Monday, July 29, 2013

The "Birth of a Boat" in French

Everybody, it seems, loves Venice.
I have yet to meet someone who doesn't.
Perhaps there are some people out there who don't,
perhaps they've been warned to avoid telling me so.

All I can tell you is that sure does appear to me that everyone loves the place.
Some of them are French.
And the writers of Olia i Klod (a blog that appears to be written all in French)
have recently posted a nice post on the launching of an historically significant boat: the batea a coa de gambaro - or shrimp-tailed boat.
Very few of these exist today, and I'm told that all of them are new,
faithful reproductions of the ones built a long time ago.

Enjoy the photos, and if you don't read French, get a translation on-line,
and read about the birth of a boat.  Or as they put it:
Naissance d’une barque

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Just the Photo - 3 boats and a Sunset

Three Venice-built gondolas,
six happy passengers,
one beautiful sunset,
three thankful gondoliers.
I love this job.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you...the Leopard!

Back in late May I was involved with a photo shoot, providing a gondola for a session in a picturesque Malibu estate.  The client was a high-end men's footwear designer with a flare for bold images.

They stayed true to that approach.

Leopard in the corner, the striped poles are mine.
The hat is a genuine one from Giuliana Longo.

I wrote about this in my post "Something New Under the Sun"
There was a smoke machine, and they did indeed bring in a live leopard - that's her on the chair looking out the window in the above photo.

The main shot we were brought in for involved more than just poles and a hat.
They had us push the first ten feet of the boat into another room (as far as she would fit) and then got to work with all of their creative techniques.

The end result was quite a remarkable image:

No pigeons (or umbrella men) were harmed during the shoot.

I stood in the corner and watched much of this unfold.
The photographer was one of the best I've ever seen in action.
This and other great images can be seen now on the main Louis Leeman website

After the shoot, my gondolier Konnor and I were looking over the boat and I noticed that we had leopard hairs and big paw prints all over the deck. 
Konnor said "You know you can't ever wash that off now"
It was hard, but I finally broke down and did so.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Horses Made it to Minnesota

photo by John Kerschbaum
 Somebody sat on one of John's cavalli!
Can you believe it?
And then after they sat on it, the top half of the unit broke off and fell into the St. Croix river!  Thus leaving John's boat with one brass horse, and the broken-off base of another.
Of course he had to remove them both - and a Venetian gondola without cavalli just doesn't look right. 
     It's like a camp without a fire,
               a fig without a newton, 
                         the sky without a sun!
Something had to be done.
Over the years I've been collecting gondola parts - some have come off of decommissioned boats of my own, others came from friends. 
I call it the "parecio bank". 
My wife: not a fan, as it means having lots more stuff than we should probably have sitting around.
"Parecio" is the catch-all term for decorative and removable parts of a gondola.
The idea being that sooner or later someone would need something. 
In Minnesota, that "sooner or later" came when some guy sat on one
of John's cavalli.
John Kerschbaum of Gondola Romantica called me and shared his frustrating tale, and behold, my hoarding ways were vindicated, justified!
          I jumped for joy.
                    John jumped too.
It turned out that a while ago my friend Joe Gibbons in Boston had been cleaning up for a move and (possibly at the encouragement of his wife)
sent me a few boxes of gondola related things. amongst it all, there were two nice, well-aged cavalli. They were the perfect answer to John's problem.
Of course they had to be blessed first.
I brought them to the most recent get-together at Sunset Gondola and we passed them around, someone spilled a little red wine on them, and lots of positive energy (and a few playful insults and idle threats) were sent to Minnesota.
Now John's boat is no longer naked,
the existence of my "parecio bank" has been justified,
and there's a pair of cavalli in Minnesota with a very interesting story to tell.
My wife is still not totally convinced, but she is happy to have a little more space now behind the TV.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

U.S. Gondola Nationals

I'm happy to announce that the U.S. Gondola Nationals is officially approved and will take place in late October this year.

Last year we saw the first event of this type in the U.S. ever - it was the GondOlympics, hosted by the fine folks at La Gondola in Providence, RI.

This time it's on the  West Coast in Huntington Harbour - home of Sunset Gondola.  Tim Reinard has been working tirelessly toward making this happen, and I can't wait to see it.  For years now, Tim and his staff have been hosting get-togethers, and I must say that they've got the hospitality thing down.

