Friday, April 29, 2016

Blue, Black, Brick, and Yellow Stripes

There are so many great still-life photos to be taken in Venice.
Here's a shot taken from a vaporetto platform.

The gondolas - jet black hulls with blue canvas - are part of the
Santa Maria del Giglio traghetto.
Behind them is the brick and limestone palazzo of the 
well-known Gritti Palace Hotel.
And in the foreground we see a beautifully striped pole.

There is a webcam which offers a reverse view of this spot at:

There is no place in the world quite like Venezia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Striped Shirt Ambassadors

I always get a kick out of walking through a grocery store
in my gondolier's uniform.

The looks you get are priceless.

There are the people who try not to stare
(or try not to let you see them staring),
then there's the guy who cracks a "Where's Waldo" joke.
Folks ask if you're on your way to a costume party,
or if you do singing telegrams.

"Clean-up on aisle five, and it looks like we've got another gondolier
in the yogurt section.  Get a mop and some pesticide."

I like to tell them:
"Lots of people have work uniforms - mine is just a bit more festive".
It can be fun going out in public dressed as a gondolier.

Ah, but there's another side to it:
What about when you're not having a good day?
The truth is that if you can be identified as a member of a "group"
then you are a representative of that group.
It doesn't matter if you're wearing a work uniform or a team jersey.
Even an accent can tell people that you're from a particular place.

Some of you might not like this,
but I'm not a fan of the Oakland Raiders football team.
It has nothing to do with the team...and everything to do with their fans.
The ones driving - with the big window stickers on their vehicles - do not represent their favorite team in a civilized way.
The ones walking around in Raiders jackets and jerseys are often
either gang members or they act like they are.

Sorry Oakland. 
You might have a great football team,
but some of your fans need a lesson in manners.

I could go into a similar rant about owners of black BMWs,
but there's not enough room for it in this post
(and their behavior speaks for itself).

I knew a guy who ran an auto parts delivery service.
One of his drivers cut off a nice old lady on the road a while back.
The nice old lady had a cell phone, and dialed the number on his bumper
(you know, the "how am I driving?" number)
When the driver got back to the shop, he didn't know what hit him,
and was summarily fired (after all the yelling was over).

Gondolier road courtesy should look like this:
Not like this:

And whatever you do, DON'T do this:
Photos and video by Isabella Mohr.
Special thanks to Steve Atkins for helping me with video editing.

No matter where you go, and what you do,
you are a representative of someone.
Sorry to say that many of my American brothers and sisters have given
the rest of us a less-than-stellar reputation as they've traveled the world
(often in an loud and entitled way).
Our white socks and loud voices alone give us away.
Expecting people on the other side of the world to speak our language

and serve us food the way we like it makes us all look bad.

All of us gondoliers, when we are wearing our stripes, are representatives
of the company we row for, and gondoliers in general.

So be nice on the dock, but be nice in the parking lot too.
We are all "striped shirt ambassadors"

This also goes for your social media presence.
If you choose to make your online presence crass, dirty, or even overtly political, you'll want to make sure it doesn't also represent your place of employment in some way.

Several years ago I had an employee who expressed his own personal opinion on a political issue on an internet chat platform.
No problem there - we are all entitled to our own beliefs,
and I am a big believer in honest conversations on issues that affect us.
The problem arose when someone got very angry with what he said,
and then called my office to yell at someone.
How did they know to call us?
This employee had my company as his listed place of employment and had gondolier photos as well.
To make matters worse, his comment got picked up by the local newspaper's online discussion of the issue.

This graphic started popping up in various places, and it shows how athletic programs are checking potential recruits.
Some guys just don't get it.

In person, on the road, and even online...manners matter.
So the next time you're running late for work, and you're flying down the road in your striped shirt, think about how you might be representing the company you row for, the gondola business in general, and our beloved Venezia.
Not everyone you annoy on the road or in other places will draw conclusions, but some of them will.
And remember that the closer you get to the docks,
the more likely it is that the people in the car in front of you...
might just be your passengers.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sandolo Sighting

Wandering around Venice, you never know what you'll see
as you turn corners and cross bridges. 
At one point I stepped onto a small bridge overlooking a canal
and noticed this sandolo cruising my way. 

