Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Skies at Night, Sailor's Delight

To all the sailors, airmen, and servicemen on the ground:
a sincere "thank you" for your service to this country.
We honor you, and all of those who never came home.

Gondolier Derrick Johnson shows his passengers
just how beautiful a sunset can be in Irving, Texas.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Interesting Day in Austin

photo by Steve Elkins
This morning, while most of us in the US were still sleeping, gondolier Steve Elkins stepped on a boat in Austin, Texas and began a very interesting day.
He hadn't slept since Friday, as he'd been working, packing, and traveling from California to Texas. 
The gondola was towed down separately from my operation near Dallas.
Steve flew in on a red-eye in stripes and a hat, with a forcola in his luggage.
The objective:
film a TV commercial for an Italian frozen food company.
I can't say the name, can't give away the premise yet,
but sooner or later we'll all be able to watch and enjoy it.
The location:
just below Mansfield Dam - which is at the spot furthest upstream from downtown Austin on what is known these days as Ladybird Lake.
The job:
row for the camera, with specific angles and movements as dictated by camera staff via walkie-talkie - a perfect job for Steve, as he's also an award-winning independent film maker.
First, the boat was launched and towed for an hour and a half to the filming location.
Steve grabbed this little snip of video as towing was just getting under way.
I find it amusing that towing involved a water skiing handle around the ferro.
After an hour and a half they were on the scene.
Steve quickly primped the boat for the shoot, and it was "go-time".
After about twenty takes, each varying a little from the last, the director had what he wanted.  The boat was returned to the ramp, hauled and secured.
The job was over before many of us had even gotten out of bed.
And Steve? Well when I was pouring my first cup of coffee, Steve texted me:
Everything went great.
On my way to BBQ at Rudy's!
after that I believe he went back to his hotel and went to bed finally.
I hope he slept well, I know I would after a day like that.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Eye of the Beholder

Joe Gibbons sent this in today from Boston with the quote:
Getting dirty today sanding on a rainy Saturday.
Looking forward to some sunshine. our first full weekend of sold out gondola tours and pedal boats has been washed out.
Brighter days ahead.

In many ways Joe is the quitessential American gondola owner:
He went to great lengths to acquire boats, put an equal amount of effort into learning everything from rowing to maintaining gondolas, he puts heart and soul into every aspect of his business, and more than anything, he loves his boats.

I hope you and your boats enjoy sunshine soon, Joe.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Something New Under the Sun

Yesterday morning I had no idea that my phone would ring with a call for a last-minute photo shoot.
I thought I'd spend my morning in the same way I often do: coffee, yogurt, granola bar, on an exercise bike in front of the TV while going through e-mails and getting ready for a day of work and cruises in the evening.
But the phone rang, and the request was made.
I have to admit that it was the kind of thing that a gondola owner loves to hear.
"We arranged to have a prop gondola brought in, but when the photographer walked in and saw it, he shook his head and refused to shoot it."
I envisioned a photographer with skill, attitude, and an expert eye for things.
I also imagined a truly awful mock up of a gondola.
As it happens, both were true.
Turns out they walked in with a canoe that had a fake ferro on both ends - and by "walked in" I mean that two guys just carried the thing into the room.
After the photographer's response, I'm sure they walked right back out.

While on the phone we hammered out some of the details, I determined that I could drop everything and make it happen, and by last night the boat was parked in front of my house.
One of my most capable gondoliers, Konnor, arrived first thing in the morning and we washed and loaded up. Well, he washed and did most of the loading, while I spent a lot of time on the phone and planning the driving portion of our adventure.

Trailering can be a breeze, it can also be a nervous affair. 
Because the freeways in Los Angeles are terrible in some areas,
and my trailer was in a foul mood,
the trip to the location was stressful.

We ended up at this amazing mansion in the Malibu area - one where a lot of things have been filmed with famous people of all types. 
And while that's neat and interesting, I found the roads to be about as tight as some I've seen in small Italian hillside villages.

Eventually we were able to back the trailer into place and with the help of several stage hand types, we pulled the gondola off the trailer by hand...and stuffed the front end of it right through a doorway into the house.
Yes, it was on purpose, and no, we didn't do any damage;
not to the doorway, the landscaping, or the expensive curb-like wall that we had to send it over.

