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 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).

1 comment:

LaGondolaProv said...

Hello again, GG,

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.