Like their gondola cousins, sandoli are traditionally rowed by one person,
with one oar, off the right side at the back of the boat.
Because they are shorter and have a lower clearance
(there's no ferro up front or raised tail in the back),
sandoli are uniquely suited to exploring the tight canals of La Serenissima,
and can even go places that most gondoliers won't take their boats.
Looking down the centerline of the boat,
we see a bit of that familiar Venetian asymmetry.

And like the iconic gondolas, many passenger sandoli are not only
painted black, but have nearly all of the same types of trim and decoration.
Arm-pieces with brass cavalla, ropes with pom-poms,
floorboards painted on a theme color with scallops between the frames,
this sandolo even has a scimier
(that decoration that rests at the top of the backrest of the seat).

I love the gondola.
She is an amazing boat.
And I love being in Venice where I am seemingly surrounded by them.

But now and then you see one of these unique little gems and you realize
that there are many other amazing boats in Venice.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Best Looking Gelato Stand in Venezia


I passed this amazing gelato stand in front of the Hotel Danieli
and I had to stop for a moment to admire the ferro.

I hope he does a tidy business, because he's probably still paying off that amazing stand.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Shakespeare in Gondola

images courtesy Maurizio Ulliana

Special thanks to my friend Felix at Row Venice
for making me aware of this event.
Just one more reason I wish I were in the Veneto.

Here's the text as it was posted by Felix Schoeber at Row Venice:
400 years since the bard of Avon has passed away, and what a better way to commemorate him but to sit in a gondola and listen to his verses?
And what a better location than a palace in that Venetian countryside that has been the background for so many of William Shakespeares plays?

Saturday 23 marks the opening of the gondola rowing season at Villa Contarini in Piazzola sul Brenta, with poetry readings from Shakespeares Venetian plays and gondola rides on the lake.
After that, a gondolier will be waiting for you every weekend for that taste of the Venetian sweet life.

Here's a video reporting from TG Padova:

For information, get in touch with Maurizio Ulliana : 3487077807

You can also find a Facebook event online with more details and photos.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elbow Trim

Here's a clever way of protecting the "elbow of your forcola from brick, concrete, granite, and all of the other surfaces in Venezia that can serve as a cheese grater to that expensive and important piece of rowing hardware.

Oh, sure, you could say "just don't grind against the wall",
but we don't live in a perfect world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ferro Handles

Venice and her surrounding region are known for many produced items:
Glass from Murano,
lace from Burano,
and of course, boats from several places in and around the lagoon.
Another craft that has always been present is metalwork.
Brass is a big one - it's the chosen metal for cavalli,
and you'll often see ornate doorknobs in every neighborhood that were cast just a short distance from the doors they are fastened to.
Aluminum and steel are also alive and well
(they're usually used for the ferro blade at the front of the gondola).
During a recent visit to Las Vegas,
I couldn't resist giving The Venetian a quick visit. 
Entering the casino, I noticed that they'd given the doors
brass a familiar design.
Not only are the door handles designed to resemble the ferro
(the gondola's stem piece), but they finished off the piece with
what looks like the tail decoration. 
I can't imagine what the unit cost was on these door handles.
When you decide to build a Las Vegas casino,
and you design it around a theme, you don't go halfway.
Somewhere out there, there's someone who's got
"brass ferro door handles for The Venetian" on their resume. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

City Barge - Open Day!

images courtesy Richard Bailey and Nadia Lear / Oxford City Barge

Preparations are under way right now across the pond.
The folks at City Barge are gearing up for "Open Day!"

I was alerted to this by a Facebook post by Row Venice.

Row Venice / Felix and Oxford City Barge / Nadia Lear wrote:
Friends in Oxford and London!
This Saturday, April 16, from 10 AM till 4PM Oxford City Barge will have its grand Open Day!

