Friday, April 29, 2011

Papal Post by Erla

Great post.  Really great post.
Informative and fun to read.
But then I've come to expect this from Erla's work.
If you haven't already heard, the Pope is planning a visit to Venice.

"Papal Visit Leads to Gondolier Smackdown"

Extra points go to the author for managing to fit the words "Gondolier Smackdown" into a post title.
I wish I could be there to see it all unfold.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunset Get-Together in April - Invisibility

Say what you want, but I believe there there are some among us who have "special powers".  There's a reason why so many movies and TV shows portray characters with "superpowers" of different types - because they exist.
Why do I believe it?
Because I've seen it first-hand.

The other night at Sunset Gondola, I witnessed two gondoliers exhibiting varying levels of invisibility.
Both Tim Reinard and Andrew McHardy seemed to fade in and out of view.
It was like I could see right through them!
At the time I figured it was my grappa consumption,
but a few days later I saw this photo:

There it is, plain as day.
You can see right through Tim - Sean is behind him, and Mike's red jacket shows through Andrew.
Tim and Andrew have superpowers!
Next time I'm there, I'm gonna ask them how they do it.
How handy that must be.
It sure makes a heck of a great party trick.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cautionary Tale

photo by Tamás Fehér

I heard a funny quote once:
"It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others"

I think the boat in this photo meets those qualifications.

Yes, she's a regular "cautionary tale afloat". 
Of course now she's on a trailer, and that's probably where she will stay. 
I won't pretend to know how this poor boat ended up in such bad shape, but I'm guessing that it involved flamable liquid and a spark.  I'm also going to guess that Tamás was walking around between races at the regata in Giudecca, made his way through a boat yard, saw this remarkable sight, and had to snap a photo.

Take the cautionary tale to heart, amici. 
If you don't have a fire extinguisher on your boat...get one! 

Even if your gondolas are strictly rowed and have no motors - running lights are powered by electricity, candles have flames, and passengers smoke!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unusual Gondola in Texas

On a recent visit to our Irving, Texas location, my family and I stayed at a hotel on the lake.  As my location manager, Matthew Schenk, approached the hotel, I shot a few photos with my long lens from a high vantage point.

Without question, this is an unusual gondola.
She is one of only five, built to serve as water taxis for the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada back in 1994.  They are 36 feet long, can take up to twelve passengers, and are stoutly built from foam-core fiberglass. 
While this design could be rowed, we find them to be most effective on windy waterways where internal propulsion is a must.  Currently we have three of them in our Lake Las Vegas location (winds top 40 knots on a regular basis there) and two in Irving, Texas.  It isn't always windy in Texas, but when it is...well, let's just say that we get some "Texas sized winds" out there.

In her current configuration, this gondola (known as "La Serenissima") has a stainless steel canopy frame with Sunbrella canvas.  There is also an awning for the gondolier, and the passengers enter and disembark from the forward-most part of the salon area via steps.  The gondolier is more of a captain in the case of these boats, as he or she sits and steers the boat with a traditional helm (steering wheel).

We do have rowing gondolas at our Irving, Texas location, but there are days when the winds are brisk, and Murphy's Law is in full effect.  That means that the guy has an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket and he's got to get out on that boat, come hell or high water (or ridiculously strong winds), it's gonna happen.

And of course, she wouldn't be a Texas boat without a proper Lone Star flag flying from the stern.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ambulance Aftermath

photos by Martina Zane

While Martina was standing at the apex of the Rialto Bridge,
an ambulance boat powered down the Grand Canal,
traveling at what she calls "emergency speed".

My guess is that the boat flew by so fast that she could only raise her camera lens in time to get a shot of the wake left behind.

If you've ever been on a gondola when something goes by quickly,
you know what happens next.

In Newport, we deal with drunk Duffy drivers all the time. 
These boats aren't really fast, but they do set up a decent wake, and you need to react to the swells and waves caused by their quick travel.
This is nothing compared to having an "ambulanza" blast by.

