Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Build Me a Crooked One"

photo by Isabella Mohr

For the longest time, gondolas in Venice were symmetric:
perfectly even in their design, with the port and starboard sides
measuring the same exact numbers.

But in the mid 1800's, as the story goes, Venice fell upon hard times,

and the gondola went from a two-man boat to a one-man boat.
Up until then, the boat was rowed by a master on the back of the gondola,

and an apprentice up front. 

At some point a conversation took place between a builder and his client.
The client's name is unknown,
but the builder was a guy named Domenico Tramontin.

Recently, the city had fallen on hard times.
The apprentice got a pink slip,
while the maestro ended up doing twice as much work.
(yes, this is a familiar story these days)
The iconic gondola had become a one-man-boat.

There was probably wine involved in this conversation.
The client said "build me a crooked one".
Mr. Tramontin is believed to have said:
"they're all gonna laugh at you,
'cause you're the one who's gonna be rowing it, so what do I care?"

The client was tired of correcting hard to compensate for a missing front man.
Domenico built the very first asymmetric gondola.
Sure enough - when the owner of this new lopsided boat rowed her,
other gondoliers laughed...until they saw how easy she was to row.
Next they wanted to try rowing her.

Then they wanted one of their own.
It is said that from that point,
nobody build another symmetric gondola in La Serenissima.

At the time, Domenico Tramontin was just one of many gondola builders.

but his decision to create an asymmetric gondola,
Well, that elevated him to "gondola royalty."
I can't speak from a boat builder's perspective.
But I can tell you that as a guy who rows these remarkable vessels,
the asymmetry is fantastic, and if I could go back in time,
I'd love to shake hands with Domenico Tramontin.

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