Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rialto Vantage Point

photo by Bryan Kemper
This should be a familiar view for anybody who's ever stopped to admire the Grand Canal while crossing Venice's most famous bridge. 
I once heard the travel writer Rick Steves mention that the top of the Rialto is known by locals as "Venice's air conditioner" - because on hot days you can usually find a cool breeze there. 
When my friend Bryan took this shot, he was not looking for air conditioning, as it was a very cold, damp day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Remarkably Perfect

Almost as a rule, when the sun is setting along the coast of Southern California, the winds blow. 
In fact for years I've answered the question: 
"when is the best time to take a cruise?"
by suggesting a cruise well after dark,
because that's when the winds die down.

Every now and then we see the exception
and tonight was one such night.
it was as if God had neglected to flip the "wind switch".
My passengers and I rowed in areas I usually don't row easily in.

In short, the weather, and for that matter, the whole cruise,
was remarkably perfect.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Venice from Another Vantage Point

photos by Tamás Fehér
Most photos of Venice are taken from "sea level", or thereabouts.
Sometimes we see shots taken from the decks of cruise ships as they come and go, and once in a while we see a photo taken by someone atop the famous Campanile in San Marco, but there is one other great vantage point - if you can get there.

At the end of a chain of islands known as La Giudecca, there's an island known now as San Giorgio.  Located on the island is the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and it was from the campanile on that historic island that Tamás took these photos.

Looking towards the mainland, down the canal della Giudecca, we see part of Dorsoduro sestiere on the right, and some of Giudecca's islands crossing the frame. 
The old Mulino Stucky (now a luxury hotel) is easily recognized on the right.

A vaporetto passes by a lighthouse at the end of a breakwater-like wall which shelters the island's quay.

From the peaceful island of San Giorgio, we look across the water to the frenzy that is Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta. 

A large luxury yacht floats next to the point of Dorsoduro, known as "Punta Dogana" - a name that goes back to when it served as Venice's customs facility.  Dominating the frame, of course is the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute - built to honor the Madonna for saving Venice from the plague that was devastating the city.  And behind the city, we see a number of the large cruise ships in port, ubiquitous now in La Serenissima.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The View from the Bridge

Tonight I positioned myself on the Newport Blvd. bridge to take some photos of Stefano as he set out for a cruise on the Wedding Gondola. 
I told Stefano's couple I'd be on the bridge, and they spotted me easily, smiling for the camera.

Thirty-six feet of boat isn't always easy to fit into the frame.

As he approaches the bridge, Stefano steps into place, pulls the remo out of the morso, and prepares to brake...because he is planning on grabbing hold of the bridge to sing a song for his passengers.

As the gondolier serenaded his couple, I scurried across five lanes of highly trafficked pavement so I could get in position to capture the boat as she headed into the canals.

And while this is the last photo of the sequence here, it was really just the beginning for Stefano and his couple.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just the Photo - Stairs and Rail

photo by Martina Zane
Here's a view of the Rialto Bridge you might not have seen much of.
We're all used to seeing the "classic view" of Venice's most famous ponte, but here we see a different side of the Rialto, thanks to Martina and her Nikon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

N'awlins Gondola in the News

Gondolier Roberto is getting some well-deserved press with his gondola operation in New Orleans.
Here's a link to the story:
Take a Naturally N'awlins ride on a City Park gondola

Towards the end of the clip, you'll see one of the bridges that are so low the gondola required a little "height modification".  Hats off to Roberto, not only for figuring out a way to get under the bridge, but for roping in some good press.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


On Sunday, gondolier Stefano (Stephen Anastasia) completed the L.A. Marathon.
This post goes up in honor of his accomplishment.
Gondoliers are interesting,
they live life to the full,
and often they go the "extra mile" in whatever they pursue.
I know we just wished him a happy birthday, but running a marathon qualifies for another post

Congrats on your finish, Stefano!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The "Big Morso" Forcola

photos by John Kerschbaum
A long time ago I was told:
"if properly cared for, 
your forcola will outlive your gondola,
and possibly you!"

It was as amusing as it was memorable.
And the statement obviously stuck with me.
I've heard similar claims made about parrots and tortoises,
and while not all forcole live up to the claim, this one does.

