Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Night of July in Newport

I shot a collection of photos of gondolier Bob Milspaugh on the "Phoenix" today - some from the upper deck of a yacht, others while rowing the "Lucia". Things were absolutely perfect here on the last night of July.

Ready to go with four passengers.


Lots of activity on the water.

A quiet moment in the canals.

As the light fades on the harbor, the sun still shines on the hills to the south.

Giuseppe goes under the bridge on his Crystal Swan, while Bob rows in the background.

One more shot in the turning basin of the harbor.

Friday, July 30, 2010


This ones for you, Sean!
A funny thing happened here on the Gondola Blog about a year ago. I had meticulously written a post called "White Gondola" Roundup, describing a number of white gondolas.
As was often the case back then, some comments went in different directions, straying away from the topic of the post. Eventually, Sean of Coronado posted an outrageous comment, demonstrating just how far off topic things could get.
His description of the buttercow sculpture phenomenon at state fairs left many laughing.

That day a new term was coined: "buttercowing".

So today, as I was walking through one of the exhibit halls at the Orange County Fair, and I saw a "butter Michaelangelo's David"...I simply HAD to snap a photo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Sooner or later, most gondoliers realize that what they do is at least part "sport". After that realization, they start analyzing various aspects of their sport. They consider form, conditioning, equipment, and of course - gear.
Questions like "are these pants comfortable to row in?", and "how's my shoulder mobility in this shirt?" are often asked.
Sooner or later we start looking at shoes with equal enthusiasm.

I've been through all sorts of footwear during my years.

- Dress shoes look great but they don't give much support. They also don't hold up well inder the punishment of our "sport".

- Cross training shoes can be good, but are often a bit clunky for my taste. They are not always blessed with enough cushioning either.

- Running shoes are among my favorite things to wear in any activity, but most don't exactly blend in with black pants and striped shirt.

- Good looking work boots have brought me through a few serious busy periods. The clunky aspect was overshadowed by decent cushioning and superior ankle support.

- Sergio Segalin (one of Venice's few remaining “caleghèri”) makes a great pair of "Gondolier's Shoes". I published a post on the man and his shoes a few years ago and I still wear those lightweight loafers from time to time. For the easy-going rowing, I like Sergio's "Gondolier's Shoes", but for the more aggressive rowing that I seem to prefer these days, I need athletic footwear.

-I've had some good luck with low-top basketball shoes - they provide good cushioning, have moderate flexibility, and I can usually justify their appearance with some clever excuse.

A POSSIBLE ANSWER I reserve the right to come up with a better choice of rowing footwear later, but as of now, I've found a great solution to my needs with a trail-running shoe by Adidas called the Raven

I went into Roadrunner Sports a few years ago to try on some running shoes and came out a believer.
I don't want this post to turn into a commercial, but I only trust one guy with my feet these days, and he works at that store. I told him about rowing and the requirements of that activity, and ended up with a pair of trail-running shoes on as I walked out the door.

Off-road running shoes are designed with stability in mind - you never know where your foot will be planted next. They're not high-tops, but they give good support and have enough cushioning for a long stint of rowing.

Because the Raven is mostly black, I can get away with wearing them on the back of my gondola.

THE FORUM So now I'd like to hear your thoughts on footwear. What do you wear on the back of the gondola?
Each night? For special occasions?
What about for the more athletic rowing adventures?

Speak up my friends!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grabbing Hold

Gondoliers do things a little differently in each location.
Each of the 30+ gondola operations in the U.S. have their own protocols.

Here in Newport I've noticed that nobody likes to touch a bridge.
Newport Harbor has four gondola operations currently, and we all tend to pass under bridges without making contact.

Sure, the occasional high-tide scenario finds me performing an impromptu bench-press in order to get the tail of the boat under a low bridge, but otherwise my hands remain on the remo.

Stefano began rowing with us a while back, and I noticed that he stopped under a bridge and grabbed hold of it - taking time to really concentrate on his song.

A few other gondoliers have done the same "bridge stop" thing when visiting from ports up the coast from Newport. And in both Alamitos Bay and Huntington Harbour I've observed gondoliers place a foot or hand on a bridge to stabilize while singing.

Stefano "gets a grip" on the bridge.

It makes perfect sense:
For years I've told my passengers that

"any good gondolier knows that the acoustics under a bridge are almost as good as those of a shower".

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gothic Cavallo?

While exploring the Museo Storico Navale (Venice's maritime museum and a true hidden gem), I noticed this dramatic piece mounted on the wall near some amazing boats on display.

There wasn't any sign or descrition anywhere indicating what the piece was. My guess is that it's a cavallo, but it could have been mounted somewhere else on a boat.

Anybody out there got cavalli like this on their gondola?