Big sacks of potting soil turned out to be a great solution to the problem of the curb/wall.  We stacked them up on both sides, laid a sheet of plywood over the top, and rolled the gondola along that platform using a series of boat fenders.  Konnor said we were moving the boat "like Egyptians".
It worked, and in a short time we'd managed to get ten feet of the boat in the room before we reached "critical width" and had to stop.

The photographer went to work, setting up equipment I've only seen on a few past shoots - top of the top camera and lighting gear.  The laptop computer showed each snap and the images were surreal; more surreal when they brought in the smoke machine.  As if that wasn't amazing enough, next the animal handler ushered in a live leopard! Yes, I said "leopard" - the big cat with an amazing pair of spotted pajamas.

Really, I'm not exaggerating here.

This beautiful (and dangerous) animal jumped up on the bow of the gondola, rubbed her face on the ferro, and that photographer (the one with skill, attitude, and an expert eye for things) shot some truly remarkable photos.
It was certainly one of the most unusual image combinations I've seen.
At some point I hope to share with you the particulars of the shoot:
the product being marketed, the photographer, and of course the finished product, but for now all I can do is share the story of the shoot.
We pulled the boat out of the door and got her back on the trailer without incident.
I was happy to discover that we'd done the whole thing without damaging any sprinklerheads and the curb/wall was untouched too.

They say "there's nothing new under the sun", and while that may be mostly true, on the drive home I realized that today we did something that's probably never been done before, ever.
We put the bow of a gondola through the door of a Malibu mansion, and put a live leopard on the deck.  I can't wait to see what the final result looks like in print.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Inside Point of View

Venice just saw two great traditional events:
Vogalonga and Festa della Sensa.
Nereo Zane was aboard a boat for both events.
In my last post I provided a link to his perspective on Vogalonga. 
More recently, Nereo posted a video shot from a GSVVM boat during the Festa della Sensa.
Another person who got an inside point of view was Erla Zwingle - who consistently writes things that I love to read.  Erla summed up a lot of the activity in her post "Merry,the month of May? Sure."
Be sure to watch the video of a truly magnificent jam-up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Vogalonga Video

As many of you already know, this past weekend Venice played host to thousands of people who came from all over to row, paddle, and in many other ways - navigate their way through the lagoon for the 39th Annual Vogalonga.  Nereo Zane was one of the crew rowing a unique boat known as a Batea a coa de Gambaro from the docks of the GSVVM.
Watch his video and see what it was like this year in the lagoon.
"Vogalonga 2013"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Minnesota: Back to Normal

photos courtesy John Kerschbaum of Gondola Romantica
My friend John Kerschbaum in Minnesota has had some challenges
getting boats in the water this year. 
Snow kept falling and time kept passing.
Finally he was able to get boats in the water, but he told me that
in twelve years he's always been able to get his main gondola in the water
before May 1st...until this year.
But things are back to normal now and couples are enjoying the waters
of the St. Croix on the beautiful gondolas of Gondola Romantica.
Recently John posted this great photo on Facebook, with the caption:
"Don't let a little rain get in the way of your fun!"
A closer look reveals the freshly placed engagement ring on her finger.
Yes, things are definitely back to normal on the gondolas of Minnesota.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Just the Photo - Derrick at Sunset

photo by Brandon Hunt
Gondolier Derrick Johnson and his passengers enjoying a perfect moment
on Lake Carolyn in Irving, Texas.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Number Four, Rowed by Four

photos by Nereo Zane
In the midst of all the excitement and ceremony of the "Festa del Capiteo",
the GSVVM also found time to launch another new boat - a beautiful four-oared sandolo.
There are so many great people at the GSVVM, and it seems almost unfair to only point out one of them.  But then again...he did build the boat.
In fact Luigi Marcuzzi is responsible for a lot of beautiful traditional rowing boats in the lagoon - most of them are orange and blue (the club colors).
Here are a few shots of the boat, taken by Nereo Zane while she was under construction.