If you're on Facebook, look up U.S. Gondola Nationals, and if you're not on Facebook...well then get on it!

See you all in October.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Google Conquers Venice (or so they say)

Exciting news for anyone obsessed with Venice:
A couple guys with funky backpacks have been trekking all over the city, in order to capture it in a street-view format.
Here's the story in The Guardian:
"Google Street View takes Venice by foot"
I'm looking forward to seeing it online and planning my next trip visually.

Drunken Hazing

Last week a few friends alerted me to a piece of news that kind of amused me.   It seems that some gondoliers were caught drinking and hazing an incoming staff member.
I'm sorry, but it must have been a slow news day, because any guy who's ever pledged a fraternity, played high school sports, joined a Boy Scout troop, or just spent enough time around other guys has seen or been a part of something like this.
My apologies ladies, but when guys are left alone to our own devices,
it's just something that we often do.  Nobody ever died in my Boy Scout troop going to fetch a "left-handed smoke-shifter". And the stuff we had to do to join a fraternity back in the 80's, well, we're all still alive, and I'd argue that our loyalty to the house was strong for many reasons...including the hazing...and no, I can't talk about it specifically.  I can say that it was at times more extreme than, say, swimming naked across the Grand Canal.
Here's the story as told by the Sydney Morning Herald via the London Telegraph
"Venice's boozy boatmen in spotlight"

If you're thinking I'm not taking it seriously, you're partly right.
Sure, drunken gondoliers are a problem for any operation, and a naked guy swimming the Canalazzo is something that is destined to get talked about by local authorities.
I just can't help but wonder how many of the authorities quoted or consulted for the news story either laughed or stifled a laugh before weighing in on the issue.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Special Delivery

photo by Joe Gibbons

Joe at Gondola di Venezia in Boston sent me this photo with the following text:

Hi Greg.  I think the bag it says it all.  Arriving today were new hats, shirts and sweaters.  Charlie just returned from Venice.  It feels a bit like Christmas. 

I love it when Christmas comes in July, and Joe - I know exactly how you feel.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Welcome to Texas

photo by Matthew Schenk

As I write this, my friend Matthew Schenk is sleeping more soundly than he has
in months. He's just checked into a hotel room in Texas, and he'll probably sleep through most of the day. Matt is the manager of my Lake Las Vegas operation, but for the last two days he's been towing a gondola from southern Nevada to our operation in Irving, Texas.

Thanks Matt.
Sleep well and welcome to Texas.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pastel Colors and Palm Trees

This was our view tonight as the sun gently set.
Colors changing with water and palm trees in the foreground - it's so iconic, and yet I see it almost every night.  Even so, it never gets old.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wind Shift

I woke up to wind chimes - wind chimes getting beaten to death by somethiing blowing from the south-east.

My wife began my day by asking me if I thought the wind was going to be a problem for our gondoliers taking cruises out.
A quick check of the weather report told me that it might.

The wind was strong, although we're used to that. 
We encounter our fair share of wind here in Newport. 
I did a mental evaluation of who I thought could handle the wind,
and who I might need to move.
Then at 3pm I took out my first cruise.

The wind was there, waiting to mess with me and my boat,
but the real problem was the direction the wind was coming from.
We typically work against the wind on the way out
and ride a tailwind on the way back.

Today it was "opposite day" - the wind hit me from behind
right off the dock, and did its very best to try and spin me around.
Then on the way back I had to fight for every inch of advancement.

Some days you own the water,
other days you feel very much like an unwelcome guest.

Often the mark of a good gondolier is:
how relaxed his guests feel when he is back there working hard.
It's not just whether he can make headway against the wind,
it's also a question of if he can do so without the passengers getting uncomfortable (or even sick).
A truly skilled gondolier can maintain the same level of calm among his passengers as they would have if there were no wind to work against.
I did my level best...and did my best to keep the boat level too.

In the end all went well, and as the evening progressed, the wind,
as if it had found me worthy, calmed a bit and shifted back to blowing
in a direction more common to the area.

There are cruises that take place with little work and no struggle,
then there are the ones where you really earn your keep.