John Kerschbaum inherited this solid piece several years ago.
It's believed to be over one hundred years old.
If that's true, then I believe this forcola has outlived the man who commissioned it.
At some point, it made it's way the America,
where it was cared for by gondoliers who recognized it's value.

Over years of use, this forcola has stood the test,
but the constant rowing seems to have widened the morso a bit.
Of course I could be mistaken, the gondolier who ordered it might have had a preference for a wide morso, or used a thicker remo, but my guess is that, when well cared for, the forcola will last, but the morso may get bigger.

Today, as I write this, my grandmother is celebrating her birthday
...her one-hundred-eighth birthday!

Needless to say, I hope to have inherited her longevity.
Our whole family has been watching her,
realizing that whatever she's been doing - works.
At 108, she has a system that's pretty well established - a system that involves careful approaches, and vigilant health maintenance.

In some ways the care of wodden boats, and indeed even a forcola is comparable.
John rows in Minnesota, on the St. Croix River, 
on this forcola all season, every year.
He takes good care of it, and doesn't get crazy, and in return, the forcola continues to support each and every stroke.

I haven't had the chance to row on this "big morso" forcola yet,
but when I finally get out to Minnesota, I'm sure it will still be in service.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Serene Reflection

photo by Martina Zane

There are many ways to look at this photo:

Maybe you long to see Venice for the first time
and an image like this is bound to make you want to go even more.

Maybe you've been there before,
and such a picture simply trips a smile for you.

If you live in Venice, you might look at the photo and say to yourself,
"I wonder where that was taken".

Some of my readers will invariably focus intently on the little red boat,
musing over what kind of boat she is.

No matter who you are, this is the kind of photo that calms the soul. 
You find yourself in situations now and then where you need to relax,
and an image like this is just right.

Next time I need to "find a happy place", I might just visualize this view.

A Better Moon

It looks like Nereo snagged an even better "Moonshot" on his blog.
Take a look:

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Due to prior commitments, I wasn't able to get out on the water tonight,
but I spoke with a few of my gondoliers who confirmed that the moon was indeed impressive.

Here's how she looked to Roberto in New Orleans:
photo by Robert Dula

It's not easy to "shoot the moon" from the back of a gondola,
my compliments to Roberto, she looks like something out of a sci-fi film.

Meanwhile, I was able to prop up my tripod in a parking lot for a few minutes and take a few shots of her.
Here's what the "Supermoon" looked like through my long lens:

I wish I could have seen her reflecting off the water, but I could never have gotten my gondola to hold still enough to get this shot.

Show Me the Moon!

The experts are all saying that the Moon will swing closer to us tonight than she has in years, and that we'll need to wait a long time to see her again that big, that close, and full.
So to all my friends out on a gondola tonight, take a picture and send it to me.
I'll be attending an event with my kids tonight, and won't be able to see the Moon from the water tonight.
If I get a good photo from someone, I'll be happy to post in here.
Wherever you are, my friends, take a look at the sky tonight.
You might just see something on the Moon that you never noticed before.
No, I don't think we all need to duck for fear of bumping our heads on la Luna, but she will be closer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Stefano

Warm birthday wishes to one of the best gondoliers I've had the honor to row with.

The above photo originally appeared in the post Stefano "Gets Technical".

Thursday, March 17, 2011

One Big Birthday

While most of us here in the US have been celebrating St. Patrick's Day, something even bigger has been cause for celebration in another part of the world.
Today, the 17th of March, 2011 - marks the 150th aniiversary of the birth of a nation - Italy.

A while back, my friend Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola told me about a great blog, written by Erla Zwingle - an American living in Venice.  Her blog has a title befitting some of the things she's seen, and written about in Venezia: "I Am Not Making This Up".
If you haven't already discovered Erla's blog, take time to thumb through, read her work, it's really good.

And while you're there, see her most recent post:
"Happy Birthday, Italy: 150 Years Young (Part 1)"

Happy birthday Italy!

Pinch Me!

Over the years I've written a bunch of things on St. Patrick's Day, about the many Irish gondoliers there are rowing in the US.  This year I think a couple photos say it best.
Sean Jamieson of The Gondola Company in Coronado sent these in this morning.
That's Sean, saying something to the effect of:
"Yep, I'm Irish, pinch me, I DARE ya'!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Recognize It?

The gondola,
there is nothing else quite like her.
Her silhouette is unmistakable.
The sight of her signature ferro is enough for most to identify her.