This sandolo is the fourth built by maestro Marcuzzi, and her first official participation will be in the "Festa della Sensa" on May 12th.
On her launch day, the boat was rowed by four of the youngest members of the club, who seemed to like rowing her quite a lot. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The "Third Wheel" Gets Comfortable

photos by Derrick Johnson
While out in Texas recently, I took out my friends Kevan and Penny out
on a gondola, and they brought their young son who we will refer to here as
the "Third Wheel".
He really didn't seem to feel like a traditional third wheel most of the time
(ok, maybe a little bit when Mom and Dad were kissing under each bridge).
Arriving on the scene, the "Third Wheel" inspects the gondola.
Kevan and Penny settled right in and were relaxing and enjoying the experience as we pushed away from the dock. 
It was an absolutely perfect day, and much appreciated; we'd experienced all sorts of weather in the two weeks leading up to this day.
It had been cold and windy, we had rain and hail, there were plenty of days that were not the kind of days you'd like for a cruise with friends.
This day, however, was the kind that makes people want to live there.
Overhead view of our lagoon in Irving, Texas.
Notice the bright new fleet of pedal boats?
Special thanks to Joe Gibbons for helping make that happen.
We shoved off and began our voyage.
The "Third Wheel" settles into his seat.
Sunshine in Springtime.
Our small traveler seemed to be enjoying his perch at the front of the boat,
and what's not to like? He had the whole divan to himself.
He could watch the gondolier do that weird rowing thing off the one side of the boat.
Mom and Dad were certainly enjoying themselves.
As we approached the canals of Lake Carolyn, young master "Third" kicked his shoes off and took to camping out on the front seat.
"Camping" in action.
He discovered that the notch in the middle of the seat-back
was a perfect fit for his chin.

The canals of Lake Carolyn are so perfect for gondolas; they really lend themselves to creating those "perfect moments" we all try so hard to create in our line of work.

If these two photos look familiar, you may have seen another photo from this sequence in my post "Just the Photo - Surface Reflection".

Jutting off the main canal here and there, you'll find four small canals that end in dramatic waterfalls.  On this cruise we took a short detour up to Glatter Falls.

All the above photos were shot by my Texas manager Derrick Johnson
(who did an excellent job of stalking us). 
I snapped these next three images with my cell phone while rowing.

The kid has definitely gotten comfortable.
As I turned the boat off course and in the direction of Glatter Falls,
I made an announcement that we'd be visiting a waterfall. 
The "Third Wheel" got very excited.
The falls come into view.
I'm not sure if he was afraid that we might be going down a waterfall,
or if he just liked waterfalls.
Either way, the little guy in the front seat perked up.
Of course, I should mention that every time I approach one of these waterfalls, it's like I've had a double shot of espresso.
There's energy, a sort of electricity in the air.
I'm sure there are lots of people who can offer facts or opinions as to why,
all I know is that there's a heck of a lot of positive energy there.
Glatter Falls after the turn.
One other thing about these waterfalls - some of them have wall contours just wide enough to turn a gondola around.  Glatter is one of the tightest.
It makes for a fun challenge - even moreso when placing a message-in-a-bottle in the water for pickup.
All-in-all, everyone aboard had a great time.
My passengers totally enjoyed the experience.
I may very well have enjoyed the cruise more than my passengers...
it's been known to happen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Festa del Capiteo

photos by Nereo Zane

One day I will live in Venice.
I'm determined to make that happen at some point in my life,
and it's events like this that continue to foster that hope.

Each year around the first of May there's a ceremony that takes place around a special capiteo in the lagoon betweek Venice and the mainland.
In my post from a few years ago I explained that:
A capiteo is a sort of shrine.
The Venetians are famous for having their own versions of words.

The Italian word is "capitello", but the Venetians
(always looking to soften an "L") call it a "capiteo".
Most of these little shrines are on the sides of buildings,

and I've also seen them along the sides of roads.

This capiteo is along the main boat channel that most follow when traversing the water to and from Venice.  This is where many GSVVM events take place, and it will always be a place that's dear to my heart.  I received many rowing lessons there from the late Arturo Moruccio, I've spent a lot of time there, and have many fond memories associated with that place.

If you've been around Venice, no doubt you've seen several of these shrines.

Ever wonder who builds and maintains these small religious landmarks?
In the case of this one, it's the folks who spend most of their time around it.
This year's ceremony was put on by two rowing clubs: the GSVVM and the Gruppo Sportivo Voga Veneta Riviera del Brenta.  The big red peata "Brentana" was a perfect platform for the ceremony.

Nereo Zane was there to capture everything, including some regata action.
I miss a lot of things about being on the water there, 
and photos like this bring it all to the forefront of my mind.

To see all the images from that day, go to Nereo's blog
and check out his post on the event.

Believe me when I tell you:
This is not the kind of thing you see on a typical tourist vacation.