In Venice, just about everything travels by boat, and there are boat equivalents for all the normal street vehicles we have elsewhere, including ambulances.  Like police and fire department boats, the ambulance boats get to "blow doors" when they're on an emergency call.

Don't misunderstand me - if I were in desperate need of medical attention,
I'd want the guy driving the boat to get there quickly too. 
But when an ambulanza blows by, gondoliers and other small boat operators are left to deal with the aftermath.

In this post we'll examine some of the different ways a gondolier can react to such an event.

"Ducking out"
In the words of one of my favorite cartoon characters:
"Exit, stage left!"
If a gondolier is lucky, he might be in a place where he can make a quick escape.  He can't pull his boat out of the water, but he might be able to dodge the bulk of the waves by ducking into a canal or rounding a corner into an area where the wake won't reach or where the effects are minimized.

The guy in the following close-up was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Chances are that the after-effects of the ambulance boat did bounce around in that tight canal, but he probably got away without getting slammed into the walls.  Might have even enjoyed a little surf-ride as the wave came from behind.
"Ducking out" in action.

Facing the problem head-on
If you have the time to turn the boat towards the oncoming wake, do it.  Riding the roller lengthwise is way better than getting hit sideways. 
The gondola is long, and can handle the task.  Heck, if you have something clever to say, your passengers might even enjoy the excitement. 
This gondolier manages to get his boat turned in time to face the wave.

Riding the wave
Depending on what direction the wave comes from, sometimes you need to turn away from it.  This usually results in a short "ride", and water might splash, but not on the passengers...usually.

Going diagonal
The guy in this next close-up was not in a place where he could turn to face the wave easily.  He could have turned his tail towards the wake, but would have likely caught a ride into the wall. 
Looking at his remo placement against the sanca of the forcola, and his body language, I'm guessing this guy succeeded in turning the bow of his boat enough to at least hit the wave on the quarter. 
A diagonal approach isn't as easy to ride out as taking things perpendicular (from either end of the boat), but it's far better than recieving the hit from the side.  A gondola is a very narrow boat, and a wave from the side can wreak havoc on both people and cargo. 
The gondolier works hard to prepare for the inevitable.

Keep your cool
If all else fails, and you're forced to endure the worst, keep your cool.
According to Martina, there was another gondola under the Rialto, which didn't ride things out quite so well. 
It sounds like they took the wave from the side - my guess is that the gondolier had no choice, being in the narrow tunnel-like archway of the bridge.

Martina writes:
There was a gondola with some Japanese tourists under the bridge, too. The tourists were totally afraid of the gondola movement from the waves and jumped up - standing and obviously loosing stability. They came very close to falling in the Grand Canal!

I think it's safe to say that keeping your passengers calm, and in their seats is also an important discipline when dealing with waves.  The gondolier, if he was worth his salt, would have told his passengers to stay seated. 
I'd be willing to bet that the ones who almost got baptized,
either didn't hear him,
or couldn't understand him due to a language barrier.

 What to do at dock
And then there's all that flying water when the waves run out of places to roll.  If you happen to be in the "splash zone" - there's not much you can do.
As the ambulance wake reached shore, Martina snapped this photo:

Here are a few possibilities:

Seek higher ground
The gondolier in the black jacket not only steps up to the highest platform he can find, he also has an obvious understanding of how the water likes to splash up through the seams between decking planks. He's not only lifting one foot off the deck, he's also gone up onto his toes. 
As this is a still shot, the black-jacket gondolier may have even jumped into the air at the right time (like a ninja).
Martina writes:
In the second photos some gondoliers jump to avoid the wave created by the motorboat.
Maybe he is a ninja.  Everyone wants to be a ninja.

Hide in the boat
I really don't know if it's a good idea, but it's what the gondolier in the striped shirt is doing in the photo.

Run like heck
The strategy is fairly simple. 
There's "fight or flight".
This one's "flight".