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Venetian Blind"

A while back I provided a striped shirt, sash and scarf to a client in New York City. He was attending a costume function and wanted to go as a "Venetian Blind".
Dressed like a gondolier, with dark glasses and a white cane, he ventured into the party.
Not everybody guessed his identity, but he got a lot of laughs.
Don't know where he got the hat.

Thanks John - you're both daring and creative.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shooting from the Top Deck

Most of the time I don't get to shoot photos from places other than the back of a boat at sea level. Being out on the water, I've gotten pretty good at rowing and shooting photos and video from the poppa. But tonight I was able to sneak up to the top deck of a charter yacht in dock, and snap away as Stefano came and went. The light was right and the clouds had been chased away. The higher vantage point gave me the ability to shoot without busy backgrounds, and with all those elements on my side - I got lucky with a few shots.

Stefano took his first cruise out on the Wedding Gondola.
I caught my first glimpse of him returning - as he stationed himself under the Newport Boulevard bridge for a song.

As he got closer, I zoomed in with my long lens and got lucky with this picture down the centerline of the boat. Here we can clearly see the asymmetry of this Venice-built classic.

Approaching the dock, Stefano turned just enough for me to capture a good three-quarter shot of the boat, showing her detailed deck carvings. As you can see, with the wind at his back he was able to move along easily with one hand.

Stefano's next cruise was on the Pheonix.
As he headed away, I was able to capture the same three-quarter shot in reverse.
From this vantage point we can even see the detail of the deck-trim.

I've had the same conversation with at least a dozen gondoliers and photographers, who all agree that the unique shape of the Venetian gondola is best shot in three-quarter. The trick is getting that correct angle.
Stefano had no idea I was shooting these photos.

As he rowed off toward the setting sun, the gondolier was greeted by someone in a tall building on shore, and took a moment to give them a wave back - loving his job, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


In Venice there are no cars. So when you need to take a bus - you jump on the vaperetto. When you need something delivered, it comes by topo. Even the garbage is picked up by boat rather than trash truck. It should come as no surprise then, that when you have a medical emergency in Venezia, they send a boat. Most of the time, these "ambulanza" boats are seen moving at a high rate of speed, up on a plane with lights flashing and sirens blaring. For this more subdued encounter I was on a traghetto.
For a photo sequence that's more typical, check out my post entitled "What to do when you're a gondolier in Venice and an ambulance boat approaches".
These boats perform an important, lifesaving duty.
All the same, I Hope I never need to ride in one.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Images from my Evening

Just a few photos from my evening on board the Wedding Gondola in Newport.

Gondola Greg in action.

Sunset is nice, but the colors that come later are dramatic.

One of my cruises tonight was a full dinner cruise.
Here's a view over the table after the meal was over.

Full moon and palm trees.

Timelapse and Webcams from the Danieli

Thanks go out to Tamás Fehér for pointing out this link.

When you have a chance, take a look at on a big monitor.

The world-famous Hotel Danieli in Venice, has two great webcams on the above mentioned site.

After you've enjoyed live views of both the San Giorgio Maggiore Island and Santa Maria della Salute Church, feast your eyes on the timelapse sequence.

See if you can spot the moon as it moves through the sky.

Stretching Exercises with John - Segment Four

There are several different ways to keep yourself in top shape for rowing. In many disciplines you might hear someone say that flexibility is as important as strength.

In this video clip, John Kerschbaum goes through a few wrist and forearm stretches from the world of Aikido.

Go easy here, the first few times should be approached with moderation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting to the Bottom of Things

photos of this segment courtesy of John Kerschbaum at Gondola Romantica.

As gondola operators, we spend a lot of time and attention making sure things look good and function well above the waterline. But anyone who's ever taken care of a boat knows that if you don't keep the "underwater part" in shape...soon the whole boat will become the "underwater part."

The trick, sometimes, is getting access to that part of the boat. First, you must remove the boat from the water - that's a given. For discussion sake, I'm going to focus our attention today on rolling the boat over on her side. Sure, it's possible to raise the boat up on stands or blocks to get to the bottom, but the Venetians typically choose the lateral roll, so that's what lots of gondola owners in other places do too.

In my recent post "Hoisting with Passengers", Bepi of Sunset Gondola left a great coment; part of it was "when it comes to how the Venetians prop up very large vessels for repair, with a few sticks and wood blocks, I stay far away."

Indeed, anyone who's spent any time around a Venetian squero or rowing club knows what Bepi is talking about.
Photos of one such display can be viewed in June 14th, 2008's post "The Red Racing Gondola".
And actually, the club members who propped that boat up used a lot more support than most Venetian boat-proppings I've seen.