Displays of Venetian rowing on gondolas, gondolinos,
sandolos and mascaretas! Stand up and sit down rowing!
Short trips on the Isis! Refreshments!

If you always fancied getting your hands on a Venetian oar,
meet the afficionados of Venetian rowing:
it's just a short walk north from Donnington bridge to their club house! See directions in the flyer below.

Oxford City Barge is the UK´s only and biggest Venetian rowing club, founded in 1992 at the Rose & Crown public house in Oxford,
and counting on none less than four sandolos one gondolino for their regular Saturday morning outings.
Thanks to its members it can also assemble a much larger flotilla of at least one gondola and an all-wood balotina,
the latter used mostly for parades!

Yet the distinctive mark of Oxford City Barge are its outings:
from row-to-the-pub trips that may easily last a whole day,
to day trips, or even week-long trips that explore the English canals, lakes and waterways; last but not least,
the yearly outings to Venice to keep in touch with friends and food in Venice and the origins of Venetian rowing.

For more info, see their event page!

Thanks to Row Venice for spreading the word.
And best of luck to the good folks at City Barge.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On the Other Side of the Bridge

After the foot-plant from my "Off The Wall!" post,
The gondoliers beneath my apartment window had to take the corner close
so they could make it "Under The Bridge", ducking as they navigated the
right-hand turn.
Here we see a few of them emerging from under that archway and completing the turn.
Something interesting to take note of on this point of the canal,
is the set of white stone brackets on either side. 
I would imagine these are used to hold bulkhead pieces - which slide into
the two slots, thus allowing for the canal workers to drain and clean this
section of the waterway.
Not only do these gondoliers have to perform amazing maneuvers,
rowing their long boats through seemingly impossible tight turns,
but they do it all while on full display with tourists watching
(see the group of them on the bridge above). 
 That scaffolding on the far wall created a challenge of it's own,
as the gondolas emerged from the bridge, and came out of the turn,
they would drift a bit to port, but their gondoliers managed to keep on course.
And of course all this happens, all day, every day.
And each gondolier knows that there's another boat right behind his own.

Just another day at the office
for a bunch of guys (and a few ladies) with one of the best jobs in the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Under The Bridge

In yesterday's post "Off The Wall!",
we looked at a collection of photos of gondoliers performing a familiar
foot-plant just beneath my window in Venezia.
The reason they were all doing this was to maneuver their gondolas
through a tight turn with a small bridge running diagonal over the corner.
Here's the next part of the maneuver.

This is the "toe-plant" guy.
You might remember this gentleman from the previous post.
The next photo shows why the gondoliers take this turn so seriously.
 Fitting a thirty-six foot boat through this tight turn
requires the gondolier to hug the inside corner close.
Very close.
Oh, and then there's the whole ducking-under part.
Mister Mohawk plants...
hugs the corner...
and pulls off the turn like a pro.
 No doubt, he's done it countless times.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Off The Wall!

When we travel as a family, I'm pretty easygoing about where we stay,
and a lot of other details of the trip.  But my wife (who is a travel agent)
knows to consult me on every detail when we go to Venice.
Such was the case when we were planning our visit this past September.
One of the most important choices was:
Which apartment to stay in?
We chose one that was just behind the La Fenice opera house, on the
regular route of the gondoliers of the traghetto at Santa Maria del Giglio.
At any given time I could step out the door,
       peer out a window,
              or even climb out on to the windowsill,
                    and watch an endless procession of gondolas passing by.
I quickly noticed that almost every gondolier who passed by,
planted his left foot on the wall in one or more of the same spots.
Here's a collection of shots I snapped of the famous "Venetian foot-plant".

This guy has legs about as short as mine!
But he manages to plant that left foot perfectly.
 The guy behind him does it...while on the phone.
And then he does it again!
He had to hang up for this one.
This guy makes it look more athletic.
The subtle and lesser-known "toe plant".
This guy plants twice as well.
here's the first...
...and here's the second. 

