Saturday, January 30, 2010
Ok, so they're not tiny by most standards, but they are much smaller than the standard ones which measure out at 11 meters/36 feet long.
Andrew McHardy discovered the enormous oarlock, I've gotta give credit to Tamas Feher for finding these two gems.
They're on the Flickr website in the Arzana collection (in the Squero Battistin section).
click here to link to the first one,
and here for the second one,
then come back and give us your best little puppy-adoring "aaaahhh" - kind of like my daughters do when someone walks by with a newborn baby or a box of kittens.
These are the legendary "half-size gondolas", which are often talked about but hardly ever seen. The ones linked above actually appear smaller than half-size, but they still fall into the same category. Over the years I've had conversations about them with nearly half of the gondola-people I know. Everyone's curious to know more (myself included) and wonders:
a. if an adult could row one,
b. if one could be used for real passenger service,
c. how much one might be worth,
d. how many are there and where are they?
Within the gondola world, a lot of people know of them, but hardly anyone has actually seen one except in photographs.
A half-size gondola is an unusual creation.
Measuring somewhere under twenty feet in length, and quite narrow, they make amazing showpieces. And while they are much smaller than standard gondolas, they are still longer than your average four-door sedan - not something most wives will let their husbands display in the living room.
They were primarily intended for use in parades:
Small boys (usually the sons of gondoliers or boat-builders) would row them while dressed in traditional clothing. Other children would ride inside as passengers.
I'm quite certain that it was the cutest darn thing most Venetians would see all year. I'll bet they made those same puppy-adoring sounds my daughters make.
Most half-size gondolas are quite old, the Tramontins built a handful of them in the early 20th Century. Squero Casal also produced some. Gilberto Penzo's full-size hardback "La Gondola" has a small photo of one being rowed on the lagoon - the boys are in full parade dress and the boat actually has a felze top as well.
The ones in Tamas Feher's links were built by Squero Battistin.
The most recent one I know of was built by Thom Price about eight or nine years ago. It was the only one he built and he did it in a friend's home while on vacation in the U.S.
I have no idea where it is now.
As unique as these pint-sized boats are, their applications are extremely limited. Aside from museum display and parade use, there's not much else they can be used for except in private collections or maybe as decarations at Italian restaurants.
I don't know if they are half as wide as a standard gondola, but judging from the photos I've seen, they are still too narrow to take adult passengers sitting side-by-side. In a community of jockeys maybe, but still, from a stability standpoint, I'd be leary to risk it. One hard lean to starboard and the serene romantic cruise could immediately transform into a spontaneous swimming-lesson.
The one thing a half-size gondola can do though, is separate the "gondola fanatics" from the rest of the population.
When a bunch of people walk into a room and encounter one of these diminutive boats, most of them will just say "hey, I think that's one of those boats from Venice".
But the true "gondola fanatic" will be shocked, amazed, he or she will immediately fall in love with the boat, silently thinking of ways to try and smuggle it out in their coat.
The half-size gondola:
Too small to row, too big to pick up and walk off with.
And one of the cutest things I've ever seen.
To see photos of a half-size gondola in my post from January 19th of 2009, go to:
Friday, January 29, 2010
Andrew McHardy and His Huge Forcola
and such, eventually leading up to the photo way down the page, but it seemed to me everyone would invariably scroll down and see the photo first.
After some consideration, the above title was simply unavoidable.
If you haven't scrolled down yet, get ready to be shocked...and now look at that enormous oarlock!
I showed up the other night for the event at Sunset Gondola, and Andrew and Tim couldn't wait to show me this photo.
As Tim put it: "no build-up would be too much".
I thought to myself "what could possibly be worthy of such an introduction?"
I was not disappointed.
So here's the story as it was told to me:
Andrew Mchardy was visiting a friend named Jason Bissell in North Hollywood, when Jason said something along the lines of "You've got to see this, you're not gonna believe it!"