Many believe she is the "world's most recognizable boat".

In fact I've heard it said that if you took twenty people
from different parts of the world,
and showed them twenty boats from all over the globe,
more of them would recognize the gondola than any other boat.

Here's one third of the boat,
I wonder how many people would know the identity of the boat from this photo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bundled Boards

photo by Martina Zane

The owner of this boat likes to bundle his floorboards and tie them to a trasto.
I've seen this practive before; I suppose it's a good way to keep mold from growing in the bilge.  Then again, from the look of things, he's already got something green growing there.
Maybe the bundling is a new approach.

In describing the photo, Martina wrote:

It had rained a lot some days before I took the picture, and you can perfectly see it from the quantiy of rain in the boat...or maybe she’s just broken somewhere?!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Texas Tandem

photos by Matthew Schenk

On the afternoon of March 9th, one day before he left for Venice with his father, Irving gondolier Connor Riley had the luck or misfortune of rowing tandem with me on Lake Carolyn.
We fought our way through a blustery wind to a calm spot beneath the Omni Mandalay Hotel, and Matt snapped a few pictures with a long lens.

This was his first time rowing a gondola with another rower.
Connor had spent plenty of time rowing a-poppa, but team rowing was a new experience for him.

Earlier in the day, I'd watched the forecast as it progressed, I saw that we would be getting a lot of wind - exactly what I wanted for tandem training.

I knew Connor might get the chance to row with some of my friends in the Veneto soon, and wanted him to have some idea of how things can be on the water, and how two rowers can overcome conditions that one person could never handle. 
As we headed towards a bridge that had become a literal wind-tunnel, Connor got a good idea of how unforgiving the wind can be.  After passing under the bridge, we came into an area which funnels the wind to a ridiculous level.  it was there that my young rowing-mate said those familiar words - words I've heard and said before:
"Greg, I gotta be honest, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take".
Having been there myself many times, I encouraged him to continue, knowing he had it in him.  We rowed through the mess, Connor did an awesome job, figuring things out a bit along the way, and we made it to our intended destination in another part of the lake.

I hope I get the chance to row with Connor again, if not in Texas, maybe in Newport, or somewhere else.  We had a great row that afternoon, I hope he'll be a better gondolier because of it. 
I know he'll never look at the wind again in the same way.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sandolo Pix

It looks Maestro Marcuzzi is at it again,this time he's building another sandolo in the GSVVM workshop. Fresh photos are on display on Nereo's blog:

All Clear Here

I should begin this post by saying that we are all fine here in Newport.  The tsunami wasn't an issue in this harbor, although preparations were made anyway.
Thanks to those of you who called or wrote out of concern.
I was in Texas at the time, so my appreciation goes out to my Newport staff for taking care of things just in case.
As we watch the videos coming out of Japan, our hearts go out to all those affected.
The recent events in Japan have reminded me of how much I take for granted each and every day.
Here at the Gondola Blog, our thoughts and prayers are with those in Japan and other areas affected by the tsunami.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy to be Home

After a week in Texas, I was back on the water in Newport again,
and the night was perfect.

I witnessed  one of the best proposals I've seen in years,
the mood on the water was like something out of a dream sequence,
and even songs seemed better than usual.

Yes, it's nice to be home.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Tight Squeeze

photos by Tamás Fehér

Sometimes, in Venice, you've got no choice but to take your big boat through a small canal.  Here's one such case.

I'm sure there have been tighter squeezes before, but this one happened to get caught on camera.
Yes, I think we know why those tires on the sides are so important.
And I'm sure that no gondolas will be passing this guy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

O Sole Mio in Texas

Last night, between stories and lies, a bunch of Texas gondoliers broke into song. Some of us have been singing it for many years, while others haven't quite committed it to memory. Watch and see if you can tell which of the gondoliers are "still learning" the song.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quotes from a Gondolier's Meeting

Tonight I had a meeting with most of my gondoliers in Irving, Texas.
It was nothing fancy; we sat around a hotel suite, ate pizza, sipped wine, and talked about the job.

This was my first opportunity to meet some new hires, and a nice visit with old friends too.

Whenver gondoliers get together, there is always singing and storytelling, and it's never a quiet affair.
Gondoliers are many things, but "boring" is not one of them.