John Kerschbaum in Minnesota has a fairly routine ritual of boat prep that he and his staff go through each year as launch time approaches.

Here we see that attention is paid to both the outside and the inside of that part of the boat which sits in the water.
establishing a support system that can be trusted is important not only for the safety of your boat, but for you and anyone else who might be sitting, crouching or assuming any other positions near the boat that might prevent you from leaping away from a falling boat. planks or poles to prop-up, as well as straps or ropes to tether-down, are both useful and can make a big difference in the time and energy put into a job (knowing that your gondola is less likely to "decide she wants to go somewhere" on her own).

Of course it's important to show your underwear while performing such an operation too.

Now let's take a look at how they do things in Venezia.

this photo sequence by Bob Easton
Here are two images from a series of photos Bob shot from across the canal known as the Rio di San Trovaso as some squerarioli tipped up a gondola at Squero San Trovaso. The full series was posted in mid-August of 2008 and is entitled "Recent Activity in Squero San Trovaso"

After pulling the gondola out of the water using metal rollers that can be placed on the ground, the guys placed a small sawhorse (known as a "cavalletto") under the prow and rolled the boat over, placing a plank diagonally like the kick-stand on a bicycle to keep her up.
The squerarioli demonstrated with this boat, and then another (in Bob's full sequence), how easily a group of guys can move these boats around if they know what they're doing.

Up in Denmark, Simon Bognolo and his father maintain their gondola "Stephania" with dedication...and a clever use of old tires! Here's a photo from their spring launch-prep.

photo by Simon Bognolo

To view the website for Denmark's only operating gondola, go to:

Meanwhile, sometimes a gondolier hasn't got a crew of guys or a trusty piece of lifting equipment.
Sometimes you've just got to get creative.
Sometimes you've got to employ unusual things to get the job done.
I couldn't publish a post here about tipping and lifting gondolas without including this masterpiece.

photo by Robert Dula
Many of you probably remember seeing this image and reading or taking part in the "What the HECK Happened Here?!" forum in March of this year.

Roberto, who has recently re-launched an operation in New Orleans gets the official Gondola Blog "MacGyver Award" for his use of:
a small floor-jack,
giant beach ball,
and a shop-vac set on "blow".
I hope you've all enjoyed and possibly even learned something from this study of a unique boat-rolling procedure. If anyone has stories, photos, or video of their own on the subject - I'd love to see them.
At the end of the day, we're all just figuring stuff out together.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vogalonga Flashback - Video at the Start

video by Elisa Mohr

Here's a clip shot from the front (passenger area) of the GSVVM's big quattordesona "Mestrina" at the start of the 2009 Vogalonga.

It was originally posted in June of last year, and was one of the first video clips on the Gondola Blog.

Here's a link to the original post entitled "2009 Vogalonga Video - Start of the Race".

If you were there, then you know what it was like to be on the water that day. In the hours that followed, Vogalonga 2009 went from an "I wonder what kind of day we'll have" day, to what some have called a "legendary disaster" with swamped and broken-up boats on the front page of the local paper.

Plenty was written here on the blog about it - search Vogalonga and you're sure to find something that will amuse or amaze you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

View from the Poppa

Just another boring shot from the gondolier's perspective.
I had an absolutely perfect night on board the Phoenix.
Newport has been experiencing some overcast conditions with cloud cover overhead.
This phenomenon, known as the "marine layer" hugs the coast and keeps things cool. Some folks might prefer to see clear conditions, but from my standpoint, I love the cloud cover - it keeps things cool and makes for a more relaxing setting to do cruises.

Bacino Orseolo at Night - With and Without Flash

One night in Venice, I broke away after dinner and headed over to Bacino Orseolo.

I brought my best tripod, a new flash unit, and a remote trigger.
I did use the flash a few times, but ended up (as I had expected) concentrating mostly on lock-down long exposures, using either a timer or the remote trigger.

My hope was to try and recreate what Nereo Zane had done back in 2007. This time I had a better camera and hoped to come away with something worthy of posting. Nereo has taken some amazing images; he's solely responsible for my affinity for long-exposures.

for today's post I'm putting up two images of the same gondola.

Almost all of the gondolas in Bacino Orseolo are stored in a similar manner - side-tied in an enormous raft (see my post from November 27th of 2007), but there's always one moored along the steps in front of the bookstore nearest Piaza San Marco.

First, here's a shot of that gondola with a flash:
Notice how well the flash picks up every little detail...and imperfection.

Now here's another shot of the same boat in long-exposure with no flash:

Sure, the flash captures more detail, but it seems to me that this process does a better job of showing the true essence of the boat.

