Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Simon, in all his soaking glory.
This evening it happened.
Simon joined the club.
He fell from the back of the gondola into the waters of Newport Harbor here in California.
It was gonna happen sooner or later.
As I mentioned in my post "5 x 5 = 25 Part Three"
"You're gonna fall in - it's just a matter of time"

Today, Simon joined the ranks of those who've passed from dry to wet,
from above the surface to below it,
from comfortably singing and deftly controlling the boat, to saying:
"Hi folks, remember me? I was the guy on the back of the boat just ten seconds ago".

Simon not only discovered that the water is wet,
he also learned just how easy it is to climb back onto the deck of the gondola when you've got a flood of adrenaline flowing through your veins.

His passengers were never in any danger,
and got a rare treat - seeing him "join the club".
He finished his cruise, and returned to the office,
where I had a fresh, dry change of clothes waiting for him.
His next cruise left on time with no complications, and I was proud of him.

A good gondolier is many things, among them:
being ready for anything.

This spontaneous baptism thing is not unique to Newport.

Gondola Romantica in Minnesota has a tradition:
When a guy falls in the water for the first time,
He has to bake a rhubarb pie, which all the staff enjoys eating together.

At La Gondola in Providence, Rhode Island they even have a name for the club.

Chief gondolier "Marcello" told me recently:
Here in Providence, we don't call it "falling in".
To help deal with the sting (literally and figuratively ;)),
we call it "being baptized", and every off season at the annual gondolier gathering we have a little ceremony for all of the newly-inducted members of the "Brotherhood Of the Woonasquatucket"
(the Woonasquatucket River being one of the two on which we row).

Furthermore, we are fond of telling people that the river knows

our name - every time you waver a little bit with your balance,
or if a new guy pops out of the forcola, or something like that,
we call it the river whispering to us. While that might not be
the day and the hour, we know that she calls to us, and will eventually claim us as her own. 
 I went in myself for the first time in 15 years one year ago
this week, and I wasn't afraid or embarrassed;
actually, in the split-second between being on the boat
(tied up at the dock, by the way, not even out rowing)
and being in the water, I simply resigned myself to the fact
that it was my time, and I was happy to be called by her,
our own little Siren.

Look! Up in the Sky!

As gondoliers, we are well versed in many things involving our cruises,
including all those things that shine in the sky above us.
My friend Steve Atkins sent me this great summary of what's going on
in the sky this week.  I will be sure to share it with my passengers who are lucky to be on the water as it happens, and even if you don't get out on the water this week, take a few minutes around sunset to appreciate this unique set of lights in the sky.
Greetings Greg,

   I thought of you and gondoliers in general last week when I noticed that Jupiter and Venus were converging.

   I suppose most gondoliers are interested in astronomy whether they would put it that way or not. Certainly they care about seasons and weather and tides, especially when low bridges are involved. A beautiful sunset makes a great ride excellent for passengers. When photography is involved, the hour before the sun disappears can be magical. And again, a lovely view of the moon and stars makes a later romantic cruise grand.

   Well, tomorrow night, lucky passengers can have it all!
As the sun sets in the west, a full moon will be rising with Saturn a little higher in the eastern sky, and Jupiter and Venus will be chasing the sun. The terrific part is that Jupiter and Venus will be about 1/3 of a degree away from each other, which seems really close. They’ll be visible in the west for almost 2 hours after the sun sets, until they themselves set. Venus will be brighter because it is closer to us. Even though Jupiter is much larger, it is currently on the other side of the solar system from us, and it is much further away. The next brightest celestial body in the vicinity of Jupiter and Venus will probably be Regulus, which is part of the constellation Leo. Gondoliers will also note a post-sunset high tide typical of the full moon.

   I think a nice long cruise that started 20-30 minutes before sunset on July 1st would be particularly breathtaking.
Similar views will be available tonight and throughout the week, but by the weekend, the moon will be rising later.
I hope you get a chance to savor the beauty of the night sky and that your passengers enjoy it as well.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Riding Off Into the Sunset

photo by Steve Elkins

          After an exciting marriage proposal in Newport
          (she said "yes", of course),
          gondolier Steve rowed his couple up into the canals.
          They got to watch a brilliant sunset,
          while beginning the process of living happily ever after.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Talking to "God" on a Gondola

Years ago, one of my friends came to work for me as a gondolier.
His name was Tommy, and while he hadn't done much boating previously,
he really took to the job.
He was active, had an affable personality, and liked being on the water.

