photos by Nereo Zane
It was foggy that morning along the shores of southern England.
On some days the channel might be clear enough to see across to the other side, but this was not one of those days.
Enzo Liszka and his rowing partner Vittorio Orio pushed off from shore
and began their voyage from the British port of Dover
to Calais on the French side of the English Channel.
Record books showed the first crossings by air, by hovercraft,
on water skis, and of course there are chapters of firsts in swimming the famed English Channel, but on July 30th, 2001 Enzo and Vittorio were the first to attempt it on a Venetian gondola.
Born in 1939, Venetian Enzo Liszka first wrapped his hands around an oar at a young age.
He started on the family sanpierota.
He spent much of his life rowing recreationally with friends and in clubs.
Later he served as an interpreter for American Express.
It was this position that allowed him to hone his ability with the English language - a skill that would lead to many more opportunities,
both in work and in adventuring.
Back in the fog of the English Channel, Enzo (rowing in the front),
and Vittorio (rowing from the raised platform at the back),
worked their way across the busy shipping channel.
Gondolas are designed for the canals of Venice, but the two veteran rowers knew what they were doing, and managed the crossing in respectable time.
The first crossing of the famed English Channel by gondola was in the books.
Vittorio and Enzo did it with style and grace, they sang Venetian songs together most of the way. And when their iconic black gondola made it to the front page of all the papers, and got on TV screens across the European continent and beyond, it was all in the name of raising support for the BIRD Foundation - a group dedicated to fighting rare diseases in children.
In 2007 Enzo and Vittorio came to America,
accompanied by their friend Bepi Suste.
I met them in Albany, New York, and along with John Kerschbaum of Minnesota and Chris Harrison of Texas, we embarked on our own gondola expedition down the Hudson River - a tribute row, honoring the fallen heroes of 9/11 (with great support from FDNY and the International Columbia Association).
A couple dear friends of mine were there to help translate along the journey, but Enzo's English was critically helpful on the boat, when things were moving fast and he was the only one who spoke both languages, Enzo made the difference.
Many more expeditions would follow, and most of them were firsts.
Additionally, Enzo had the joy of carrying on the Venetian tradition of teaching both of his daughters the art of rowing.
Four years ago, my friend Enzo began his battle with cancer.
He fought well, and pressed forward with the will
that only a distance rower can relate to.
He fought valiantly, and never lost that twinkle in his eye - even at the very end.
It was a clear and cold morning as a team of expert vogatori loaded his varnished wood casket onto the long black traghetto gondola that would serve to deliver Enzo to his final resting place.
Among the well-dressed rowers were Vittorio Orio and Bepi Suste.
The team of four vogatori wore identical white marineri with purple scarves and matching broad sashes. Their four oars were painted in the same shade of purple as well (purple is associated with funerals by the Catholic liturgy).
The team was completed with Tino Fongher and Alberto Pagan.
After the memorial service, the traghetto gondola (with ceremonial black cloth deck cover bearing gold trim) made her way through the canals of Enzo's home.
Leaving the city of Venice, she traversed the waters of the lagoon towards the legendary Isola di San Michele - the cemetery island.
Once again Vittorio Orio rowed from the raised platform at the back.
And Enzo Liszka was on the boat, but this time he wasn't rowing.
He was a passenger - on his way to his final resting place.
While few people look forward to their burial,
it is quite an honor to be interred on the sacred Isola di San Michele.
His final crossing to the island was carried out in the most fitting manner - with those who he'd done so much remarkable rowing with, and in many different countries.
Here are a few images from the post-funeral proceedings:
Gondoliers transport the casket from the Santi Apostoli church.
Loading on board.
re-laying of flowers.
Final departure, with attendants watching from the bridge and campo.
Yes, the world, and most specifically the Venetian realm, will miss him.
But he has left us with a legacy of rowing, and some big shoes to fill.
He had a great life, and was part of some amazing things in the rowing world.I am sad to know that he's gone,
But happy to celebrate such an amazing life.
I sent a letter to Enzo just before he left us.
His daughter Samantha read it to him.
I ended with the following:
I encourage you to close your eyes for a minute and picture
John, Chris, me, and so many other American rowers,
as we raise our remi to you in a grand salute.
Thank you for countless memories.
Many thanks to Nereo Zane and Samantha Liszka for helping with this post.