I'll post some more from this session in days to come.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Festa del Redentore According to Nereo

Check in to Nereo Zane's blog to read about this year's Festa del Redentore in Venice. He's even got a video clip on his site

I haven't had the chance to experience Festa del Redentore first hand yet, but I hope to some day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carpets, Carvings and Hoses

Here's a close-up I shot of two gondolas in the San Marco district.
There are a number of details worth noting here:
First of all, from the carvings on the decks, both boats look like they're wedding gondolas. The curious use of garden hose, so prevalent in Venice, is seen here - it's handy when side-tying and protects the docklines.
Nice carpets - I like the darker red one myself, but I've always been a fan of the trim-like binding seen here.
The flag painted on the deck of the closer boat is awesome, I'd love to have that on my boat.
My guess is that the boat is owned by a guy named "Riccardo Gaia, but I could be wrong.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Curci Cavalli

In many ways, the"Lucia" (Curci family gondola) is both a time capsule and an example of privately owned gondolas.

She was brought to Newport Beach in 1964 and has been maintained with great dedication - almost like a rare classic car.

Not surprisingly, the "Lucia" has cavalli that are old, well-kept, and unique. I'm not sure whether they are typical of gondolas in the 60's, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are.

Like many cavalli, they have a main character that's part horse, part sea-creature.

But in this case the horse is ridden by a cherub.

The founders who cast these pieces long ago, didn't create the design with symmetry either - each cavallo has a front and a back.

Almost ten years ago I was honored to be part of a major restoration of this historic gondola. I got to oversee all the metal on the boat, and these cavalli were part of that effort. They were polished and clearcoated by the professionals at Normandy Metal Refinishers in Costa Mesa.
The combination of high-grade clearcoating, and dry storage, have kept these cavalli in show-condition.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Squero San Trovaso - "Stacks for Seasoning"

A gondola building yard in Venice is known as a "squero".
Each one is a separate entity - they are often associated with the families who run them.
Every boat built in Venice represents the craftsmen who built her and each gondola carries on the legacy of the squero she was built in. Family names like Tramontin, Bonaldo, Crea, and dei Rossi are known throughout Venice. Gondoliers can be heard arguing over which is best. They talk about durability, design, finish, and how a boat handles. Each builder does their best to excell in these and other categories. Traditional gondola builders recognize the importance of having the right materials to build from.
Some might say that the most experienced builder, with the best design, and the highest standards...would still put forth an inferior boat with the wrong wood.

Just like their tools, squero owners take their wood seriously, they are particular about things, and will store it on their property to "season" before using it. I'm sure they have interesting opinions about how long the wood should weather, or "rest" before being incorporated into a project.

In the above photo we see a nice large stack of wood resting at Squero San Trovaso. Only the builders know where each piece will eventually end up.

For more information and musings on the subject, see my post from March 1st entitled "Squero San Trovaso - Wood to Weather"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bastille Day!

To most Americans, July 14th is just another day, but for the French it's the "4th of July". In fact while the holiday is officially known as "Bastille Day", many in France simply refer to it as "le 14 Juillet" - just like we call our Independence Day the 4th of July.

Laura K. Lawless ('s French Language Guide) has a good, concise page on the subject here.

Last year I was able to visit Paris for the first time.

The Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triophe, and Versailles were all on the must-visit list, but there was one more place I had to go, and yes, it involves gondolas.

Richard Winckler is the guy to talk to and row with in Paris when it comes to voga-alla-Veneta. He's a member at Diadora and has rowed numerous times in the Vogalonga.

In August of 2008 Richard teamed up with Nick Birch of England to provide gondolas for a promotional event on the Seine, put on by That week Richard and Roger were at the top of my "people I'm jealous of" list. I published a post on it entitled "Paris" (there's a nice piece of video linked there for your viewing pleasure)

Nick got me in touch with Richard before I left California, but we only communicated briefly via e-mail.

Showing up at a train station along the river one rainy afternoon, I had no idea what kind of person I'd meet in Richard - he was great. It was like meeting a distant relative for the first time.

Richard gave me and my family a tour of the Vogaveneta Paris facility, told us all about the many interesting boats there, and treated us to a picnic lunch filled with French delights.

With the rain falling intermitently, it wasn't a day for rowing, but my daughter and I shot many post-worthy photos during our visit to Vogaveneta Paris.

You can expect to see them here periodically in the days to come.

Vogaveneta Paris keeps their boats in this waterfront facility.

The Vogaveneta logo combines the base of the Eiffel Tower with an artist's interpretation of a gondola ferro.

A close-up of the only gondola in Paris.

For now, I would just like to express my thanks to Richard Winckler in Paris for his hospitality.

Maybe next time I'm in Paris we'll get to row together.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


To paraphrase a famous children's TV show:
"this post is brought to you by the number eleven!"

