunch of great video from the evening - as soon as I can outsmart my computer, I'll upload it all so you can experience it vicariously.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just the Photo - Steve on the Serena

As cooler days approach, gondoliers in Newport choose warmer clothes.
Steve likes his pea-coat - an item I've seen on gondoliers in Venice a time or two, and a great choice when it's cooler.  Here we see Steve on the back of a motorized vessel with a happy couple.
Life is good on a gondola.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bright Colors in Burano

photo by Tamás Fehér

Roughly six miles from Venice, in the northern part of the lagoon is Burano -
a densly populated group of islands separated by canals.

There are many island communities in the Venetian lagoon; each has it's own unique traits.Burano is known for her lacemaking and her fishing fleet -
both have been present in this archipelago for centuries. 

The community is divided into sestieri (districts) in a similar fashion to Venice. Approaching Burano, her leaning campanile can't be missed, but it's the colors of her houses that most visitors come away talking about. 

Legend has it that the homes in Burano were painted by the wives of fishermen when they were out at sea.  The bright colors were chosen so the men could see their homes from far away. 
I once heard a Venetian joke that the bright colors were actually chosen so those same fishermen, while coming home after "celebrating" with their friends, could pick their houses out even if they were drunk.

Whatever the case, Burano is easily recognized by her bright colors.
These days the government has to approve a homeowner's color choice before a house can be repainted.

Artists and photographers love Burano for her bright color scheme.
Another trait of Burano is the style of her buildings - not only are they bright, but they are also very simple in design.  Burano isn't filled with ostentatious palazzi.  The windows are square, the homes are small compared to those in Venice, these are fishermen's homes.  There's a beauty in that simplicity.

One of the best rowers I've ever shared a boat with - Bepi Suste - is from Burano.  Bepi has an active rowing club there: Associazione Vogaepara, and anyone who receives his training is very fortunate indeed.

Next time I talk with Bepi, I'll have to ask him what color his house is.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Venice Tattoo

photos by Bryan Kemper
Some friends of mine swung through Venice recently and looked up the Gaman Tattoo Studio. 
One of my friends has additions made to his back tattoo whenever he visits a new place.  I just buy cheap t-shirts and try to look up any gondolas that might be in the area.