As gondoliers we need to be able to adapt to whatever conditions
come our way. Wind, tide, currents - you've got to be flexible 
and handle whatever happens.

Ah, but it's not just the elements that we have to roll with.
Sometimes the biggest challenges come in the form of people.

This story is about one of those challenging couples.

Somewhere around 1995, Tommy was standing on the dock
in his striped shirt, awaiting his passengers.

When the couple showed up, he noticed that the blonde woman seemed
to know the most about the booking. 
Shortly after they were seated and the boat was under way, the gondolier learned that the woman was the one who had arranged the cruise,
and the man in the boat with her was her boss...who was married
and had a wife and two small children at home.

Yes, there was an affair going on (or at least the beginnings of one),
and while the woman was complicit, she seemed a bit ditsy, and appeared to still be in the process of deciding if she wanted to continue with him. 
Meanwhile the gentleman proved to be an arrogant jerk.

It was a nice sunny afternoon.
The gondola was an older style with a fast golf cart motor.
Newport used to have a lot of these boats - they were built in Santa Ana
in the early 80's and originally gave rides to visitors to Long Beach during
the 1984 Olympics.  They were usually painted white and had canopies
that looked like something on a horse carriage at the renaissance fair.

The cruise covered many miles of the harbor. 
Tommy gave his passengers a full tour of Newport, pointing out
the various islands and sharing interesting stories along the way.

The ditsy blonde found it all quite fascinating, while her boss had
no interest in anything "the kid on the back of the boat" had to say.
In fact the gentleman spent much of the cruise trying to get frisky with the blonde, who didn't like the idea of doing things like that on the boat.
His next angle was to get her to take him home with her to her place
(because he certainly couldn't take her back to his place!).

The blonde had been the one to book the cruise.
It was one of those dates where the guy said:
"set up whatever you want to do and I'll pay for it".
Clearly he had his own intentions,
but she just wanted to sip her champagne and actually enjoy the ride.

Now and then, she would see something interesting and would
ask her guide about it.  Because she couldn't see Tommy, and because
he was this sort of "voice from above", the lady started calling him "God".
Not because he was all powerful or anything like that.
It was just a playful name that she used as she'd say things like:
"God, what island is that?"
and "God, does someone famous live there?"

Tommy played along, while the "boss" continued his campaign to go home with her after the cruise.

Eventually the gondola returned to the dock and the gondolier secured
the lines and helped his passengers out.

As the three of them stood on the dock,
the blonde (who had booked the cruise) said to the gentleman
"oh, you need to give him a tip."

The arrogant "boss" stepped over to Tommy,
shook his hand,
placed his other hand on Tommy's shoulder,
and said...
"go to college".


That was his tip.

Immediately the guy fell right back into his push to have her take him home.
Now, the blonde did have a bit of a ditsy personality,
but she was sharper than some might have thought.

She paused for a second and said:
"I don't know...
I can't decide whether I should take you back to my place...
I just don't know."

(another pause)

"Maybe I should ask God."

She turned to Tommy and said:
"God, do you think I should take him home with me?"

Tommy looked at the guy, gave a small half-smile of disapproval,
shook his head a little and said "nah".

The self-absorbed guy, who'd just given Tommy a truly memorable "tip",
was totally taken back by what had just happened.

He turned to share his own perspective with her, only to discover that she'd left his side and was already halfway up the gangway of the dock.

The blonde looked back as she was walking away and said:
"look on the bright side, sweetie - at least now you'll get to kiss your kids goodnight."

And that was that.
Tommy took off on his gondola, leaving "Mr. go-to-college" standing on the dock, trying to figure out what had just happened and where he went wrong.