What can we say about eleven?
- Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to land on the Moon.

- Many authors, politicians, and journalists have invented their own versions of the "Eleventh Commandment".

- World War I ended with an Armistice on November 11, 1918, which went into effect at 11:00 am-the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year.

and for those of us gondola fanatics:
-Eleven meters is the approximate lenght of a gondola

(and by coincidence roughly the same distance as a penalty kick in soccer).

So why am I giving so much attention to the number eleven?
Because as of this post, the Gondola Blog has eleven-hundred posts up for viewing.
Somewhere along the line I managed to miss the thousand mark - blew right past it and felt like a bonehead.

I never set out to publish so much material, I just had stories to tell, an obsessive fascination, and nobody here to say:

"hey you weirdo, quit writing about gondolas!"

So now we're up to 1,100 posts.
We've had great input from readers and fellow fanatics.
We've seen some excellent photography from several outside sources.
I've covered deep, meaningful topics, and also probably wasted your time here and there with silly stuff (like my tribute to the number eleven above).

My thanks go out to all of you for reading and commenting.
I encourage you all to send in photos and info for future posts.

And in keeping with the sillyness,
I can think of no better quote to end on than this:
"these go to eleven" Nigel Tufnel, "This is Spinal Tap"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Photos from the Dock in Newport

Just a few shots from the dock before I took off on my own gondola. The evening was a bit on the windy side, so I left my camera in the bag while rowing.
Steve O on the Cassandra Anne in the sideways sun of the early evening.

Guiseppe Lunidi (Joe Munday) sounds his bugle while making his way out of the lagoon.

Giuseppe heads into Newport Harbor as the sun falls slowly towards the horizon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Clearing the Bridge

The 38th Street bridge in Newport is on our gondola route.

Most of the time we can fit under it, and when we can't we know ahead of time because we read the tide measurements on another bridge before we get there. At certain times though, the clearance is questionable; approaching slowly with a "plan B" is a regular practice then. Sometimes simply shifting forward will lower the ferro enough, occasionally I'll ask my couple to move up to the front of the boat to further drop the bow, then back again to lower the tail. Often I find myself "getting creative" to get the tail under.

Of course each gondola is different, recently I had an exciting adventure with the "Lucia" involving the 38th Street bridge - you can read about it in my post "Getting to Know the Boat".

In Venice, gondoliers sometimes tip their boats to starboard to make it under bridges at marginal tide points. Because gondolas are asymmetric, it makes sense to lean to starboard.

Gondolas are not symmetric, and the same can be said for the 38th Street bridge. One side is a little higher than the other. If you approach from the south end of the bridge, and barely fit under the lip, you'll be fine because the ceiling rises a little as you proceed. Come in from the north side at marginal times, and things won't be so happy for you - you'll be grinding and scraping (and probably swearing) halfway through.

Many times I've watched drunken Duffy-boat drivers approach from the north, passengers in the front saying "Oh yeah dude, you're fine!", the driver throttling up, and the canopy frame catching on the underside of the bridge as the ceiling slopes down. It's a really great way to do costly damage to the top of your boat. You can see the scrape-marks on the bridge in the above photo.

I shot this photo a while back using a remote trigger with the camera bungee-corded to the tail. I may look calm and collected in the photo, but two seconds before I shot it, I was nervously making sure that my camera wasn't going to be the next casualty of the 38th Street bridge.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Oblivion by Robert Dula

There are many things that can be said about American gondoliers. As a group they are athletic, passionate, fun-loving, and they love the outdoors.
Gondoliers have a strong connection with the ocean.
Travel-junkies abound in a gondola operation.
A lot of surfers and sailors can be found on gondolas.
Overall, gondoliers make a point to enjoy life to the fullest extent.

As a catch-all term, "interesting" seems to define just about everybody who rows a gondola, especially the gondoliers I know.

I could spend many posts trying to describe one such "interesting" gondolier - Robert Dula, but I'll try to keep this introduction brief.

Besides having a great talent for rowing,
beyond a deep love for gondolas,
and in addition to having a great love for this crazy job so many of us have,
Robert Dula has the most unique nickname of "Hurricane Bob".

Without a doubt, Dula has endured more hurricanes than any other gondolier in the world.
Every gondolier I've ever shared a drink with has known the rest of the story before I've even finished describing "Hurricane Bob".

Robert Dula is the stuff of legends.

Here's a firsthand account of his experience in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I've waited for just the right time to post it, and with the re-opening of Nola Gondola iminent, I can't think of a better time to post it.

OBLIVION by Robert Dula

It was such a cruel flashback;
but, it was really happening.

In less than a years time, I found myself being sucked back through oblivion, through the obligatory calm, through the relief of dodging the bullet, just to discover the apocalypse was just starting!

