Thursday, July 28, 2016

Calcio Storico

Over the years I've discovered several events and competitions in Europe that have fascinated me.  Some have nothing to do with Venice or rowing, but like Vogalonga or Regata Storica, they are unique to their location and/or the people who live there.

Pamplona's Running with the Bulls and Siena's "Palio" (a wild horse race through the city square) are good examples.

With these and other events in mind, I offer this look into something that is definitely unique: "Calcio Storico".

Two teams kicking a ball on a measured field,
try to outscore each other using only their feet, with goals on each end.
At least that's the soccer I grew up with.
For me and my friends it was a fun afterschool program.
For the Italians, well, it's as important to them as hockey is to Canadians.

If you're even mildly aware of soccer in Italy, then you know that they don't call it "soccer".  Honestly, I've never thought that was a suitable name in the first place - seriously, what are we socking?
And don't we "sock" with our fists?

The Italians also don't call it "football" or "futbol".
They call it "calcio" (meaning "to kick").
It seems fitting that people living on a piece of land that's shaped like a boot, understand that they are kicking, not socking.

Calcio is the biggest, most well known sport in Italy.
But there is another "calcio" out there - a lesser known and much more violent, gritty version.
It's called "Calcio Storico", and it happens in Florence, Italy.

Like the modern day ring-fighting of M-1 Medieval in Russia
this is a throwback of sorts.

Like Pisa's "Battle on the Bridge" It goes back a long time, and serves as an annual reminder of a piece of local history.

Before Italy's current version of "calico" existed,
this more brutal sport carried the name.
These days, in order to differentiate between the two, the older more historic version is appropriately called "Calcio Storico".

Different levels of violence are tolerated in different sports.
In some games it is expected - even encouraged.
There's an old joke:
"I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out".

I know many hockey fans who go to games more for the fights than the actual skating and scoring.

Take all the thrill and excitement of hockey fights, mix in street fighting, stage it on a walled-in field with a sand floor, and pit two teams of 27 players each, and you've got Calcio Storico.

Somewhere in there, there's an effort to move the ball into the other team's goal (which you can do by hand or foot).
But there are players who want nothing to do with the ball - they're just there to dish out pain and pick up where they left off last year.

The season for this sport lasts only three days.
I tend to think it's because by the end of three days they're all either hospitalized or recovering.
As with most sports, there are rivalries - but these ones sometimes look more like vendettas.

The four quarters of the city of Florence each have a team.
Two compete on day one,
the other two on the second day,
and then on the third day the winners of the two matches face off in the finals.

Competitors wear renaissance looking pantaloons, and either begin the game shirtless, or end up without their shirts somewhere along the line.
There are no helmets, no pads, and seemingly...very little sanity.
Think MMA in rugby form.

Calcio Storico has a rich history. 
It is said to have originated in the 1500's, although there are indicators that it was begun as a revival of a similar game which was played by Romans.
Delving even further back, there are those who say that the Roman version was an adaptation of a similar game played by Greeks.

When the 50 minute match starts, forward linemen spread out,
pairing up with sparring partners across the central dividing line.
A referee tosses the large ball up into the air.
As it lands, somewhere near the center of the field, guys start taking jabs at each other while efforts are made to get the ball under control.
Whoever gets the ball, typically will bring it back safely in their territory, and wait to try and make a run to score.

Meanwhile, the fights on the front line continue.
It might seem like there are no rules,
but the referees do enforce a few regulations:
No sucker punching,
No kicks to the head,
and no double-teaming on a foe.
Watch a match and you will see these things happen,
but sometimes guys get called on it, and even ejected.
Others leave the sand stretcher.

Sooner or later, a few of the guys in the back will try to wage an approach to score.  The guy with the ball will rove around, then make a dash forward.
Opposing players, spotting the ball carrier react, and often a passing game ensues.

While some say Calcio Storico may be the earliest inspiration for American football, the passing here is not your typical NFL method.
It looks more like the tossing and lateral pitching done in rugby.

