A long time ago, I bought my first true Venetian gondola, had her shipped to Newport, and went about the business of learning how to row.
I had three teachers.
My first instructor was a great guy, who'd learned to row at a sandolo operation in Arizona - his training came from, as they say:
"an American, who'd been taught by and American, who'd been taught by an American..." and so it went.
What he'd learned was genuine, but it had lost a bit in translation.
We had a lot of fun out on the water, and he taught me enough to "get in the ring and spar" so to speak, although I didn't always win those sparring matches...with the wind, the current, and the tough situations we face as gondoliers.
My next instructor was "Angelino" - the owner of Gondola Servizio
in Oakland, California.
I flew up to his operation on Lake Merritt and got schooled in the art of sotomorso, the "bella figura", and many other exacting aspects of
voga alla Veneta.
Angelino had learned to row a gondola from gondoliers in Venice, so there wasn't as much lost in translation
(in fact any loss in this instance would probably be my fault).
He explained that it wasn't all function, but that there should also be an emphasis on form. You needed to row well - and look good doing it.
After my training in the Bay Area, I flew home and stepped back onto my own gondola to try out my newly learned strokes in my home harbor.
It went a lot better than before, but one day I noticed that I kept veering to the right.
Adjusting my stroke helped, but I still found that the boat was constantly favoring to starboard.
At one point, during a cruise, I managed to bounce off of four different objects in a single canal - all on the right side.
I was exasperated.
I wondered what could be wrong with the boat, the oar, the forcola,
or maybe even my stroke.
I called Angelino.
I explained the situation, he listened quietly, and then simply said:
"Take a step to the left".
I sat in silence for a moment.
It hadn't occurred to me that weight placement might play a role in things.
He went on to explain that a gondola is really not that different from a surfboard or a waterski.
You dig the left edge, and you'll go more to the left.
Dig the right, go to the right.
Like they say in the Rocky Horror Picture Show:
"It's just a jump to the left!"
Yes, I know I'm severely dating myself by citing the film/phenomena,
and yes, I was a drama geek in high school.
So the next time I was out on the water, I stepped a little to the left,
rowed, and observed how my gondola did indeed favor the left.
I tried the opposite and she favored the right.
Later I realized that if I was in a hurry and wanted to row hard with little correction, I could move to the right a bit and the boat would do some of the correcting for me.
Step to the left, the boat favors the left.
Step to the right, and she favors the right.
This is also an important dynamic to remember when deciding where to seat your heaviest passenger.
By the time I got to Venice and had the chance to row there,
I had learned a lot. I got a new instructor in Venice, who looked at me with the expression of
"this guy probably won't even know which end of the remo to hold",
but I managed to keep up with most of his teachings, and thanks to the wise counsel I'd received back home, I didn't make too much of a fool out of myself...until the last day, that is (but that's a story for another time).