There are way too many details to share, and much of what was discussed was specific to our operation out here on Lake Carolyn, where we have a unique collection of boats, weather, and people.

So instead of giving you all the details, I'm just gonna throw out a list of quotes and phrases that were heard.

"I had to get there fast, so I put the gondola in full-tilt boogie!"

"Flesh heals, wood doesn't."

"His boat was drifting in the lake, and I had to chase him down - it was like retrieving a giant bottle-message."

"Sometimes you've got nothing but your wits, and a Swiss Army knife, as you're standing there in your underwear."

One of my favorite quotes, was by a gondolier talking about one of his first cruises where just about everything that could have gone wrong, did.
"Instead of That's Amore, it was Welcome to the Jungle".

We talked about "gondolizing" a song,
One guy was described by another as having a "black belt in music",
someone fell out of his chair, causing everyone to crack up,
and a room full of people came away with great memories and shared wisdom.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Flight and Recovery

This morning I woke up much earlier than I normally do, after having gone to bed much later than usual.
This is typical for my family on a travel day.
 Also typical for us:

Dragging way too many carry-ons, through the security check,
and getting funny looks and questions from the TSA agents about that strange “wood sculpture” stuffed into one of my bags.
Traveling with a forcola makes for great conversations.

This is a small forward forcola. Trying to bring a full-sized stern forcola can be tricky, as the security staff begin to worry about whether you plan on hitting anyone with it (it’s not that different from an Irish shillelagh), or if you could possibly break down the door to the cockpit (I’m sure I could if I had to).

One other ritual for me, whenever possible – snagging a window seat and pulling out my long-lens for some aerial photography.

Flying out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County usually provides some kind of vista of the harbor, but often it’s a view partially obscured by the clouds of a marine layer.

This morning I was fortunate enough to get a clear view; the plane didn’t bounce around that much, and I snapped off a few decent images.

To the right, Pacific Coast Hwy., in the upper left, waves breaking on the beach, crossing over the harbor is Newport Boulevard.

To the lower left we see part of Lido Island, which is across the harbor from the mainland, with docks and businesses along the waterfront.  Towards the top of the photo, we see part of the canals that are so popular with gondoliers these days in Newport.

Slight correction: the plane didn’t bump much as we passed over the coast, as I write this (somewhere over New Mexico), I feel like I’m riding a stage coach over rock-ridden terrain.

After shooting, I loaded the photos to the laptop, did what I needed to do with them so I could load them onto the Gondola Blog, and wrote this text.

Technology is great.

This ride is not so great, though, and I’m getting nauseous.

By the time you read this, I will have landed in Dallas, and hopefully recovered from the flight. Meeting with my gondoliers there, and a solid dose of red wine should help.

To my friends in Newport - enjoy the weather, and I’ll see you soon.

To my friends, and soon-to-be friends, in Irving, Texas – I look forward to meeting and rowing with you soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Just the Photo - Sunny Day in Winter

photo by Martina Zane
Here's a beautiful moment, captured by Martina's camera not far from the Rialto bridge.
Judging by the clothes on the gondoliers and passengers, we can tell it was taken in winter, and while the sun may have come in at an angle, it still cast a beautiful shimmer across the water.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Sign of Summer in Boston

Joe Gibbons in Boston sent me this photo recently, along with the following words:
"As much as I like to snowmobile during the winter this photo makes me long for the warm weather again here in Boston."

What we see, of course, is a gondola on the Charles River in Boston, during the most golden part of what photographers call the "golden hour".

When I first saw the image, I was a bit confused by the bright CITGO sign. 
It seemed out of place.  But I am not from Boston, and after some research,
I now know that it's been a Boston fixture for a long time.
My guess is that Joe, being a true Bostonian, likes the photo even more with the CITGO sign in it.

To learn more about this iconic sign, check out the following links.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blog Header Roundup : Fall and Winter

"Opening in the Clouds" shot in late February of 2010.
can be seen along with other photos from that day in the post "Lousy Day".

"Schooling silhouette" - shot on first night of 2009 Newport boat parade. The gondolier in the shot is Mark Schooling - a guy who rows for my friendly competitor, he's their senior gondolier and one of the best rowers I've shared the water with.
Here's a link to the post it was featured in: "First Night of Boat Parade in Newport Beach". 

