There's a special place just located just about at the very center of Venice; it's midway between the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco.
You've seen it.
I'm certain that you have seen this place - you might not realize it, but unless you're blind or only read old books with no pictures in them, somewhere along the way you've seen a photo taken from this spot. All the tourism and advertising people love it. A certain Venice-themed casino had it prominent in their material for a while. I've posted several photos of gondolas taken at "that spot".
I'm used to seeing photos taken from the side of the canal there, but last year at about this time, some of our friends from Gondola Getaway were standing on a bridge overlooking the spot. Mike O'Toole gives a great running commentary of the goings on in the canal there, including the rarely mentioned kick off the wall of the port side - it's something we all do, but you won't see many good examples of it in photos or video.
On September 29th of 2007, I shook hands with three legendary Venetian rowers - Vittorio, Enzo and Bepi. We were in Albany, New York, about to set out on a 150 mile expedition down the Hudson River. I was impressed with these three men from the Veneto: their skill, their ability to row so perfectly together, and their endurance over the six days we spent rowing. More than anything, I was shcocked to learn that they were all in their mid to late sixties...and to be honest, these three guys rowed circles around me and the other two American gondoliers. We were young enough to be their sons, one guys was young enough to be a grandson, and these "senior citizens" schooled us, all the way down the river.
That week, permanently changed my perspective on age and a man's ability to carry on physically into his later years. I sure am glad I chose Venetian rowing instead of pole vaulting or alligator wrestling.
Yesterday I learned that the three guys who schooled us on the Hudson are not the only examples that a guy can keep rowing into his senior years.
It turns out that two guys: Alessandro Angiolin and Giancarlo Falcier shoved off in a gondola from the Croatian city of Pula - a city that was part of the Venetian republic for over 450 years, and followed the coast for 215 kilometers. This was a trip from one side of the Adriatic to the other. The gondola is old: built fifty-six years ago. The guys rowing were even older: Alessandro Angiolin is 78 years old, he's from of Cavallino-Treporti and the other guy: Giancarlo Falcier is 75, he's from Noventa di Piave. Both vogatori are members of the Società Remiera Cavallino - north-east of the main entrance to the Venetian lagoon. These two gentlemen stepped up and reminded everyone that courage, tenacity, and good old-fashioned hard work are not exclusively a young man's game.
The expedition supported the City of Hope and the Association "Mauro Baschirotto", a familiar organization which is sometimes called the B.I.R.D. Foundation (Vittorio And Enzo have rowed on their behalf in the past). Alessandro and Giancarlo followed the coastline up, around, and down towards Venice. The voyage was an impressive undertaking, and has been an inspiration to many who suffer from both disease and old age.
Heartfelt congratulations to Allesandro and Giancarlo!
I'm thinking about spending my senior years rowing expeditions with old gondolier friends some day. Anyone want to join me?
With the Summer fast approaching, and a few guys either moving or becoming less available, my company, Gondola Adventures, Inc. is looking to add a few good gondoliers to our ranks. We would like to add staff in both our Newport Beach and Irving, Texas locations. If you have on-the-water experience and are local to one of these locations, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lately we've experienced a bit more wind in Newport - at least more than we're used to at this time of year. It's nothing we can't handle,
but it does make our job more challenging and there are always surprises.
Tonight, much to my surprise, as if it were going out of it's way to mess with me, the wind managed to whip around a corner and steal my hat.
Not just any hat, of course - this is one of my prized gondolier hats from Giuliana Longo.
I like my hats so much that on each of them I have a cord-like chin strap which is similar to the ones found on lifeguard hats.
Even when worn loosely, the strap works almost without fail.
As I was navigating a difficult turn, that sneaky wind took us both by surprise (me and my hat), whooshing around a corner, blowing my hat forward,
then back behind me, and depositing the hat in the water.
All this happened before I'd even left the lagoon.
Enter Simon - young energetic gondolier who happened to be on the dock about to depart on a cruise of his own.
I shouted out to him, asking if he could fetch my capello.
He did so, and then came rowing out to catch me and my passengers.
Enter Simon again...this time with my hat.
Simon is a clever guy - he has learned to watch others and adjust his course accordingly. In this case, Simon realized that he'd better take of his hat too (ok, sure, insert your favorite "Men Without Hats" joke here if you must).
We brought our gondolas right alongside each other, and while Simon was handing me my precious hat, the passengers in our boats exchanged greetings and compared birthdates: "Oh, it's your birthday? Happy birthday! It's my wife's birthday too!" "Well happy birthday back atcha' then!" Everyone was happily toasting everyone else, and I was happy to get the sun off my forehead.
Next, another gondola, from our friends at Gondola Company of Newport cruised by, and all four of our passengers waved and toasted the folks on the other boat.
Everyone practices their very best "buona sera".
Later on, after my passengers finished their dinner, a mysterious message-in-a-bottle somehow appeared in the water and my passengers enjoyed fishing it out and reading it.
California sunset, photographed using all-natural, full-size "tree filter" (no treese were harmed in the taking of this photograph)
Lastly, at the end of a relaxing cruise, we all took in the changing colors
This is a fun spotlight piece on my friend Martha and her gondola in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. http://www.wsvn.com/story/25541231/gondola The river she operates on is quite unique and has a few patches where there's a ripping current. Once, while visiting, I got the opportunity to row another gondola there.I'm not sure if it would be a fair comparison to say that any place is truly "the Venice of..." (wherever you're talking about) because there's no place quite like La Serenissima, but then again, there's definitely no other place like Ft. lauderdale either, and Martha has a boat that handles the waterways there like nothing else.
One of the things I love about rowing a pupparin in Newport is the vertical clearance. When the tide is too high for all of the gondolas to make it under certain bridges, she just glides right under those spans.
Here's a shot from the back of the boat this evening as my passengers and I were approaching the 38th Street bridge.
Sometimes I feel like I should do the limbo on the back.
My friend Bart de Zwart of Maui is an inspiration - he's also a bit of a badass in the SUP world. Originally from the Netherlands, he and his family now live in Maui. Bart has been one of the biggest proponents of Stand Up Paddle boarding. Yes, it is different from Venetian rowing, although I know many gondoliers who enjoy the sport.
He's done several other expeditions, regularly competes in international SUP events, and somehow Bart manages to also run a successful surf shop in Haiku.
As I write this, Bart is paddling in the South Pacific on an unsupported solo journey from Tahiti to Bora Bora. This transit is approximately 180 miles and will take 3-4 days. Bart will eat, sleep, and navigate on the board which he's paddling - no outside support.