Here's a link to a previous ambulance post entitled appropriately enough "What to do when you're a gondolier in Venice and an ambulance boat approaches".

As you can see, the gondolier in that scenario, chose to "ride the wave".

Gondoliers are an inventive group of people.
They solve problems in creative ways.
I'm sure there are some other great methods to deal with boat wakes.
By looking at the top photo in this post, it's easy to see why there's been such an outcry against "moto ondoso". 
The wake from an "ambulanza" seems unavoidable, but in the eyes of many, other boats could certainly slow down a bit.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Out for an Easter Cruise

My aunt and uncle live on the water in Newport, and our gondolas pass by there during cruises.  This evening, while having Easter dinner there,
I snapped a few shots of Steve Elkins as he glided by on the elegant Cassandra Anne. 

The Cassandra has just been re-launched, having had her rails replaced.  While she was out of the water, Steve and I spent some time painting and varnishing her - so it was gratifying to see her out, doing what she does best.  I'm sure it was even more enjoyable for Steve to take passengers on a boat he'd done so much work on.

The funny looks are probably because I climbed up on top of a big concrete post to get the "dramatic down-shot". 

Many thanks to Steve for taking time away on a holiday to make things perfect for those lucky passengers.

Buona Pasqua from the Gondola Blog

May the spirit of Easter inspire you to take stock,
and see things as they are...and ought to be.

photo taken on 11-7-10 at Sunset Gondola.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Blog Posts Worth a Read

These days we all seem to have a list of blogs we regularly read.
If I'm on your list, then I'm honored, and I thank you for spending some of your valuable time reading my musings.

As you might imagine, I also have a list of places I regularly check in on.
Two of the blogs I follow just published posts worth reading.

Erla Zwingle's well-named "I Am Not Making This Up" blog has a new post about how Easter is "Breathing Down Our Necks".

And Marie Ohanesian Nardine has a new post on her "Italy to Los Angeles and Back" blog about "Liberation, a Lion, a Saint, Ham-hocks and a Rosebud...".

Read them both, leave good comments, and enjoy the shared information - it's great stuff.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Wishes

photo by Alison White

Best wishes to you all on this Good Friday.
Thanks for reading the Gondola Blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Head-On View

No angle reveals the asymmetry of a Venetian gondola like the view from head-on.  This shot was taken from the Newport Blvd. bridge on March 26th. 
Additional photos from that session can be seen in my post "The View from the Bridge"

More views down the centerline of the boat can be seen in my post "Gondola Basics - Asymmetry".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sunset Get-Together in April - the Rest of the Evening

Our true purpose in these get-togethers is to spend time with friends. 
Plain and simple. But you've got to have a "cause", so ours is a pilgrimage to Captain Jack's.  After an enjoyable row, all the boats arrive (preferrably together), and tie up to the dock (which we always hope is available).

Two gondolas double-parking while a third moves into position.

Tim and Mark tend to the tie-off
as Scott and Michelle wave to the camera.

Once the group arrives, everyone heads inside to either use the bathroom,
or create a need to use the bathroom.
Lively discussions take place at the bar.

Basso and Ignacio have a discussion of their own with the bartender.

Not everyone was in the room for this photo,
but I talked the bartender into taking it
and didn't want him to change his mind.

Eventually we make our way back onto the boats.
Everyone does their best to find the right boat.

The exciting re-boarding process.

Some are more enthusiastic than others about the row back.

Mike Bixler gets the prize for "most enthusiastic".

Members of the Coronado contingent heading out.

Once under way, more singing takes place. 
I particularly enjoyed this brief display of angelic voices by Rachel Grizzel and her friend Erin Scheller.

At the end of the evening some of us stood for one more photo at the rail, before we stumbled off to sleep deeply and wake up late the next day.
The "finishers".
photo by Dawn Reinard

It was a lot of fun, and I can't wait until the next one.
Big thanks to Tim and Dawn for a great tradition.