He didn't get any extra money from the guy,
But Tommy sure came away with a heck of a story,
and he sure got the last laugh!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Just the Photo - Wavelengths

photo by Cassandra Mohr

Wherever she goes, the gondola creates small waves.
even as she glides quietly through smooth waters.
In this case, the Wedding Gondola was seen making a series of tiny waves
on the surface of the canals of Newport.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

5 x 5 = 25 Part Five

In this final installment of "5 x 5 = 25", celebrating 2,500 posts
on the Gondola Blog, here are some more observations I've formulated over the years.
I'd be curious to hear any thoughts and opinions out there - based on the items I've touched on in this and previous posts in this series.
You can comment here or e-mail me at greg@gondola.com

Alright, so here we go:

There are some really cool boats out there...
that aren't gondolas
People who aren't in the gondola business, or haven't spent an extended amount of time there, assume that the only boats there are gondolas.
Some of them also know about the vaporetti (Venice's "busses on the water").

This is sad, because there are so many other fantastic vessels afloat in the canals and lagoon surrounding Venezia.

Boats designed for passenger, cargo, hunting, and recreation all can be found if you look, but most of those craft these days are rowed by enthusiastic rowing clubs and private owners.  I've seen students from the Naval Academy out training.  Even the long boats (the ones I like to call the "big desonas") once served to handle fishing nets, I've been told.

To really appreciate the variety of vessels, go to the Regata Storica.  You'll see young men on pupparini, women competing on mascaretas, six-man crews plowing by on caorlinas. 
Then there's the Formula One of them all:
the gondolino rowed by two men - a high speed balancing act.

A few "shrimp-tailed" batelas can be seen.
In the passenger field, it's not just gondolas either.
There's a fantastic passenger variation of the sandolo.
The smallest of the rowing field is the s'ciopon - rowed by one man, with crossed oars, and originally equipped with a big duck hunting gun mounted to the deck!  I haven't seen any deck-mounted duck guns yet.

Just when you think you've seen them all,
A huge red barge with big eyes painted on the bow comes thundering towards you with 18 members of the club from Brenta rowing it like it's no big deal.
To maintain a gondola,
one must become a jack-of-all-trades
Most boat owners know fiberglass and something about the engine or sails that make their boats move.

Well, actually, let's be honest here:

Most boat owners don't really even know those things.
They know where to take their boat if something isn't working right.

We even have on-the-water support companies,
serving in a "roadside assistance" capacity.

Times have certainly changed.
In the early days of the automobile, you didn't just have to know how to drive it, you had to know how to maintain it, and fix it!

Now, with Triple-A, a lot of people don't even bother carrying jumper cables.
They just call someone and wait for roadside assistance. 
"Change a tire? HA! Not in these clothes!"

In-harbor boating, and boating on lakes and rivers have reached a similar point.
In fairness, there are folks out there who do know how to keep their wood boats in shape, but most of them aren't made of eight different types of wood, or serviced in similar fashion to the way boats were a century ago.

Enter the gondola: a boat trapped in time.
Not much has changed about her since Domenico Tramontin gave her that purpose-driven asymmetry in the mid 19th century.

Unless you live in Venice, you can't just take your gondola to the local boat repair guy and say "fix it."
He will look at it and either say "what the heck's going on there with all that stuff between the seams?", or worse, he'll say "no problem. I got this."
And when you return he will have done something totally wrong or different.

If you own a Venice-built gondola, and you're not close enough to row or trailer it to the Veneto, then you've got to know how to take care of her.

Not only is she a boat trapped in time, but she's also painted black.
Why does that matter?
For starters, black shows nearly all dirt, marks, and imperfections.
And if your white boat isn't perfectly shiny, few will notice.
Let the shine fall off a gondola and you've got a floating chalkboard!
And then there's all that energy from the sun.
You've got a boat made of eight different types of wood,
absorbing as much of the sun's energy as that black paint facilitates,
and each type of wood expands and contracts to differing levels.
Oars and forcole have their own unique needs as well.

Beyond wood, there's upholstery, brass, stainless steel, and/or aluminum.
You really must be a jack-of-all-trades to keep her in show condition.

Nearly all that I've learned in the field of gondola maintenance was gifted to me by others in the business.  For this I am truly thankful.
I try to return the favor and pass it on whenever I can.

There is a lot to be learned
in balancing a broomstick
If you've ever taken a broomstick or other object of the same shape,
and balanced it on your hand vertically,
then you understand a thing or two about timing.

We used to do this all the time as kids.
We'd see who could do it the longest.
Or grab two of them and include a race from one point to another.

The basic principle is to keep the broomstick perfectly vertical,
making small movements to keep it straight.
If it starts to fall to the left, you move your hand to the left.
You get the idea.