Lastly, Mister Mohawk plants it like he's at the top of a halfpipe.

I watched these guys day in and day out - executing this move,
and the ensuing turn that followed, perfectly.
The first "gondolas" in Venice were shorter and simpler
than the ones there today.

Over the years the boat has grown, both in length and complexity.
I've heard it said that the progression of length in the gondola stopped
quite simply because anything longer than 11 meters wouldn't be able to fit through some of these passages and tight turns.
After watching the gondoliers beneath our window, I tend to believe that.

What's amazing is how well they handle it.
I suppose planting the foot might help.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tug of War - Dragon Boat Style

Don't let the dragon boat part fool you.
I know that some of my Venetian rowing friends view dragon boat racing
as a "simple sport". 
Admittedly, It is a bit more entry level.
If you can sit and paddle, then you can probably pull it off.
I'm guessing that many of my crew rowing friends have similar sentiments.
We've all seen these wide-body canoes jammed full of first-time-paddlers spastically splashing at the water in their corporate team-building events.
But not all who climb into dragon boats are soft-handed wimps who work in office cubicles under florescent lights.
There are lots of folks who choose dragon boating in favor of joining a gym or taking up Tae Kwon Do.  It's a very social activity.
If I hadn't stumbled my way into the gondola world,
I probably would have ended up dragon boating.
After all, I did get the canoeing merit badge in Boy Scouts.
And you all know how great it is to be out on the water.
It's no surprise that dragon boating has caught on with such fervor.
As with any sport, there are the hardcore athletes.
The guys in these videos remind me of some of the outrigger canoe racers we regularly see in Newport - blasting by like it's nothing.
Regular contests (in any type of boat racing) 
usually involve boats racing against each other,
or teams taking turn on the same boat in a time-trial format.
But these guys, well, they've come up with a whole new approach.
It's like a tug of war, but instead of pulling away from each other,
the two teams are pushing towards each other.
Oh, and then there's the fact that both teams are in the same boat!
Take a look:
The above video clip can also be found on YouTube under the title
"Polish Dragon Boat Rowing: Tug of Oar edition"

Yes, the guys paddling are Polish, and...
No, it has nothing to do with Polish jokes.

It seems that this isn't the only place they do this
two-teams-on-the-same-boat thing.

Here's another couple contests from a get-together in Hong Kong:

And in Australia - here's a contest in a pool:
With the US Gondola Nationals coming up in October,
I'm sure this gives some of you food-for-thought. 
I've thought about it myself.
It's important to remember that with dragon boats,
you just need a place to sit and a paddle.
There's no oarlock involved.
We would need to come up with a way to mount forcole
on both ends of the same boat to achieve the same goal.
Anybody got a boat that we could use?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Best Seats in the House - Gig Harbor

Last weekend there was a whole lot of paddling going on
up in Gig Harbor, Washington.
It was the 5th Annual Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup.

John Synco and his trusty gondola "Nellie" were on hand
to give spectators the best seats in the house.

This shot popped up and I had to post it.
She's not in perfect focus,
but there's our favorite Pacific Northwest gondola.

Check out John's website at

Friday, April 8, 2016

Two of a Kind

I spotted these two beauties next to the Rialto Bridge
in Venezia last September.

It was one of those stop-what-you're-doing moments.

Gondolas like this deserve reverent admiration.
Both were wedding gondolas (with carved decks).
Both had tapestry cloth seating,
and both were nicely appointed and well cared for.

I noticed that the deck carvings were of very different style.

I'm sure that the gondoliers who row these boats do well with such a key location.
It's important to mention, though, that while all of Venice's gondoliers
are skilled and capable of getting out of trouble, the ones who row
in this spot work in what might best be described as a
"maritime bottleneck on a freeway".
These gondoliers have to be the best of the best to work here,
because the vaporetto traffic is fierce near the Rialto.
And yet they do it in such a way that it looks easy.