Monday, March 1, 2010

Squero San Trovaso - Wood to Weather

I remember hearing a story once about an old American Indian elder who went into the forest with his grandson to choose a tree branch that they could carve into a flute.
After selecting the right one, they cut the branch from the tree and brought it back home. The boy prepared his hand tools, eager to begin crafting the branch into a musical instrument, but the old man stopped him, saying:
"wait, we need to let the wood rest a while".

When I heard that story I was much younger, and to be honest I just figured it was one of those Native American spiritualism things. Over the years though, as I've spent some time getting to know wood and it's many personality traits, I've realized that there was a much more practical side to what the tribal elder said to his grandson.

Wood grows, solid and strong as part of a living organism.
It is well hydrated, maintaining a certain amount of moisture.
Then, when the tree comes down and the wood is cut into boards, the whole world changes for those tightly knit cellulose fibers.

When wood comes to Venice and is delivered at a squero, the boards are laid out carefully to "season". The squerarioli who use them want to make sure the boards have gotten any movement out of their system. When wood is immediately used, it can sometimes do strange things. It can have a mind of it's own, bending or splitting in ways that could affect the bouyancy of a vessel.

Visit any squero in Venice and you're likely to see wood "resting", before it finds new life as part of a beautiful boat. In english speaking circles some say "let's allow the wood to weather a bit first".

The wood you see in this stack may very well be the same wood you see a few years from now - fashioned into different parts of a magnificent gondola, all black and shiny as she glides down the Grand Canal.

I wonder if it will miss being part of a tree then.
perhaps I'm attributing too much personality to the wood.
Or maybe it's that tiny sliver of Chippewa Indian in me coming out from high up in my own family tree.


Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

>sliver of indian blood

So many cities and nations have claimed birth of Christofer Columbus against Genoa, one must be suprised that Venice is NOT amongst them!

So they did not think to invite native american (costumed) gondoliers to the Sensa day boat march so far, but it may worth asking?

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

There are probably several different types of wood in that weathering stack, as gondolas have a mixture of eight (?) varieties. Maybe some of them can be identified in this photo, even if only their edges are visible?

All of them may require different amounts of time to age ... and then some inpatient and industrious person invented marine playwood.

(BTW, is it true that marine plywood was not merely banned from traditional venetian squeros by the Ente Gondola, but existing plywood gondolas must be retired from commercial service before a deadline?

I think it would be unfair if plywood gondolas did not get a "grandfather extension" to serve as long as they last, but maybe they will come cheaper to the second hand market?)

Gondola Greg said...

Interesting point.
I haven't heard about any plywood ban, but I live pretty far from Venice. Anyone here on the board heard of it?
I'm told that most of the plywood in gondolas has been done by one squero on La Giudecca, which has a lot of influence with the Commune di Venezia.
Unless the owner of that squero sees a benefit to the ban, I think he ought to be able to lobby against it.
Interesting point.

Nereo said...

Nobody thinks to ban plywood from gondolas construction or has the authority to.
That's part of the evolution. Today gondolas are quite different than the the ones born centuries ago. just compare the current gondole to the boats in the Canaletto or Guardi pictures and you have the answer.

Bepi said...

Crea is the name of the Giudecca plywood gondola builder.

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

I think this was in 2000. Maestro Crea supported the use of marine plywood, while the Felze Association opposed it on "purist" grounds.

Eventually Felze managed to convince the Ente and the city council to "outlaw" plywood
construction for commercial use gondolas, in order to prevent people thinking outside of the traditional and maybe inventing fibre-glass or carbon gondolas
one day.

That may be cause of a 10-year deadline rumor now, even if there is no ban on existing plywood gondolas.