If you're good at it, your adjustment moves are small,
because you make them as soon as the stick tries to fall.
If you're not very good at it, it takes you a moment to see the movement
and figure out how to compensate for it.

Less is more.
Make the right small move early...
or you'll be making a bigger, more desperate move later.

The same can be said for rowing against the wind.
Keep your head in the game, watch for those movements,
and adjust your rowing accordingly.
A small adjustment made early eliminates the need to make a huge one just five seconds later.

Do it well and it won't even look like work.
Do it poorly, and you'll look like you need to find another job!

With a lot of things in life - timing is everything.
It matters with the way you talk to your passengers,
how you navigate on the road,
Even how you crack a joke.

Balance a broomstick,
think about how timing makes a difference.
Then go at a strong headwind with precision,
and make it look easy.

Think like a chess player
For starters, I must admit that I'm not very good at playing actual chess.
It's not so much an intelligence thing as it is an attention thing.
Just ask my mother - I've never been good at sitting still.
I've gotta get up and do things.
Perhaps this is why I like gondoliering so much.

But standing on the back of that 36' boat, and navigating through
canals with wind, current, and other boats going to and fro,
I've learned to think a few moves ahead.

Additionally, driving around with a gondola on trailer behind me,
I've found myself thinking through every turn and intersection,
miles before I get to them.
It's really given me a new level of respect for truck drivers.

Whether driving with a trailer on the road, or rowing a long boat with a
single oar through canals, you can't just take things as they come.
You've got to think several moves ahead.
You've got to think like a chess player.

Boats are not "things"
Yes, they are inanimate objects that are produced by people,
but they are so much more - especially wooden boats.

An old schooner captain once told me:
"a boat is the closest thing to a living breathing thing that man can build"

Another good comparison has been made that owning a boat
is like owning a horse.
This is true on many fronts:
First of all the boat may not always go where you want her to.

Second, how the last guy took care of the boat will affect how she behaves
and what sort of care she requires.
The same is true of a boat that you own, and then sell to someone else.

Third, of course is that "care". 
I've been told that you can buy a horse for relatively little money,
but it's the care and feeding that can run you into the red.

Similarly, I like to say that "boat" is not a word;
it's an acronym that stands for:

Bottom line, it's not ownership, it's stewardship.

A boat, like a horse, is worthy of great care,
and if you treat her well, she will return the favor.

Thanks for reading the Gondola Blog, my friends.

In writing this series of posts, I've come across a few subjects that,
after some work, became big enough to be singular posts.
A few were set aside to become future posts.
I began with the concern that I might not be able to come up with twenty-five subjects to include, but after some brainstorming, I had more than that.

One other topic to touch on, is that while I really love the boats, the rowing of the boats, the caring of the boats, and the talking about the boats,

I also love the people involved with them.
Gondola people are the best!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Amrin Heads Out

Standing on the dock tonight, cleaning up after one of my cruises,
I caught Amrin heading out with some happy clients - ready to relax
in the evening air.
Here are some quick snaps.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Synco Announcement

There are a whole lot of people in the gondola business who I think
quite highly of, but John Synco is way up in the top portion of that list. 
We need more guys like him running servizios.

John (on the left) rowing and communicating on the waters
of Naples, California.
Photo from:

Now he's officially throwing his hat in the ring.
No, John Synco is not running for president
(although I'd get a real kick out that if it happened).

John has decided that he'll be a lot happier if he can, as he says:
"grow old with an oar in my hands and a Venetian gondola under my feet".

More details can be found on his funding site;

Read it.

Read it to learn more about John's dream to operate
the only gondola in the Pacific Northwest.

Read it because nobody turns a phrase like Synco.

If you're inspired, contribute.
There's no one more deserving or more qualified.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

5 x 5 = 25 Part Four

In this fourthedition of "5 x 5 = 25", celebrating 2,500 posts
on the Gondola Blog, I offer some more observations - based on
my experiences in this business and in hosting this blog.
Feel free to give me an "amen" or tell me if I got something terribly wrong.

It's not the big things that will kill your boat, 
it's the little things...
...things that work slowly.