If the man with the ball gets close enough to the back fence, he'll try to force the ball over it and into the back net of the opposing team.
One score equals one point.
Something resembling it may yield a half point.
(I must admit that I don't quite understand exactly how the half point is earned)
Most games seem to be 95% fighting, 3% scoring, and 2% stopping to figure out what the heck is going on.

This year's Calcio Storico was just played out.
In the days leading up to it, someone at the Art Vivia Italy Blog wrote a good piece on it called: 
"Of Pantaloons and Cow - the Calcio Storico Fiorentino"

In researching for this post, I discovered that there's a movie coming out soon which includes Calcio Storico in its plotline.

The film will be released in September, under the name "Lost in Florence".
Sparse information on the film is available both on Wikipedia and IMDB.

Here's the teaser:

Here's the trailer:

With the popularity of MMA fighting, it's no surprise that someone is making a film with Calcio Storico in the story.  Honestly, I'm quite surprised it didn't come out on the coat tails of Fight Club.

While this might seem surprisingly violent to some,
remember that back when this game originated, folks settled disputes quite differently than they do now.  
In fact when they were first doing this in Florence, and calling it Calcio Storico, scores were being settled on certain bridges in Venice - some with fists, others with weapons.
(to learn more, see "Ponte dei Pugni")

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mission Accomplished in Minnesota

Along with planning every aspect possible of the upcoming US Gondola Nationals, John Kerschbaum has been tending to his boats as well.
Among the biggest projects: replacing the bottom of one of the gondolas.
Sometimes when you start pulling things apart, you discover other things needing attention.  In the end, John ended up replacing a lot more than just the bottom sheet, but he did a masterful job, and added years of life to the boat.
Here are some of the photos I've received from John over the last few months:




Launch day!
from left to right: Jimmy Golden, Rick Marcus, and gondolier Michael Serge.
John appears to have been busy taking the photo.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fanfare in Milwaukee

This weekend the folks at Festa Italiana in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had their annual shindig, complete with parades, fireworks, bocce ball tournament, gondolas, and a cannoli eating contest (why the heck weren't we all there?)
Here's a fun shot of some costumed trumpeteers on board one of the gondolas.
Maybe next year some of us can make it out there.

Sandolo Sighting on Hello World blog

I've recently discovered a blog known as "Hello World" which has some great shots from Venice and other locations in Italy.

Take a look at "Home, Giacomo".

Friday, July 22, 2016

85% Moon

Halfway through a cruise this evening, I spotted the moon rising up from behind homes along the canals of Newport. 
I could tell at that point, that it would be worth watching.
I turned the gondola towards home and rowed slowly so my passengers could enjoy the view of a nearly full moon moving slowly upward.

It wasn't completely full, but rather about 85%, even so it was gorgeous.
My passengers loved it almost as much as I did.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Busy Waters

Here's a snap of typical morning activity, just south of the Rialto Bridge.
If the Grand Canal has a "choke point", it's here.
This spot is a favorite place for both water taxis and gondolas,
vaporetto activity is fierce, and it's a bit of a blind turn beyond the bridge.
Not surprisingly, some of the more dramatic accidents have happened here.
Suffice to say, anyone who pilots a boat in these waters,
had better be a good captain.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Redentore Regatta Report

Our friend Kathleen Gonzalez is in Venezia right now,
and just posted this first-hand account of the racing activity there.
Lots of excitement!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Not Your Average 4th of July Weekend

First Call
I got a call a few months ago from a friend in the gondola business,
telling me that there was a wedding client who wanted a boat
for their grand entrance to the reception.
The event was scheduled for July 2nd at a property in Simi Valley,
with a tiny lake - just big enough for a gondola.

We get a lot of inquiries from people wanting us to put gondolas in pools,
ponds, and even water hazards in golf courses. 
What follows is a discussion of whether or not it's possible.
Ninety percent of the time the conversation stalls and dies.
Sometimes it's cost, but usually it has to do with the physical challenges or accessibility of the waterway.
At least a half-dozen times I've been hung up on after mentioning that we'd need to take apart a fence or drive over someone's flower bed.

I talked with the couple who were getting married.
They really had their hearts set on having a gondola there.
After a visit to the location, and some discussion with the property owners,
we were able to ink it on the calendar.