Jason has the unique distinction of being one of the only gondoliers ever to have actually been fired from the operation in Alamitos Bay. Tell that to a bunch of boisterous gondoliers on a pilgrimage to Captain Jack's and they'll raise a toast to the man.
Jason lives in North Hollywood next door to a German woman who is about to do some vacationing. A while back she asked him if he wouldn't mind watering her plants while she was out. He agreed, and walked into her place only to find the biggest freakin' forcola anyone's ever seen, just standing there and serving as a makeshift coat rack!
After expressing his amazement, his neighbor told him that it was a gift from the actor Anthony Quinn.
It turns out that Jason's neighbor dated Anthony Quinn, and while he was in Italy (probably working on a film), Quinn sent her this gift.
Yes, it's made of real wood - the type yet to be determined.
No, I don't know who carved it as of yet.
Yes, it does appear to be modeled after a forcola da pupparin.
and NO, Andrew is not a midget, the guy's six feet tall. The forcola really is that big.
So that's what we know so far, but rest assured I'll be making my way up to North Hollywood some time soon to see this Paul Bunyan sized forcola for myself.
No, this isn't an April Fool's post.
I wish I could be creative enough to come up with something like this, but sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Sunset Gondola Hosts Another
"Sunset Gondola hosts another excuse for gondoliers to get together, drink wine, tell lies, and laugh a lot (and really loud)".
Pictured from left to right: Ian McCabe, Eric Sjoberg (toasting), Heather Aldridge, Peter Dever, Greg Garite, Andrew McHardy, Greg Mohr (kneeling), Dan Devine, Rachel Grizzel, Tim Reinard, Charles Green, Erin Grissom (kneeling),"Rotto Sorriso", Dawn Reinard (kneeling), Kelly Armstrong.
Last night a bunch of us got together once again at Sunset Gondola. This was the 5th one of these shindigs hosted by Sunset.
I must give Tim a great big "thank you" for putting these things together - they are so fun. The formula isn't rocket-science, you just get friends together, add a little food and wine, then throw them all on boats for a row to a local haunt.
Having guys like Sjoberg and Andrew there certainly helps keep things fun and interesting. But I think the secret is that everyone likes each other. They look forward to the company; to the rare chance to just "hang with their own" as gondoliers and gondola people. Everyone must also like Tim, cause he's the one who calls them up and invites them.
As usual, I met some new friends and enjoyed visiting with established ones too. I had a great time catching up with Erin after her long odyssey in Europe. Greg Garite, Heather and I chatted for a while about Las Vegas gondolas. Pete and Andrew pulled me into a conversation about the various "boat families" in the Venetian lagoon, and Eric Sjoberg was the boisterously funny guy that he usually is. There were other exchanges between the folks there that I missed, but they all enjoyed themselves. I wish I could have spent more time talking with everyone.
Usually I spend a fair amount of time creeping around with cameras and trying to capture moments. This time I decided to just settle in and enjoy the company of friends and I'm glad I did. I wasn't able to join in the procession this time, and it sounds like I really missed out. The light on the water, with current conditions made for a sublime and surreal experience to and from Captain Jack's. I've been told that Andrew McHardy sang one of the "best versions of 'Po-pay' ever heard".
All in all, Tim Reinard described the event as "one of the best ones yet".
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Some gondoliers have the opportunity in winter to step where they usually row.
Ina went for a walk yesterday with her sister and her dog to tread on the frozen Alster - a tributary to the Elbe River.
The Alster meets the Elbe in Hamburg, and all that water, which Ina rows on, joins water from other parts of Northern Europe to eventually flow into the North Sea.
"It is the first time after 12 years that you can stand on the Alster. It was big fun."
As you can see from the photo, they weren't the only ones out on the ice - looks like lots of folks took time off on a Tuesday afternoon to enjoy the experience.
Hamburg is Germany's second largest city and a hub of activity for Northern Germany. In the distance you can see some of the high steeples which are so distictive for the region.
