Monday, July 20, 2015

Voga Alma Mater

photo by Angelino Sandri

The Venetian style of rowing, known as "voga alla Veneta" is a brilliant
thing - combining different movements that incorporate the entire body.

The rower can take advantage of their full reach, use multiple muscle
groups - beginning at the feet and ending in the hands,
while everything in between contributes to the effort. 

All this is done while standing and facing forward.
The fact that the rower stands, gives him or her a better vantage point than if they were seated.  In addition to having the ability to use their whole body muscle-wise, they can also use their body weight - stepping left, right, forward or aft - to affect the way the boat behaves. 

While voga-alla-Veneta may be amazing, it's not the kind of thing that you just figure out on your own.  The various strokes, stances, grips, and techniques are usually passed on from one person to another.

In my time on the back of a gondola, I've had three main teachers.
The first taught me the basic push-and-return "premèr e stalìr".
It was all he knew, having been taught by an American, who was taught by an American, who was taught by an get the idea.
I have always appreciated his teaching, and while the curriculum was limited, he'd learned and rowed in a sandolo operation, where those two strokes were all that was used.

My second teacher was Angelino Sandri, who operates Gondola Servizio
on Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.  He had learned to row a gondola from gondoliers in Venice.  Angelino's knowledge was much more complete, and he did his best to put as much of it into my head as possible.

I flew up to the Bay Area, got out on the lake with Angelino, and learned a great amount in a short time.  It's remarkable how much can be accomplished when you bring a knowledge-hungry student and a great teacher together.  A few follow-up phone conversations and another session on the water - this time here in Newport - and I was ready to go!
Realistically, I was ready to continue learning on my own
(because you never stop learning).

That was fifteen years ago.
I would go on to receive further training from Arturo Morucchio at the GSVVM in Venice, building upon the valuable knowledge I'd received from Angelino.

I hadn't been out on the waters of lake Merritt again until this last June.
While following my daughter's band on tour, I found myself just five minutes away from the lake, with a few hours of spare time so I jumped at the chance to call Gondola Servizio.

When I arrived, I was impressed to see that Angelino and his wife April now have a full shop of Venetian products.  Their operation is now based out of the Lake Chalet restaurant building, with a private dock accessible through a door of the shop.

As usual, the boats looked great, and well-appreciated.
Angelino hand a nice bottle of pinot grigio on the boat.
He had expected my wife to come as well, but she got caught up with
band business and was feeling a bit under the weather.

We stepped aboard a gorgeous boat built by the dei Rossi family on the Giudecca in Venice. 
I knew this boat because I'd rowed her the last time I was in Oakland.
Angelino has an enviable relationship with Squero dei Rossi,
having brought many great boats from their yard to the US.

We rowed out onto the lake and I was hit with a flood of memories.
So much has happened in the last decade and a half.
Angelino directed me to a spot at the south end of the lake where a new area had been developed with a few nice bridges to sing under.

We rowed around, taking turns snapping photos and toasting with a brilliant pinot grigio.
It was like a homecoming, like visiting my "Voga Alma Mater" in a way.

Here are a few photos of that memorable time on the water:
An asymmetric beauty at rest.

photo by Angelino Sandri
photo by Angelino Sandri

After our time on the waters of Lake Merritt, I thanked Angelino
and watched him greet passengers for his cruise.
Stepping out of the building, I snapped a few shots of them
as they took off on a peaceful and romantic voyage.

 Gondolas on lake Merritt - it's a beautiful thing.

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