Happy Birthday to Megan Sliger

Accordion expert, gondolier, former gondola company owner, great friend, and "full-time pirate".
Happy birthday Megan. I've enjoyed rowing with you, and am honored to be your friend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lone Photographer

photos by Tamás Fehér

Going through the photos Tamás took at the Giudecca regata,
I came upon this one, and realized that it deserves its own post.

I love this photo - it's so interesting to look at.

In the shadow of the big cranes, with hard-working tug boats at rest for the weekend, a flotilla of caorline powers through the water - with each boat jockeying for position. It may look serene when captured in still photography, but I'm certain that at that moment, there was enough energy on each and every one of those six-man give my grandma a heart attack.
Meanwhile, standing on the bow of a skiff, a lone photographer holds his long-lens camera and checks his viewing screen to see if he got the kind of shots he wanted to.
This photo wouldn't be a complete without a decaying bricola and some of those ubiquitous globe-shaped markers.

Here's a closer look at the photographer standing on the bow:

I wish I was there, but looking at the photo, I almost feel like I was.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just the Photo - "Two of the Three"

On the Saturday afternoon prior to the 2009 Vogalonga, I had the pleasure of rowing across the lagoon and into the city of Venezia with Megan Sliger,
who was the owner of the gondola operation in Boston at that time.

After crossing the lagoon, we rowed a GSVVM mascareta down the Canale di Cannaregio and under the Tre Archi bridge.  Pausing to savor the moment,
I pulled out my camera and snapped some photos, including the one in this post (showing two of the three arches).

Another view from that day can be seen in my post "Just the Photo - Megan at Tre Archi".

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunset Get-Together in April - Taking to the Water

"We get to it when we get to it."

That sums up the various ways we answer the question of
"when are we going to row to Captain Jack's".

After we catch up, eat, sing a bit, and take some group photos,
the whole group climbs aboard the boats and rows to a restaurant and bar known as "Captain Jack's". 
Keeping a strict schedule might work well for wedding planners and air-traffic control towers, but as gondoliers, we like to go with the flow this one night.
If you're a gondolier in one of Southern California's active gondola services, you'll understand it when I say that
"when it comes to rowing, we live by the schedule".

Clients book cruises at definite times, the gondolier must leave the dock on schedule if at all possible, and in many cases, needs to return his boat in time for it to be prepared for the next cruise. We're not Musolini's railroad management department, but we do watch the clock.

I think one of the things that's nice about these get-togethers is that we don't have to look at our watches. If there are enough people there,
and everyone has eaten, we take a group photo and climb aboard the boats.

And we get to it when we get to it.

Here's a brief clip taken during the "climb aboard the boats" part:

Next, we take to the water and row off into the night. Some boats are more lively than others. On my boat this time around, we were yucking it up about Charlie Sheen, and then we came upon the bridge where the singing takes place.  There's not much to see in the video, but you'll hear the singer come into range.  At some point, someone says "Shhh, someone's singing".

the singer turned out to be Eric "Enrico" Bender from The Gondola Company in Coronado, near San Diego.
During the "pilgrimage" part, it's not unusual for someone to break out in song under the bridge and surprise everyone.  This time around, it was Eric. 
Later on, he sang this one:

Bravo, Enrico!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just the Photo - "Acqua Alta Knocks at the Door"

photo by Martina Zane
I'm glad that's not my door!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cover Shot

A while back I was approached for a photo shoot in Newport.
It's not unusual to hear from advertising agencies or photographers about using gondolas - they are quite eye-catching. 
And over the years I've worked with many amazing photographers. 
Jason Dewey is an amazing photographer, and to date, one of the best I've worked with.  Having seen his portfolio, and the list of clientele he'd worked with, I knew going into the shoot that the images he shot would be excellent.

All that said, I was still surprised, actually thrilled to learn that one of the images he shot would end up on the cover of American Way Magazine - the in-flight publication for American Airlines.

If you're local to Newport Beach, or have spent time on the water here,
you may be wondering where the photo was taken. 