"Snow on Gondolas" - shot by Ingo Stahl in Bacino Orseolo
This photo originally appeared on the Gondola Blog in February 4th of 2008.
I chose to put it at the top of the blog on the first day of winter.

"Roberto and Bella Mae"
Roberto of Nola Gondola in the "Big Easy" sent me this a while ago.  It seemed perfect for the mast-head.
The photo first appeared here in the aptly-named post "Livin' the Dream in New Orleans".

"Haulout day in Boston"
Gondolier: Steve Bruno
At the end of another great season, the gondolas on the Charles River came out once again for hibernation.
To view a series of photos from the haulout, see "Boston Haulout" from November 5th.

The"Spam Ship"  Sean in Coronado, CA sent me this gem.  The cruise ship in the distance is the one we saw a while back on the news - the one which was stowed back to port, but not until after they ran out of all the good food and started serving canned ham.  Read more at "Beautiful View in Coronado".

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Carli's Legacy

Several years ago I held a Carli forcola for the first time.
It was a rare opportunity to hold a piece of gondola history in my hands.

Giuseppe Carli was a remer in Venice. He lived from 1915 to 1999 and was taught at a very young age how to carve and sculpt wood.
In the old days, if parents wanted their son to learn the remer's trade,
they would bring him to the shop at a young age and he would first watch,
and if it was in the cards, begin to assist. Apprenticeships lasted for many years, but the craftsmen who emerged were second-to-none.
This was the kind of world Carli grew up in.
He was one of the last to learn and apprentice in the old way.
Some have labeled him as the "last of the finest", although that would be unfair to those who came after him - guys who hold him in high regard. Remers of today say that he's the "last maestro of the remeri", and they should know; they all trace their trade lineage through Giuseppe Carli.

Saverio Pastor was Carli's first successful apprentice,
he began his studies with the great master in 1975 and stepped out to hang his own shingle in 1980.

Pastor has teamed up with Gilberto Penzo to produce some of the best publications in the business.  It's likely that many of you who read this have at least one of them on your desk or bookshelf.

A Saverio Pastor forcola, held in the air by gondoliers in Newport.
photo by Rick Rosen

Later, Saverio Pastor took on an apprentice of his own - Franco Furlanetto, who's workshop has been featured here on the Gondola Blog from time to time.

After an intensive apprenticeship, Furlanetto set up his own shop in Venice in San Polo, not far from the famous church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
After Saverio Pastor completed his apprenticeship, Giuseppe Carli took on another apprentice named Paolo Brandolisio, who continued his studies until Carli retired.

Paolo continues to fill the maestro's workshop in Castello with the sounds of the hand tools and the smell of carved wood.

The legendary Vittorio Orio, visiting Paolo Brandolisio in the historic shop.

While there are folks who carve a few forcole here and there, and even some in rowing clubs who are more prolific, Venice currently has only three officially licensed and recognized remers:

Saverio Pastor, Paolo Brandolisio, and Franco Furlanetto.

These three guys each have their own faithful clientele, they've settled into their own shops and each has his own recognizable style. 
But they all share two things:
a passion for the craft
and a reverence for Giuseppe Carli - the "last maestro of the remeri".

To learn more about Venice's three recognized remers, visit their websites:
Saverio Pastor -
Paolo Brandolisio -
Franco Furlanetto -

And if you're in Venice - stop by and watch things happen first hand.
But remember that they're working, so be respectful, and don't hesitate to make a purchase.  Hand-crafted wood from a Venetian remer has so much more value and significance than a carnival mask or a plastic gondola made in China.

Every day these men carry on Giuseppe Carli's legacy in a way that would make him proud.

Arguably, every forcola or remo that comes out of one of these workshops...
is another piece of gondola history that you can hold in your hands.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Barca Vecchia

photo by Tamás Fehér
We've looked at a lot of boats here on the Gondola Blog.
But over the years, we've never seen a boat quite like this.
Once in a while you see something that appears to defy logic,
I'm reminded of the discussion of the bumble bee, and how according to physics, it should not be able to fly, and yet it does.

In this case, it doesn't look like this boat should be capable of staying afloat, and yet she does. 
She's been floating for a while. 
A really, really long while.
We might not be looking at the oldest boat in Venice, but she's definitely one of the oldest afloat.
Even the remi look like they might have gone to China and back with Marco Polo himself.

Anybody wanna risk stepping aboard to grab that umbrella?