I was happy to have my gondola The Phoenix out of the water and due to have fresh paint by then. 
She's the best boat in my fleet for adventures such as this:
fully fiberglassed hull, sturdily built, and after the Hudson River expedition I have no doubt in her durability.
I sometimes wonder if Thom Price had any idea of the places she'd go when he built her.

Second Call
A few weeks before the Independence Day weekend,
my office received another call.
This one came from Las Vegas. 
It was the office of Siegfried and Roy (yes, the magicians who are famous for working with white tigers and other animals).
They were having a 4th of July party at their house and Mr. Roy wanted to make an entrance by gondola.

This time we weren't talking about a lake, but rather a swimming pool.
But then, as you might imagine, guys like Siegfried and Roy tend to have fairly big pools - in this case: resort-sized.
I received photos of the pool in question, and sure enough, it was huge;
complete with palm tree islands and three bridges.

After determining that the pool was big enough, I shifted gears:
I said "now, we're gonna need to talk about how to get the gondola into the pool, because she'll arrive on a trailer, but most swimming pools don't have launch ramps".
Without hesitation, the lady on the phone said "well, they used to have pet elephants, and they would let them play in the we do have a ramp"

(there was a pause while I digested what I'd just heard)

I laughed a bit and then began to ask whether the ramp would be
big enough for a boat trailer, but then I caught myself,
realizing that it was elephant-sized!

The timing was perfect.
There was a comfortable amount of time between the two events.
The next three weeks were dedicated to getting everything in order.

Waiting for the Weekend
As a matter of course, I always have one boat out of the water for paint, service, and any repairs necessary.
With two new accounts on the horizon, my right-hand-man Steve Elkins sanded and painted every inch of The Phoenix. 
Her stainless steel ferro blade was polished to mirror perfection.
New upholstery was sewn, and a new Deeper Shade of Blue was given to the floorboards.

When we hit the road on the morning of July 2nd, with Simi Valley in our crosshairs, The Phoenix was in show condition.

The wedding event was at a remarkable property known as Hummingbird Nest Ranch - one of those places you'd never know about unless you were invited to go there (and allowed in the gates).

We arrived just before noon, unloaded all the extra items in the gondola,
and parked the trailer in the agreed upon location - right next to the lake.
The most amazing piece of heavy loading equipment showed up:
a "reach forklift", with forklift array at the end of a telescoping boom.
My blue hoisting straps were looped under the gondola and hooked onto the forks.
We found the perfect strap placement, lifted her off the trailer,
and the reach forklift placed The Phoenix in the water.
The launch was so quick and easy, that we spent twice as much time dressing and primping the boat afterwards.

The Phoenix is lifted and the trailer pulled forward.

The boom is extended.

Seconds before touchdown.

Note to self:
add a reach forklift to my Christmas wish list.

My bride and groom arrived to a picture-perfect boat,
which was fortunate, because they were followed closely by photographers.
Once the newlyweds were on board and seated in The Phoenix,
and clothes, hair, and makeup were primped,
some great memories were made, and photographed.

Moments before the bride and groom arrived.
Bridesmaids in gold, floorboards in blue.

Beginning the grand entrance.

 The solo.

The grand entrance was awesome.
The wedding guests loved it.
The bride and groom loved it even more.
Heck, I had a blast too, and I was paid to be there.

A few more circles before hoisting.
My team of expert gondola handlers.

After the grand entrance I rowed around for a while and then we brought the gondola into position, put the straps in place, and once again The Phoenix was lifted out of the water - this time with me and one of my daughters seated in the boat.
It was awesome, felt like a carnival ride.
I said to my daughter:
"years from now I'll say 'remember when we made The Phoenix fly?'"

Touchdown on the trailer.
Stripping of the boat,
strapping of the boat.
and in no time we were back on the road,
bound for Nevada.

Through the Desert
Coffee, snack foods, a gas stop in Barstow.
I struggled to stay awake at times.
We were all living on "sleep debt".
A few times I stopped to "check the straps" just so I could stay awake and break up the monotony of driving through the desert in the dark.
I've driven to Las Vegas more times than I can count, but never that tired.