I received a sketched example of what the photographer wanted,
and went scouting - because what he wanted was almost impossible to find in this harbor.  Shoreline is so sought after, that most of it is lined with docks and boats, and almost all of the water's edge that isn't obscured, has homes or other structures. 

The Photographer wanted a green-scape in the background, preferrably with trees and flowers.  I found the one place in all the harbor that matched his description. On shooting day we went there with two gondolas, one motorized boat for the photography staff, and the rowing gondola to be in the shot. 
My friend Mark Wheeler (who maintains the motors and electrical systems in all of my motorized gondolas) was driving the "camera boat", while I rowed the "picture boat".

The wind wasn't strong, but it made its presence known, blowing both boats towards the rocky shore.  The piece of water we were working with was just big enough for Jason to get the shot, and we took more than a dozen passes, shooting between five and ten images per pass. 
I'd glide into place,
the camera boat would line up for the shot,
everyone on the picture boat would do their best to create a great image,
and the expert photographer would work his magic. 
Then, just before the wind was goint to blow us onto the rocks,
I'd row hard out of danger, double back,
and glide back into place for another round.

Here's a scouting shot I took prior to the day of the shoot.

The models were awesome - fun to work with and great at what they did, Mark drove the camera boat like a pro, and Jason Dewey and and his assistant Shawn O'Connor were both fun to watch and amazing at what they did. Lastly, none of this would have happened with out Ruby Gualberto from Vist Newport Beach Inc., who connected us with Jason and did all those things that nobody ever gets thanked for in prepping for and supporting a shoot.  And they shot in multiple locations throughout Newport Beach.
Thank you Ruby.

To view some of the amazing work of Jason Dewey, go to

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sniping Steve

I staked out one of my own gondoliers this evening.
Steve Elkins was out on the Phoenix and had no idea I was zooming in on him with the long lens.

As I crouched there on the dock, quietly cursing myself for not bringing the tripod, I did manage to snap off a few images that might be considered "barely passing".

Shooting at a distance, you get a better idea of the air quality.
The further away something is, the more flat and washed out it appears.

No matter how many times I raise my camera, shooting gondolas just never gets old.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Painting the Floor(boards)

photos by Tamás Fehér

While walking through a boatyard on the Giudecca, Tamás noticed a guy applying paint to the floorboards of a boat.  Of course with most Venetian boats you remove the boards first. 
If it had been my job, I would have done the painting on a bench or table - anything to avoid all that crouching and bending over, but hey, maybe this guy had to stretch out his back or something.

Perhaps this guy was intent on keeping the pieces in the right order. 
After all, the floorboards of a Venetian boat are kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.  Each and every piece is shaped just right for the place that it goes (and it only goes in that place).  If Tamás really wanted to mess with this guy,
he could have waited till the guy was just about to paint, and mixed them up...maybe turned one or two over.

To paint a surface that people are going to walk on requires a sturdy paint and plenty of cure time.  I wonder how long this guy waited before putting the boards in place.

For more on floorboards, see my post from December 7th of last year entitled "Red".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunset Get-Together in April - The Madness of a Group Shot

The "group shot" has become a tradition at the Sunset Gondola get-togethers.
Of all the traditions we keep, it's arguably the shortest.

Cooking, eating, rowing, and such - all take time, while this is done in a matter of minutes, but what's captured during that brief time,
serves as a sort of time capsule.

It shows who was there, who they were there with, what they were wearing, and in some cases - what they were drinking. If you look closely,
you might also be able to determine how much they'd been drinking.

Last week I happened to have the video camera in hand when we were shooting a few group shots, so here's what it looks and sounds like building up to the flash.

I'll post a clip, and then the photo that was taken.

By the time we line up at the rail, the gathering has reached "party level", and the atmosphere is festive to say the least.

Now you know why it looked like I was break dancing...I was really just trying to plop my butt on the ground before the picture snapped. 
Didn't quite make it that time.

The next shot went well, and I managed to get in place before the flash. 
It's fun listening to the various things people are saying (or yelling) as things progress.


