Monday, April 29, 2013

The "Under the Bridge Club"

photo by Robert Dula

As a gondolier, one of the things I love to do is visit and row in other locations.  Different operations do different things, and the creative spirit is alive and well among gondoliers.

Here's a case-in-point:
At City Park in New Orleans, there's a great operation called "NOLA Gondola". Gondolier Robert Dula, a.k.a. "Roberto" has seen hundreds of marriage proposals on his authentic Venice-built boat. 
In fact as of this writing he's up to 246 successful "yesses".

Like just about every other gondola location, City Park is unique.
There are beautiful sights, placid waters, and bridges to go under.
Only one problem with those bridges - some of them are too low
for a gondola to fit under.

Roberto, however, is a very inventive guy.
After some serious contemplation, and the careful application of a saw to both ends of his gondola, Roberto managed to solve the clearance problem.

I like it when gondoliers think outside the box,
and so do the 246 couples who would have been stuck with a substandard proposal if not for this slight modification.

Now the gondola fits under every bridge.
Now the couples get to kiss under those bridges too.
I'm sure this goes over quite well with all involved.

Another detail worth pointing out, is that because some of those bridges are too low for an unmodified gondola, once he figured out a way to get the boat under them, the passengers were a lot closer to the underside of the bridges than they would be in normal circumstances.

And with some of these bridges within easy reach, gondolier Roberto started handing couples pieces of chalk and they started scrawling their names beneath one particular bridge along the route.

A great tradition was born.

Roberto writes:
The passengers really get a kick out of it.  Unfortunately, I'm running out of space and folks are writing over other names.

Sounds like a nice problem to have.
Now and then I see something and truly wish that I'd been the one to come up with it first. Roberto's chalk-under-the-bridge tradition is definitely on that list.  He calls it the "Under the Bridge Club".

I think it's more of a play on words in reference to the playing card "bridge clubs" than the infamous "mile high club".

I've even seen a photo of one young lady wearing what looks like safety glasses while reaching up to write.  I'm sure chalk dust in the eyes could really ruin the mood.

This fun and original way for couples to literally "leave their mark" has become a great Nola Gondola tradition, and lives on as a fond memory for each and every couple who has written their name.

Bravo Roberto!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Red Stripes on Varnish

photos by Simon Atkins

Lately I've been kind of obsessed with painting stripes on oars.
I'm fully aware of the fact that most gondola remi never have anything but a clear finish.  And having spent a fair amount of time lately, I think I know why - it takes time and effort to essentially "make the remo blade look pretty".

I would argue, however, that it's not just about aesthetics:
in fact I believe the main purpose of painting brightly contrasting stripes on the blade of an oar is for safety.  Think about it - if you operated a rowing boat with a single (very long) oar, in waters where there were lots of other boats buzzing about, and if you wanted to make sure the pilots of those other boats could easily spot, and thereby avoid that oar, you might want to paint it bright red and white.

A while back I realized that one of my remi needed some varnishing, and with my new stripe-painting obsession, I considered going with the classic red and white chevrons.  The problem was that the wood grain looked too good to cover up.
The solution: red stripes over varnish.
After the red stripes had cured, I threw a few more coats of clear varnish over the whole thing to seal in the painted areas.
I think it looks pretty snazzy.
What do you think?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Serious Carvings

photo by Kathleen Gonzalez
Most of the gondolas in Venice are on display in the water.
Most of them.
Now and then, however, you might run into a stunning crescent-shaped boat out of the water.
Kathleen came across this remarkable gondola and had to snap a couple shots.
Yes, carved decks on gondolas are rare, but there are still plenty of them to be found if you look.  This boat has carving work unlike any I've seen on a gondola.
I really don't even know whether or not to call her a "wedding gondola".
I do know that I'm very impressed with this carving work...
and I don't envy anyone who might ever have to sand and paint such an intricate field.

I'm also glad that Kathleen grabbed a photo of the felze on this gondola.
I wonder when this boat was last on the water.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gondolas in the Cradle of Liberty

photos by Tamás Fehér

In the northwest corner of Italy, not far from both Switzerland and France, there's this town, well really she's more of a city. 
Located on the Po River, this place is known for a few things:
the headquarters of FIAT is there (along with Lancia and Alfa Romeo),
they have a famous "shroud" there,
the place is known as the "Cradle of Italian Liberty" because she's produced many people who contributed to the Unification of Italy.
Oh, and not too long ago they hosted the Winter Olympics there.
Yes, I'm talking about Turin - "Torino" to the non-Anglo.