Oh sure, a great big giant whale could breach over the deck of your gondola, and that would destroy your boat in an instant, but it's more likely that a bunch of tiny little worms will sneak in and slowly weaken the wood,
or microscopic dry-rot mold spores will bring your boat to a gradual
but definite end.

Shopvacs are a must
Pound for pound, a shopvac may be one of the best investments you can make.
- You can use it in your day-to-day boat cleanup - taking care of dust,
rose petals, food scraps, and whatever else needs to be cleaned up.
- It's a wet/dry vac, so if your bilge pump fails,
or you don't have a bilge       pump (because you're a purist), no problem.
Just slurp that water up with an awesomely loud power tool.
- After sanding to paint, you can clean up much of the dust you've just made.
- But then if you've got the right kind of sander, with the proper attachment, there shouldn't be much dust...because you can hook that vacuum directly to your sander!
- Afterwards, you can take that machine home and detail the interior of your car (or score points with your wife by cleaning her car).
- Hit the workshop area of your garage and square away all that sawdust.
- Move the hose over to the other port and use it as a leaf blower.
- Amuse your kids and scare the crap out of your cat while you're at it.
- Reattach the hose to the vacuum port and score more points with the wife by getting rid of spiders around the house.
- Then go after the worst mess your kids can dish out with that giant cleaning hose: applesauce, broken crayons, those dang sharp-cornered Legos in the carpet...gone!

Don't drive like a jerk
on your way to your first cruise
...and for that matter, don't be obnoxious while dressed as a gondolier.

You never know who that guy is in front of you - you know,
the one who's driving like a slow idiot,
looking at all the signs and acting like he's not from the area.

He could just be a slow idiot,
who likes to look at signs,
and isn't from the area.

OR...He might be your client!

He's driving slow and looking at all the signs because he's trying to find your business.  He's acting like he's not from the area...because he isn't! And he came all the way from the other side of town just to cruise on your gondola.
Heck, it could be that he came from Wisconsin, stayed in a nice hotel,
rented a car (that he doesn't quite know how to drive),
and is looking to pop the question on your boat.
Cut him off, honk at him, or wave a finger (your choice as to which finger),
and you might be in for some giant-sized regret.
Even if you make a habit of being an obnoxious sociopath behind the wheel,
practice some restraint as you get closer to the docks (even if you're late).
If you're running around town in stripes, practice the same caution.
You may be the only gondolier from the company someone meets.
If you make an ass of yourself by yelling at the girl behind the counter
at the bank, there will be a whole room full of people with a
negative opinion of gondoliers.
But then most gondoliers I know would never do such a thing.

The wind is always waiting for someone to "play" with.
If you're a gondolier, the wind is not your friend.
Sure, everyone likes a nice soft breeze, or a tailwind on a long one-way row,
but otherwise, the wind is something you need to deal with.

Sailors may have a warm and meaningful relationship with "La Venta",
but my affairs with her have nearly always been dysfunctional,
codependent, or downright abusive.

When I was just coming into my own as a rower,
I used to return home and proclaim to my family that I had "beat the wind".
Since then I've come to realize that it's foolish to assume such a thing.
Whether you're out there or not, the wind is waiting for you.
Sure, sometimes it's an easy and polite encounter,
sometimes it's not.

These days, after a challenging row in the wind,
I'm more likely to say that "I waited for the right moment, crept into the ring, and sucker-punched the wind, escaping quickly afterwards".

You need to learn to read the wind,
spot the weak points,
and choose a route that you can follow with the least amount of fight.

Even so, the wind will always be there.

Marriage proposals really never get old
No matter how long you do this job, some things just never get old.

At the top of that list:
Sunsets, fresh air, good tips from happy passengers, and proposals.
It's been said that the gondolier is the "ultimate wingman" - assisting
gentlemen in all sorts of romantic endeavors - the most noble of which 
being the marriage proposal.

There's a fair amount of vulnerability involved.
The guy's about to ask what may be the biggest question of his life.
He's understandably nervous.
It's got to be great.
It's got to be perfect.
Oh, and she's got to say "yes", of course.

If you've ever found yourself in the hands of a doctor or paramedic,
and realize afterwards that they saved your life, well, that's kind of how
some of the guys act after it all unfolds and we return to dock.
It's a big responsibility to facilitate such a big event,
a huge honor to be part of it,
and it really never gets old.