If you've been looking at the group shots we've taken over the years,
you might have been under the impression that they were carefully posed,
or that everyone was mellow and patient as they waited for the flash.
In truth, it's always been crazy, and the moment caught by the camera was but an instant captured and recorded...and then the madness continued. 


But for that instant, everyone was happy, they were having a blast,
enjoying the company, the energy, the mood and the moment. 

A perfect moment captured in time.

I've been a bit negligent in posting everyone's names this time around,
so let's take care of that here. 
From left to right and then wrapping around to the the front:

Mark Schooling (with hat), John Synco (in front drinking), Tricia "Trish the Dish" Synco, Mike Bixler, Eric Bender (with guitar), Cherie Woodward, Sean Jamieson, Andrew McHardy, Tim and Dawn Reinard (Tim kneeling with Dawn on his knee), Scott and Michelle Dziadkowicz, Erin Goodell, Paul Bradley, Rachel Grizzel, Erin Scheller, Kent Dexter (black jacket), Ian “Basso” McCabe (light blue dress shirt), Ignacio Villanueva (pointing at “Basso”), Kelly Stiles (with black guitar), and the jackass in the front with the video camera is Gondola Greg.

Monday, April 11, 2011


photos by Martina Zane

Venice has many names.
In English speaking circles we call her "Venice".
She is known as "Venedig" to those who speak German,
"Venise" to the French,
and "Venezia" to anyone who speaks Italian.

But this incredible place has another name,
one that dates back to her days as a republic:
"La Serenissima".
The most serene.

This is not just some marginal new nickname, it dates back to the days when Venice was not part of Italy, but the Republic of Venice.
During that time she came to be known as "La Serenissima".
I'm not an expert on this etymology, but I'm told that the name was as common as New York's "Big Apple" or Ireland's "Emerald Isle".

Serene has more than one definition, but Martina has this natural ability to capure the city's "serene side".

In describing the above image, Martina wrote:
Every time I look at this photo, I feel like I’m there, again and again, like an impressionist picture. A thin and loose fog in the background makes the buidings a little blue, the same blue decadent mood of Venice. Simply unique.

Here's a perfect smooth water reflection of a boatyard gateway.

Martina knows the quiet places, and shoots at the best times.
Here's how she described this one:
The sun going down and the sky reflecting on the water. There was nobody around, the only “noise” was the water flowing slowly.
Lazily leaning paline.

A cool, quiet passageway - just waiting for someone to row it's serene waters.

To see more of Martina's calm scenes of Venice, see my January post "Laundry, the Sun, and Quiet Places".

One of my favorite images from Martina was featured in my post "Serene Reflection" last month.  That photo should have been included in this collection, but I felt it deserved it's own post.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tonight's Photos

Just a couple images I snapped while out on the water this evening.
Clear but windy tonight, but I still rowed smoothly and the guy in my boat managed to "pop the question" just right.  More importantly, she said "yes".

Sunset Get-Together in April - After Dinner Music

Each time we convene around the casotto, someone is playing music with a guitar.  Here are a pair of short video clips of some "after dinner music":

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shot from the Day - The Perfect Sunset Moment

For a long time I've held the opinion that we, as people, live for the "perfect moment".

These are the times we remember, cherish,
and look back to when things are tough.
They are the "best of times" referred to by folks who wax poetic.  Movies often end with perfect moments.

They are the things we picture at the end,
when our lives flash before our eyes.

There are 365 sunsets in Newport Beach,
and no two are exactly alike.
Tonight, as I rowed my passengers in blissful relaxation, I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the sun was getting to that near-perfect point.
With the various types of cloud cover we get along the coast, this doesn't always happen, but tonight it did.
Just as that bright orange ball was about to splash down on the horizon, I spun the Phoenix around so my couple could enjoy the spectacle.

It was a perfect moment.

It only lasted for about 90 seconds, but it was perfect, and I know they will never forget it.