We got to our destination at a quarter to four in the morning,
unhooked the trailer, and then headed to the hotel.
I finally hit the pillow at 6am.
I don't know about my daughters.  My wife was up til seven,
working on business stuff.

Little Bavaria
11am came way too early.
Even the best hotel room coffee is crap,
but then, it does have caffeine, so who's complaining?

We arrived at Siegrfried and Roy's private residence
(known as "Little Bavaria")
and spent some time getting the boat ready.
In short time I was lining up the trailer and launching the gondola - using a ramp designed for elephants.

In a case of remarkable serendipity,
elephant ramps are the perfect width, height and depth for boat launching.
The Phoenix was afloat, wild waterfowl who call the pool home were getting out of our way, and we managed to get the gondola to fit under one of the three bridges and into the main part of the waterway.

Little Bavaria is one of those places few people know of, and fewer have been to. They've never given tours, and have stated that they never will.
Both performers are originally from Germany, 
and you can see it in some of the architecture and such.
It my be called Little Bavaria, but it's anything but little.

Their love for animals shows.  There are all sorts of creatures roaming around.  None of the big cats were onsite though - they can be found, and admired at their habitat in The Mirage (the casino where Siegfried and Roy performed for so many years).

Some practice runs were done, and while the pool is big, so is a full-sized gondola.  Taking time to really get to know the waterway was an important exercise.

The Phoenix at rest in a private resort-sized pool.

Independence Day
The 4th of July was spent meeting people, prepping the boat, and doing our best to keep things a secret.
We managed to tuck all 36 feet of Phoenix behind some bushes, and only brought her into position right before the grand entrance.

Mr. Roy boarded the gondola, and Mr. Siegfried was escorted over.
His first reaction to seeing a Venetian gondola in the pool was priceless.
He climbed aboard, shaking his head in disbelief.

The DJ changed the music to a new song.
It sounded vaguely familiar.  Soon I could tell that it was the theme song for Siegfried and Roy's show, as the chorus included their name.
I'd never heard the song before, but the reason it sounded so familiar was that it was recorded by Michael Jackson!

Red and blue smoke bombs were lit - filling the air with color.
Michael Jackson's song pumped out of the sound system.
And like it was part of their stage act, the two magicians made their entrance on a gondola that nobody had seen until that moment - when it emerged through red and blue smoke.

A Class Act
After the entrance was finished, and my two famous passengers had gone on to visit with their guests, we were invited to stay and enjoy the party as well.
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many employees and former assistants to Siegfried and Roy.
Every single person I talked to had nothing but positive things to say about them, and most of the folks I talked to had been working for them for a decade or more.  You never know what someone is really like when you first meet them, and indeed there are lots of famous people who everyone thinks are nice (even though they might not be).
But the two guys that I had on my boat are truly a class act.

Home Again
Hauling was easy, stripping and strapping the boat went without any trouble. Saying goodbye to new friends was the most difficult thing we did that day.
The drive home went well and before my neighbors knew it, there was a gondola parked in front of my house.

After a good, solid, and long night of sleep, The Phoenix went back to her spot in the shipyard.
This week she'll get fresh bottom paint, and then join the rest of the fleet in Newport, with even more stories to tell than she had before.

Eventually I hope some photos or video will become available,
and when they do, I'll post some of them here.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Two for Tahoe

Our friend Drew in Tahoe has added a second gondola to his fleet
for the next couple of months.
Congrats to Tahoe Amore on the new addition (if only for a while).
It's nice to see that things are going well up there.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

"BE the News"

For years I've told my friends who had new gondola operations:
"Don't be the advertisement during the newscast,
BE the news!"
I tell them:
"You've got a supermodel working for you,
she belongs on the cover of the magazine."
Well, today I tip my Giuliana Longo hat to John Synco,
who managed to do just that.
And not only does Nelly (the supermodel gondola) look great,
but so does the Pacific Northwest's only gondolier.
Bravissimo John!
To learn more about the publication,
and the website for Gig Harbor Gondola is:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Out to Lunch

Gondolier Jack takes a couple out for a lunch cruise
on a sunny day in Newport.
The Lucia always turns heads with her canopy on.