Thanks for reading, dear friends.
The next installment is forthcoming.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Batela Bellissima!

While driving up the coast this past week,
I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Mark Schooling
at Gondola Paradiso and see his beautiful new addition.

She's a truly unique boat (the only one this side of the Atlantic).
Even in the Veneto, Nereo Zane tells me there are only a handful

of these vessels (only about a half-dozen).

The full name for this type of boat is "batela a coa de gambaro"
and it means "shrimp-tailed boat".

This boat has shown up here on the Gondola Blog quite a bit lately,
because she is quite remarkable,
and also because I'm a real fan of what Mark is doing up there in Ventura.

Here are some images of the boat that Mark has christened "Maria",
In honor of his mother (in true gondolier form).

Maria - looking good...even while standing still.

If you know Venetian boats, there are a lot of
familiar details about the boat.
Here we see the trademark "shrimp tail" part of the boat.
Also in this photo: a forcola that Mark hand-carved out of Mahogany.

Unlike some asymmetrical Venetian boats,
Mark's batela is the same on both sides.
She looks absolutely striking from the centerline.
And at the tip of the leading edge, we see a familiar piece of brass.
Just like the rest of the boat, while this may have been based
on something in Venice, it was "born" in the Pacific Northwest. 
The iconic spear-tipped ferro on Mark's boat was custom made
at a foundry not far from the place she was built.
The decking on this unique boat was done using a North-West White Cedar.

Of course all fasteners were plugged and fared, then a clever non-skid
effect was achieved using glass beads - allowing us all to truly appreciate
the beauty of the wood (while not slipping and falling in the water).
After all the ogling and staring (and non-skid decking admiration),
Mark and I climbed aboard and took her out for a spin.
Once safely away from the dock, Mark let me take the remo and row a bit.

The boat handled nicely.  It was easy to get her moving and she responded well to the standard changes in stroke to go in one direction or another.

Most of these boats are in the Row Venice fleet.
I've mentioned them here before; Row Venice is an awesome company - offering Venetian rowing lessons IN the city of Venice, Italy.
They have found the size, capacity, and stability to be perfect for their needs.
Stepping on board Mark's boat, and later crawling all over the place with my Nikon, I truly appreciated the stable nature of the design.
I was able to walk along the rail without creating too much lean for Mark as he rowed.

A shot from the very front of the boat.
There's nothing quite like the smile of a new boat owner.

Measuring thirty feet from tip to tip, she's a little shorter in length,
but her length at the waterline is a bit more than a standard gondola.
She didn't spin quite as readily as a gondola,
but turning was never a problem.

I found that her longer footprint seemed to make for a more dependable tracking when moving through the water.

Looking at this boat, you can't miss the beauty of the wood.
She was built in Port Hadlock, Washington (Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding), and the folks responsible for her creation have a clear reverence for beautifully displayed wood.  They chose wonderfully contrasting woods, with the North-West White Cedar complimenting a darker African Sapele wood - which is closely related to Mahogany.

Gondola Paradiso's "Maria":
she's a great boat,
in a great spot,
with a great gondolier at the helm.

Friday, June 5, 2015

5 x 5 = 25 Part Three

In the third installment of "5 x 5 = 25", which celebrates 2,500 posts
on the Gondola Blog, I offer the following wisdom, knowledge,
and thoughts based on previous foolishness:
As always, give me feedback (i.e. crap) in the comment box if you feel so inclined.

You're gonna fall in - it's just a matter of time
I'll admit that I sort of borrowed this from my brother-in-law,
who once said  about falling off or crashing his motorcycle
"there are two kinds of riders:
those that have gone down, and those who are gonna go down."
It's rare that I encounter a seasoned gondolier who hasn't spent a little unexpected time in the water.
It really is just a matter of time.
I've even known of a few servizios where it was the norm
to shove a guy in the water once he'd completed his training.
Some gondola companies have traditions that revolve around
this baptismal rite of passage.

I've been in twice:
One in Venice, and once in Newport.
Both were quite memorable experiences.

Face it, dear friends,
You're gonna fall in - it's just a matter of time.

Much of what matters,
what really matters in life is intangible
That is to say you can't grab hold of it and say
"I've got one of these and you don't!", or "mine is better than yours"
You also can't flash it on your wrist or pull it out of a pocket and say
"see, I got what really matters in life - right here!"