It was that Big-a, mean-a, Bitcha Katrina!

I watched from my Allard St. apt., as the winds increased to a howling shrill, as tree limbs were stripped and tossed down the street, roofs flew off, and chimneys tumbled down.

Prior to the onset of the madness, I had, just as I had done for Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola, a year before, sunk my authentic Venetian gondola. This time in City Park, New Orleans, where I had established, NOLA Gondola, my romantic tour operation through the lagoons of this majestic old park.

Bella Mae (named for my Mom) gurgled and creaked, as she slipped beneath the surface of the parks murky waters, loaded with cement blocks, secured to a dock, and left, like an abandoned child, to ride out the perfect storm, alone, (not even George Clooney) and hopefully secure from what was yet to come.

She had sat like this before, in Pensacola's Bayou Chico, as the gulf waters surged over the city. Mae was spared; but, my home in Milton, on Garcon Point, was not as fortunate. It was taken to many different places. Part of it was strewn about the neighborhood, part of it was floating in the canal, a few odd possessions were salvaged; most was claimed by Ivan's fury. Palafox Pier, in Downtown P'cola, where I operated Gondola di Pensacola, was also claimed, it's luxury yachts smashed and stacked upon each other, like so many toothpicks scattered by God's schizophrenic rage against mankind.

Back to "The Big, Not so Easy Now".
Katrina came charging through, like the raging bulls of Pamplona. She passed, as hurricanes do. I went outside to survey the damage, bad, but not so bad... I thought.

I took out my chain-saw and started clearing the street of tree remains. I had cleared a pretty good path from one end of the block to the other, as sunset approached. Exhausted from a sleepless night, and the manual labor, I turned in about 7 o'clock p.m., it was August 29th. At 3 o'clock a.m., I awoke to bubbling sounds, put my feet to the floor, and ankle deep water.... rising water. Walking outside, I discovered a street turned flowing stream. Perplexed, I turned on my radio, battery powered, and rechargeable; but, the electricity was off. (Fortunately, I had a self-contained battery charger that I used on the gondola to power the stereo and lights.) News was sketchy. WWL was the only station broadcasting. Evidently, the 17th ave. levee had succumb to the rising waters of Lake Ponchatrain, allowing "the bowl" to begin filling. By 6 o'clock a.m., on August 30th, the stream in the street was becoming a river, and with two foot of water in my apt, I could no longer sit in my lazy-boy! Bed was floating, fridge had fallen over, and was floating. Shoes, foot stools, food, boat oars.... all floating.

Oblivion had arrived,
not caring about life property or anything else, it's ugly head, seething through the streets of the city, like a twisting serpent, striking again and again! By 8 o'clock, three foot of water in the streets. Moving some of my few possessions to the second story balcony, I noticed large plumes of smoke rising in different areas of Orleans Parish, helicopters were beginning to fill the skies, and the water was still rising! I had carried many items to the balcony, including three boxes of MREs left over from Ivan, two kerosene lanterns, an air mattress, my radio, bottled water, two, six gallon jerry cans of water, of course, a towel, ("Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy") and a few other things I could carry.

Time for some exploring. A week before, I purchased a "Hobie" kayak, sit on top, from Compass Rose, in Covington. Perfect for paddling flooded streets. I went up Allard, to Dumaine St. and took a left. It looked like Venice! Approaching Carrolton, and turning left, I saw other people, some in Jon boats, some in canoes, some wading, and others up on their porches. going up N. Carrolton, I first came to the firehouse, surrounded by water, and firemen standing inside. One walked, waded out to me asked if I could take him up Bayou St. John, to his house, so he could retrieve his small boat. I said sure, thinking of the irony of me saving the firemen! My kayak was not really made for two people; however, I managed and we made it to his home on Bell St., dodging downed power lines, trees, and assorted debris. Journeying back, some folk, sitting on porches asked what we knew. "Not much", just what we were hearing on WWL. Water was spilling into the city from several levee breaches, help was coming. "Not much". Getting back to my apt, I met Randy and Eileen Duke. They were in the upstairs apt. house across the street from my place, with their two dogs, August, a poodle looking mix, medium sized mutt, and Mabel, an American Bull Dog. Randy asked if I could take him to get his kayak, and some other things from his home that was getting a new floor put down, which is why they were staying in the apt. I took him, following the same route as before. We got to his house, and luckily, the water had not reached inside. The new floor was spared. Randy grabbed his kayak, and we returned to Allard St. I took a break, tired from paddling, and went to my balcony camp.