Thanks for the report Ina, stay warm!
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Orseolo - the Ferro Line-Up
Here are a few shots I took when there were only 15 or so gondolas there.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Tirza and Hans Rowing with Friends
I am, I'm freezing my tail off in D.C. and watching news stories about wicked storms back in my Southern California hometown.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Scenes from Santa Lucia
Here are a handful of shots I took at the end of my last visit.
Here's one of the more utilitarian workhorses of the region.
As you can see, it's been tagged by somoene who obviously thought it should have "plus cash" emblazoned on the front.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Orseolo - Blues Seats
You'd think that dark blue would blend in more, but with such black uniformity, the blue stood out.
The gondola also had unique floorboards and the decorative rope and pom-poms which trail behind the cavalli matched the blue upholstery.
It seemed like a pretty safe bet that this one was privately owned.
Taking a closer look, I noticed some nice carved fodra boards (removable panels just below the rail inside) and an impressive scimier which sat atop the seat back.
It's nice to see a gondola that is clearly prized by her owner.
And there are a number of them in Bacino Orseolo.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Bepi's Gondolas Spared by Twister
Tim at Sunset Gondola witnessed "weather with a twist" today and posted some photos on his blog.
Check out his post The Twister of 2010.
Shots from the Quay at San Marco
Orseolo - Totally Hosed
Sometimes they're black hoses, sometimes bicycle tire innertubes - I just call them hoses.
This guy, has taken the whole hose thing to a new level.
The fending method is clever but I wonder if his sister has noticed yet that the tires on her pink bicycle are missing along with the inner tubes.
Take a closer look at the clipper-ship painted on on the portela of the gondola next to it. Interesting deck carvings too.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Let me just pull back the curtains and check...
Yep, it's officially "raining cats and dogs" out there.
I checked my web-counter and by the look of things, a lot of you are holed-up inside and waiting out the storm. I hope my musings are at least somewhat engaging.
Ahh, but if you own gondolas you all have one thing you must do sooner or later:
You must check your boats.
Pretty soon I'll be suiting up in my best waterproof attire and firing up my favorite shop-vac.
After that I have a feeling I'll spend a little quality time in front of the fireplace with some red wine.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Just the Photo - "Big Empty Blue"
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Orseolo - The Haggard Ferro
My guess is that this ferro has been around for a long time, and probably has some sentimental value.
If it could talk, I'm sure this ferro would tell a long and interesting story.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Black is Beautiful
while others claim that it's not a color at all.
Some say that black is the presence of all color.
Others believe that black is the complete absence of color.
I think the options above may each have merit depending on the situation, but in the case of the Venetian gondola, the reason that gondolas are black began as an "absence of color".
There are a number of incorrect theories behind the reason Venice's gondolas are black. Some of the more mainstream falsehoods include some sort of mourning.
I've heard a number of people claim that they are black to mourn the fall of Venice at the hands of Napoleon.
Others have said that Venice's gondolas are painted black to mourn those who died in the plague, and I've also heard it said that they are black because they were also used as funeral barges during the plague.
These are all interesting theories, and most of the false statements about the gondola could conceivably be true, but the truth is that there was no paint-color mandate - it was a mandate against paint.
For the longest time gondolas were the "private coaches" of the rich and powerful of Venice. Not surprisingly, these follks spent a fair amount of attention on looking good, which included dressing up their gondolas.
How a well-to-do Venetian appeared to his neighbors was important to him. Great wealth was poured into each gondola.
A little healthy rivalry can be good - it keeps people on their toes, makes them strive to be better, but at some point things got out of hand, this Venetian version of "keeping up with the Joneses" ended up on the radar of the city fathers. The more these high-profile Venetian families tried to outshine each other, the more money they dumped into the competition. It seems that what had begun as a harmless beauty contest, developed into what the leaders of the city called an "unecessary financial expense".