There's a saying:
"You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails".
I'm not a sailor but I've come to realize that I can't control the wind,
can't dictate which direction it will come from, but I can adjust the way I row, can work harder when the need arises.
I can hope the wind will shift, but I must keep rowing hard until it does.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July in Newport

Just a few snaps I managed to take during the firework display
in Newport tonight.

Bob and his passengers enjoying the show.

There's always something new in the arsenal, this years newcomer,
well, I think it looks like some kind of alien plant life, but it was impressive.

Newport Harbor has an estimated 10,000 boats - many of which are out
only a couple times a year: once for the Christmas boat parade, and once
to see the fireworks. 

It gets crowded, super crowded. 

Most of the people driving private boats have been drinking
(many since about 10am),
and with all those pretty sparkly things popping off in the sky above,
almost nobody is looking around to avoid collision. 

For all these reasons and more, I tell my gondoliers that they are
more likely to have a boat-to-boat altercation on the night of the 4th,
and to be vigilant.

The guys were great, everything went well, no bumps or problems,
and all our passengers had a terrific time.

Thanks guys, I'll sleep well tonight.

Patriotic Canon

photos by Sean Jamieson
Gondolier Matt "Mateo" Ericson rowing in Coronado
The folks at The Gondola Company down in Coronado have got a real
knack for swapping out the traditional canon for something a little
more seasonally appropriate. 
I particularly enjoyed what they did for St. Patrick's Day
The canon, of course, is that little brass fixture about midway down the
crest of the foredeck. 
Some hold flags, others hold roses, this one holds a book and a torch.
Sound familiar? It should, maybe you've seen this shape before.
Yes indeed, there she is: Lady Liberty,
showing up just in time for Independence Day.

Happy 4th of July, my friends.

Thanks for the great photos, Sean.
I wish I'd thought of it first.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Getting an Early Start

photos by Fred Craven
I'm not sure why, but the powers that be in Irving, Texas decided to
get an early start this evening on the whole business of shooting things
into the sky that go "boom".

Our whole fleet was out, each with passengers enjoying the display.
Some of the guys got a little closer than others.
The photos in this post are of Chris Harrison, who knows just how to find the best views of such things.
Tomorrow night it'll be my turn, but in Newport I'll have thousands of other boats to contend with.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sunset to Mothers 5 - Rowing and Singing

Get-togethers at Sunset Gondola are each unique and different,
but they tend to have some standard traditions. 
We do many things the same way each time,
or at least approach them in the same way.

As I explained to someone who was participating for the first time - the traditions at the get-togethers started with someone saying
"Hey, this will be fun, let's do it this way"
The next time someone else would say
"We did it that way last time and it was great",
and so traditions were born.

After the food and fellowship that takes place near the office, we always take a few "group shots" with the camera on a timer (like the one above), then we board the boats and head out into the harbor.

Along the rowing route, all the boats congregate beneath one particular bridge and folks take turns singing.

This time around I didn't snap any photos during the rowing portion, but I managed to get a few video recordings.  Because it was dark, these recordings don't show much (except how shaky my camera hand can be while rowing),
but if you close your eyes you can imagine being there.

This first clip began while we were still approaching the bridge, so the singing volume begins at low volume. 

The singer is Stefano - who is classically trained and it shows.
Santa Lucia
I was lucky to have Andrew McHardy on my gondola.
He tuned up his ukulele and graced us with this - an old familiar song
from an unlikely source.
The song: "Rainbow Connection",
sung originally by Kermit the Frog, in the Muppet Movie.
I liked Kermit's version, but I think I liked Andrew's better.
Rainbow Connection
Next, someone (I think Nico) broke out this classic,
which echoed nicely beneath the bridge.
Change Gonna Come
You never really know who's gonna show up at these get-togethers.
You never know what they'll sing.
And one guy (Cully) brought a clarinet, and amazed us all.
This is one guy, sitting in a boat, with his friend on guitar.
When he's not "clarinetting" he's singing.
I will not be surprised if we see him on stage or TV one day.
Exactly Like You
 Some folks prepare extensively for these under-the-bridge sessions,
others just go for it,
either way it's amazing.
I wish I'd had more battery and better control of the camera,
because there were many more performances that night.