I heard a cat meowing from inside the upstairs neighbors apt. It was Sam, and his owner, Margaret, was a nurse at Ochners Hospital. Knowing she was stuck there, I attempted to remove the window pane, so I could get to him. I almost had it, when the cheap glass broke. Well, I got in. Sam was glad to see me, his food bowl nearly empty, and for me, a new, improved campsite. Margaret had some goodies for munching on and some more bottled water. I patched the window, so Sam would not run off, and let myself out the door. Randy came over and helped me get my television, not harmed, upstairs. The brand new matching Maytags were not as lucky.

It was getting near sunset of the second day in oblivion, La. I munched on some apples and heated up some beef stew; sure better than the old c-rations of my Air Force days! I used Margaret's shower stall, to take a bottled water bath. It was sufficient. I had my Nextel cell phone; it was charged, but no signal. I tried the walky-talky feature, and surprisingly got through to my business partner and good friend in Boston, Joseph Gibbons. Joe, and his wife Camille, have a gondola concession in Boston, where they operate two Venetian gondolas on the Charles River. ( Joe told me to get out, if I could. He and the rest of the world were seeing what I was living. New Orleans was cut off, people were dying, and things did not look good for the home team. I explained to Joe that we're not in dire straits yet; however, he still stressed the point that we should get out, if we could. OK, food for thought; I had a bicycle. Nope! Can't ride it through the water. Waters too deep to drive car, if I had a car. Ivan took my truck, my motor-home, my motorboat; so, unless I sprouted wings.... I was satisfied that things were cool and went to sleep, or tried.

The coolness of the air, right after the storm, was replaced by the warm mugginess of a typical Louisiana Summer, and the drone of helicopters in the background was annoying. Mosquitos, more annoying, buzzed my ears, and feasted on my blood. Hmm.... ways out. In the morning of the third day, Wednesday, the 31st of August, I was telling Randy and Eileen that I spoke with Joseph. They had not been able to contact any of their loved ones, to let them know they were alright. I tried to reach Joe. Nothing. But, I took Randy and Eileen's phone numbers of the people they wanted to contact, so I could relay the info to Joe, when and if I was able to get through again. I also had a new mission. If Randy and Eileen could not get through to their loved ones, then the other stranded people around the neighborhood were probably having the same problem. I get in the yak, and go around the neighborhood, collecting numbers and meeting my neighbors. It was a good feeling and gave me something to do. I met Tom and his wife Ulla. Tom was a New Orleans businessman with investments in many area businesses. His wife was from Germany. They knew me as the gondola guy from the park. Ulla gave me a kinda cool glass of orange juice. I took all their numbers, including her brothers in Germany. There was Walter, who lived by himself, next to the firehouse, which was abandoned by the firemen. Walter had a lady friend in Colorado, that he wanted me to contact. There was Tim Lafranca and the people across the street from him, the Shrenks. I don't remember all the names, and later lost most the info. However, I was able to reestablish contact with Joe, and he was able to contact the peoples loved ones! Lots of relieved folk. I later met an older couple that had a mess of cats and were running low on cat food and water. No problem. Had plenty and even gave them some MREs for themselves. I found an orange tree covered with nearly ripe, juicy oranges. Loaded them in the kayak and passed them out.

Stayed away from areas where people were looting, but saw a lot going on. On day four, some gung-ho G.I. Jerk comes around in uniform, packing a 45, telling us that people were going crazy and killing people and looting and burning. We should go up to the Esplanade St. bridge, and wave at helicopters. "What about the dogs", Eileen asked. "Might as well kill them, cause that's what the National guard is going to do, when they arrived and forced people out." He said they were on the way. I did not trust this Major, or that's what the insignia on his lapels indicated. He was all by himself. No radio or subordinates to help. Guess that's what they mean.... An Army of one! Well, Randy and Eileen did not know what to do. Do they go to the bridge and leave the dogs? Do we take Eileen to the bridge and go back for a mercy killing? Do we tell G.I. Joe he's not in charge. I stressed that we had heard no gunshots, and the plumes of smoke were pretty far away, and that army boys story was kinda extreme.

It was now Friday the 2nd of September.

I paddled up to the bridge and there was one old lady there by herself. Her son had gone back to the house to get some things. From another direction of exposed land, a pack of dogs approached, showing signs of wanting the old lady for a snack. Not on my watch. I jumped from the kayak, swinging my paddle like a wild man and screaming at the dogs, as I ran towards them. They ran like frightened sissies, and left the scene. There were plenty of ducks in the park, for them to hunt. The old lady turned out to be Mrs. Nuggent, and her son Phil ran the Electric car concession in the park. They were thankful I arrived, but seemed to think they should stay on the bridge, and some others were starting to arrive there as well. But, the helicopters were not coming there. They were close, and we could see some people being lifted in the distance, but not here.