The Venetian law of 1633 was different: it had been put in place to control the rich. There are some who are quick to point out, however, that the government's boats were exempt - giving them the ability to outshine the regulated boats.
Because pitch was used in the waterproofing process in the 1600's, an absense of paint meant that the boats would end up black. At some point black paint worked it's way into the mix, and even though the sumptuary law was meant to curtail the beauty of these boats, it really just brought about a new kind of beauty. Before that time, gondolas in Venice were ridiculously well decorated. Adorments of gold and other expensive materials literally hung from the boats. Brightly colored paints, which were a show of wealth as well, were used to outshine other boats. I'm told that ferros and other metal elements on the gondolas were sometimes made from pure gold.
This was all far from utilitarian, but on the Grand Canal it had become a priority to dazzle everyone.
The gondola today has a much more classy, understated beauty - one that doesn't scream out like a candy-apple red hot rod, but rather simmers with the seductive allure of a black Maserati.
It's a beauty that comes with confidence and inherent grace.
As I have obsessed over these boats for many years now, maybe it's conditioning, but I can't think of another color more perfectly suited to the Venetian gondola.
I'm not so crazy about seeing black on my toast for breakfast, but on a long boat full of complex curves on the waters of Venice,
Black is Beautiful.
Restoration of the Doge's Palace
It's an AP article, compliments of Yahoo.
Here's the link.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
For the longest time it was the cats who got all the attention.
In fact I remember 12 years ago when I came across an agency solely dedicated to facilitating the pet-adoption of Venice's stray cats.
I've seen dogs in Venice during previous visits, but last June it seemed like there was a dog around every corner, one or two on every vaporetto, and each time I ventured into a campo, there were several folks there with their canine pals.
Most of the dogs I saw were with their owners, but I did see a few that might have been strays.
There was another thing I encountered a lot this last trip out to Venice: yep, you guessed it - dog poop!
Holy moly! It seemed like it was everywhere!
Has anybody else noticed a dog increase in La Serenissima?
Whether or not there are more dogs,
the next time you're in Venice, take my advice:
watch your step!
Cavalletto Hotel in Bacino Orseolo
The Hotel Cavalletto (yes, that yellow building you see in so many Orseolo photos), is actually a Best Western!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Traghetto at Rest - San Toma
Oh, but there are many other spots where you can get across that backwards "s" shaped waterway, and they are called "traghetti". A traghetto is a sort of "gondola ferry", which is rowed back and forth from one side of the canal to the other. The cost is negligable - I don't want to commit to an actual number because it fluctuates, but suffice to say that it's a small handful of coins, and for most Venetians, a worthwhile short-cut and a great time saver when compared to finding a bridge to cross.
While waiting for the traghetto at San Toma with Nereo and Martina Zane, I shot these photos of another traghetto boat which was docked and waiting for busier hours.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Orseolo - Takin' it Easy
- Winston Churchill
Ok, so the quote has nothing at all to do with the kind of vise we're talking about today.
But it really is a great quote, and I knew I needed at least one Churchill quote before my blog could be considered "respectable". Churchill is like cowbell - you can never have too much of either.
The term "vise" or "vice" should probably be explored briefly.
In the U.S. and Canada we refer to sinful things, addictions and guilty pleasures by the term "vice".
The squeezing and pinching mechanism, which is usually employed to hold things in place is a "vise".
In the UK and Australia "vice" covers both meanings.
I have no idea how the rest of the english speaking world differentiates between the two.
Now, before the whole lot of you jump on me for waxing on and giving new meaning to the word "buttercow",
let's talk about vises.
Here are a few photos I shot in Franco Furlanetto's shop of two separate vises.
As the remer works on both forcole and remi, invariably he needs something to hold an item in place while he goes to work with a variety of tools.
A vise is the obvious choice for most applications, and not surprisingly, Venetian remers have their own version.
Known as "la morsa da remeri", this gripping element is hard-mounted to the floor, has vertical jaws, and can be quickly opened and closed using a large "nut".