Last month, Tamás Fehér was in Torino, visiting a famous place, with some famous things, and he happened upon some familiar crescent-shaped boats along the perimeter of a waterway.

He wrote:
There is a 50x200 meter large "fish pool" in the garden of the Venaria, which has recently been used to offer 15 minute Venetian-style gondola rides to the visitors. According to the Venaria's website the service was to commence on 30th March, but the boats were still out of the water on 1st of April, as seen in the attached pictures. A garden ward said there are some problems with the natural water supply, that comes from streams in the nearby alpine mountains.

Looking at the boats, and considering the proximity to La Serenissima, I'm betting that these are the real deal, and they appear to be in pretty good condition.

 Those striped poles are mighty impressive too.
By now these beauties are probably back on the water and cruising.
If they're not, I'll bet the guys who row them are anxious to get them launched - I know I would be.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Lot of Weather and a Lot of Stripes

You could say a lot about the weather in Texas, and you could also say that they get a lot of weather here too. Yesterday I looked at my "to do" list and realized that there were a number of tasks I could complete if I just parked a few of my boats under the tin roof of the boat house.
As the hail storm approached, I had my Texas manager park those boats where they'd be dry, and today I went about checking off those tasks on my "to do" list.
Once all the critical items had been done, I got to play around with my pet project: painting stripes on the oars.

In the weather department, we had thunderous lightning and hard pouring rain.  The boathouse roof was rattling.  It got so loud that I couldn't hear the radio any more.

It was amazing. There's nothing quite like hail on a tin roof.

Back to striping:
I brought a simple template with me when I came out, and have chosen a few different widths for my chevron stripes.

When I came out here in January, I discovered a whole bunch of oars that needed help; many of them were splitting in different places in the blade area, and all needed major varnishing.
These were glued and clamped, sanded, and given seven coats of varnish.
Next I brushed four coats of white on two of them and all received their bold chevron stripes.

My standard approach has been to measure and mark, apply masking tape in a meticulous manner, and then paint the stripes with concern only for even coverage.

Today, after having striped three remi in that way, I got bold and brushed on with no measuring or masking - just holding the template in place and freehand brushing.

I could say that I felt like I was ready for the challenge, but the truth was that I was in a hurry and felt like taking a chance.
I think it came out fairly well.

There's no doubt in my mind that somewhere out there, someone is reading this and saying: 
"Oh come on! I brush stripes freehand all the time!" 

They're probably saying it in Venetian dialect too, but for me it was a first, and if I can find the guy who brushes freehand - I'll gladly take a lesson from them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Green Stripe

It's always nice to get a fresh coat of paint on a boat, and if I had unlimited time out here in Texas, I'd have done just that.  But in the real world, I've got limited time to service a whole fleet of different boats.  Today, with just a few days left and a hefty hail storm approaching, we hauled a boat known as the Principessa, gave her a good scrubbing from the waterline up, did a black wax treatment, and put on a new green boot stripe.
Perfect? No.
But she sure looks better than she did before, and her black wax should help matters until my next trip out (providing it doesn't hail during that time too).

Here she comes...
...and there she goes.

Aaaand as I write this here comes the storm.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Serenissima" in Texas

There are a couple different types of gondolas on Lake Carolyn in Irving, Texas; one type is a large motorized tour-boat style vessel.  These are not rowed in the traditional voga-alla-Veneta way, but when the Texas winds get cranking, they allow us to continue cruise services - very helpful when we've got a client with an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket.
This boat is known as the "Serenissima", here she is going under a bridge we've designated as the place to tie up in case a tornado unexpectedly whips by.  In ten years we've never had such an occurrence, but we'll be ready if it happens.

And of course, we have our own "Bridge of Sighs".

Some of the other bridges over the canals on Lake Carolyn remind me of some bridges in San Antonio - another Texas city famous for her canals.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rowing the Other Way

photo by Cassandra Mohr

Happy April 1st, my friends.
In honor of this oh-so important day, I decided to carry on the tradition of backwards rowing that was invented over a hundred years ago in California.
POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - The "Amazing Backwards Gondolas" of Venice, California.
Ever since I saw those backwards images, I have thought "heck, I could do that!", so today I made a go of it.

I placed a small table in the boat, and stood with on the forward seat and the other on the stool.
Of course the original backwards rowers were just an artistic mistake, but I managed to really row the boat - maneuvered her well around the lake here in Texas. Of course I looked like an April Fool, but then it was the perfect day for such things.