I went back and told Randy and Eileen what was going on, and they had somewhat reluctantly decided they should try and get out, and execute the dogs. First, we took Eileen to the bridge. She on the back of my kayak and Randy in his, carrying a couple bags of essentials. About 15 to 20 or so people were now on the bridge, including the Shrenks and Tim Lafranca. Randy and I were preparing to go back, when Eileen broke down. She was crying hysterically about the dogs, insisting that it was wrong to kill them, and she was right. I still, other than a funky odor to the air, saw no reason to make any rash decision. Hell, the helicopters showed no inclination to start picking folk up. G.I. Jerk was standing around with his arms folded, looking annoyed. Randy, Eileen and I went back. The dogs were happy. Wonder if they knew how close they came to doggy heaven, that day. I went back over to my place and had a bottle of wine.

So now it is Saturday the 3rd of September. Still no helicopters picking people up. Still no National Guard troops rolling in to take people out. I went back to my place and sat around, ate some MREs and brought some over to Randy and Eileen. I had talked to Joe again, a day or two before. He had tried to get a private helicopter company to pick up myself, the Dukes and the dogs, but that was not going to happen. It was a hot day and that evening I sat sweating and swatting mosquitos.

Around 3 o'clock on the morning of the 4th, there was a helicopter closer than ever; so I grabbed my bicycle flashlight and set it on strobe. The chopper crew saw it, turned and started hovering over my place. Too many trees, and no way to the roof. But, Randy and Eileen had roof access through the attic. I franticly shoved the kayak back into my still flooded apt. grabbed my little backpack and waded across the street, and upstairs, where Randy and Eileen were trying to get the dogs up the ladder to the attic. My help would be required. Mabel, the Bull Dog, weighed about 90 pounds and did not really enjoy me grabbing her, tossing her over me, like a sheep and toting her up the ladder. I passed her off to Randy in the attic, and went back for August. He was easier. All this time, the roar of the helicopter was overpowering. Eileen went up the ladder after we got Ague up in the attic, followed by me. She was the first to go up. The rescue guy from the chopper was on the roof and he harnessed Eileen and then hoisted her up, next was me. The wind was blowing and debris was flying all over, as I was hoisted up. I was pulled inside the chopper and sat next to Eileen, who was against the closed door side. She was freaking out! But glad. Randy, the dogs and the rescue guy were still on the roof, rigging up the dogs. Mabel came up, wrapped in a sheet. Next was August, and finally Randy and the rescue guy. They gave us bottled water, and off we flew to the New Orleans Airport.

It was almost daybreak when we arrived to a very littered airport. We thanked the rescue guys and Chris Usher, a photographer for Time, who happened to be on the helicopter, taking pictures of our rescue. ( See the September 19th issue.... page 50, or, "One of Us", pg.3) We were taken inside the terminal and placed in a line to go through search procedures. They took a 22 pistol I had forgotten in my backpack, but failed to notice a road-flare. After going through the detectors, with my flare, we stood in another line. It was not moving so I took out my swiss army knife, (Nope; they did not take it either.) and cut up an apple, and shared it with Randy, Eileen, and a frail looking black man carrying a pit-bull puppy.

Shortly afterwards, an announcement was made that a single person was needed to fill a flight. That was me. Rather quickly, I said my goodbyes to Randy, Eileen and the dogs and before I knew it, was boarding a Frontier jet bound for Denver. Actually, I had no idea where I was going until I was actually boarded. A few hours later we arrived at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and taken by bus to the dorm style barracks at Lowry Air Force Base. After processing, I was assigned a room and found all the towels and soap and hot shower that felt like heaven! Volunteers had come in two days and prepared the shut down barracks for our arrival. The people of Denver really rolled out the red carpet. Red Cross and Salvation Army had canteens with hot meals and desserts and soda pops! Tents with donated items of everything a person needs. Buses were brought in to shuttle people to FEMA processing and wally world or wherever you needed to go. Church people ran around doing what church people do. The view of the Rocky Mountains was breathtaking, and the climate was mild and no humidity!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cavallo at Sunset Gondola

Cavalli take many forms.
Most have some sort of horse motif - after all, the word "cavalli" means "horses". Others though have angels, mermaids, dolphins and other animals as their theme.
This cavallo appears to be a sheild-bearing mermaid.

The boat is one of Sunset Gondola's vessels in Huntington Harbour.
Dubbed the "Michaela", she was built in the early 90's in San Trovaso by Constantini Dei Rossi.

Tim Reinard, owner of Sunset Gondola,
tells me that she was the "first boat Roberto Dei Rossi's uncle let him do serious work on."
Imported by Angelino Sandri, she operated in Florida and Oakland before arriving in Huntington Harbour.