What really counts, and what most people really count later on is not
dollars or possessions, it's family, friendships, meaningful relationships,
and great memories and experiences.

"Better to have it and not need it,
than need it and not have it"
This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. 
John Kerschbaum of Gondola Romantica shared it with me when we
were gearing up for the expedition down the Hudson River back in 2007.  Whether rowing passengers, trailering a boat, or busting out
and taking on a river, John's advice is pure wisdom.
Thanks to the Minnesota gondolier, I've brought things I didn't need,
Things I didn't think I'd need (and found handy),
and things that truly "saved my bacon".
Admittedly, this might not be optimum for backpackers,
who have to
carry everything, but if you're just throwing things in your boat, your truck,
or even a suitcase...it really is "better to have it and not need it,
than need it and not have it".

Venetian Gondoliers Will Not Be Amazed By You
When you go to Venice for the first time, you'll probably be thinking that
you'll be buddy-buddy with all the gondoliers. 
You'll be their long-lost brother. 
You'll strike up witty conversations, regale them with stories of what a great gondolier you are in your hometown, they'll invite you aboard to row passenger cruises on their gondola.  Afterwards you'll all go for drinks at the local trattoria - filling the air of Campo Santo Stefano with the sounds of a dozen gondoliers, all singing "Santa Lucia" in perfect harmony.
Got news for ya:
That aint gonna happen.
Most of them won't be amazed that you are also a gondolier.
Remember that Venice is full of gondoliers. What's one more?
Some might think you're kidding or assume that you don't really
know what  it is that you're claiming to be.
You'll probably meet some who are amused or think it's cool.
Then again, some might find it insulting - like a Frenchman who insists
that true "Champagne" can only come from the Champagne region of France.
There's one other thing I should point out:
those guys in striped shirts are businessmen, who are on the clock, and, you're talking to them at work. 
Just as you wouldn't expect a rodeo cowboy to climb down off the bull and sing "Deep in the Heart of Texas" with you, don't expect the gondoliers to effectively step away from their desks for you (unless you're booking a cruise with them).
If you do end up on a gondola as a paying passenger, you might still get a luke warm reception, or they might be genuinely happy to talk to you.
Even so, you probably won't get to row their boat down the Grand Canal.
I'm not saying that gondoliers in Venice aren't nice people,
I'm saying that they work for a living.  They're busy.
If you've ever worked a busy job, you understand.
If you want to row while you're in Venice, join a rowing club...

Join A Rowing Club
While the guys in striped shirts are diligently working away on their beautiful gondolas, there's a whole other realm in the voga-alla-Veneta world:
rowing clubs.

These are all over the lagoon, ranging in size and seriousness.
Some are quite competitive, others just like to row for fun.
They are membership driven, almost like a health club:
become a member, and you can gain access to training, take a boat out, and if you're not a complete weirdo - make some friends.
Most of my greatest memories in the Veneto revolve around the club that I joined on my first visit in September of 2000.
I received expert training, got to take out a couple of different boats within the club fleet, and even finagled my way onto a boat that was in the Regata Storica procession.
I have to give all the credit to my friend Nereo Zane, though, because without him I wouldn't have even known that such a club existed.  He got me in, got me on the water, and served as translator between me and the coach.
In the following years I was able to return, re-up my membership,
and even bring some friends along who also joined.
I've been told that there are as many as sixty rowing clubs in the Veneto.
That's a lot to choose from.  Some clubs are more open to foreign members.

Of course you need to be serious about it.
These clubs are local organizations, run by and for local Venetians.
If you want to row with them, you'll need to be flexible, ready to step out of your comfort zone, or patiently wait while folks do things they way that they do them.
Joining a rowing club is not really one of those "the customer is always right" scenarios.  You're stepping into their world.
You may be the first club member they've ever had from your country or your city, so represent your home well.
(translation: if you're from Chicago,
don't be a jackass - you'll make the entire city look bad)

Lastly, you'll do well to know the language.
Everybody speaks your language, and everyone else's too...
in Piazza San Marco.
This is often not the case when you veer from the standard tourist routes.
If you have a friend who's a local, bring them.  Heck, pay for their membership - it'll be well worth it.

Thus endeth Part Three.
Part Four should be equally enthralling

(or so I hope).