In the remer's shops I've visited, a vise is usually either in the center of the room or close to it. Much of the work associated with bringing a beautiful forcola out of a plain chunk of wood, takes place while the wood is clamped in the vise.
Through time and use, that wood gets worn and scarred.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Orseolo - One Polished ferro
There's no place in the world quite like Venice,
and there's no place in Venice like Orseolo.
Known as the "gondola garage" by some, Bacino Orseolo is not only a place to get on a gondola for a ride, it's also where numerous gondolas can be seen rafted together.
As you've seen in previous posts, this raft of gondolas makes for some fun photos. I dare say that it's next to impossible to walk through there with a camera and not take at least a few pictures.
Today's Orseolo photo shows a grouping of gondolas criss-crossed bow to stern.
It looks like someone got a new ferro.
Or maybe just got finished polishing the heck out of it.
Either way, it sure looks nice, and stands out in a big way.
That blade is so shiny, that in a previous photo, you can see my reflection in it as I crouched to take the photo.
I decided not to post that image because the reflection of some bonehead tourist crouching down seemed to detract from the the quality of the scene.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Just the Photo - "Gondola Docks in Alamitos Bay"
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Snow Fell on Alabama
Joe Gibbons sent me this one.
With the colder months upon us, I'm not surprised to see photos of snow on gondolas these days.
But in ALABAMA??!!
I must say that this photo's got me questioning the whole "global warming" thing.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Happy to be Home
Many thanks to those in Las Vegas who were so hospitable - I'd love to have spent more time with you all but I had to get back home. I've got some painting to do before "V-Day"...and I've got to do some serious re-hydrating!
The "Venetian" Gondola
The finished product was a result of much deliberation over the best design, because once they chose a design and built the moulds, the only changes possible would be to the accessories and non-fiberglass parts.
Yes, the gondolas are fiberglass, but not just any old "tupperware" boat material - the vacuum-bag construction method used was top of the line and state-of-the-art. Ultra high-quality foam core and fiberglass materials were used, and the guy who headed up the building project was reportedly known to have built racing sailboats that competed in the Americas Cup competition.
Suffice to say, the gondolas were built on a budget that you might expect at a major Las Vegas casino. The proprietor of said casino was new to the game and wanted to put his best foot forward - he spared no effort or expense and it shows, not only in the boats but in the resort as a whole.
I had the opportunity to tour the Treadway facility during the construction of some of these gondolas.
It was incredible, really amazing to see such high quality work being done on such a large scale. Around two dozen of these boats were produced there. By the time I walked through the facility, some had already begun cruising at the casino, but there were others - stored and waiting in a room. I walked into that room, and the best way to describe it, would be that it was like walking into the showroom of a luxury car dealership. There they were, all black and shiny - the glossy gel-coat was like no paint on the market, surfaces reflected like black chrome. The wood trim on each boat was stained a little different than the others, and the seating upholstery colors varied as well.
I realize that some who read this find non-Venice-built gondolas to be objectionable, but these gondolas are like no others on the planet (except their sister ships that operate in the casino's counterpart in the Orient).
Treadway no longer builds gondolas, the contract to build them for the casino in Las Vegas was a limited one, and the moulds and designs used to build them are the property of the casino, not Treadway. I know this because the reason I visited Treadway was to hire them to build boats for one of my operations - they were thrilled with the idea, the owner of the moulds was not.
Just the Photo - "Calm Water on Lake Las Vegas"
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Nightfall in Las Vegas
I grabbed this shot on my way out the front door of the casino.
A while back I mentioned in a post that a small group of red and white striped poles in Venice have inspired more mimicry than any of the other palina patterns - here's living proof...in the Nevada desert.
As for the campanile, she's a pretty convincing recreation.
If it weren't for the big high-rise in the distance you'd think it was Venice. Hmmm, then again, I don't think we'll ever find the real campanile that close to the Rialto!
Oh well, it's Vegas.