The Gondola

July 18, 2007 at 5:40 pm

You can’t go to Venice without taking a ride in a Gondola! But they’ll make you pay out your nose for it. My photos from the little boat trip are now up in the gallery.

Gondolas have been an important part of Venetian transportation for hundreds of years. One of my favorite parts of our stay in the city was watching the Gondoliers ply their trade. The city may have felt like a giant theme park, but the gondoliers were real. Definitely authentic.

Venetian gondoliers are required by an old law to be born in Venice, and they pass down the trade from father to son. The boats are all required to be painted black, and most are elaborately decorated in an extremely sumptuous manor. The boats are asymmetrical – they curve to the right to counter the constant rowing off the right side of the boat.

Venice by Gondola

The stroke mainly used is called Sculling, but not in the usual sense of rowing teams. The gondolier faces forward and moves the long oar in figure-8s behind the boat in order to provide propulsion forward. They can also use little swirls to move the boat completely sideways, backwards, and around sharp curves without any problem. Sometimes they would kick off a wall to swing the back end around, but these guys were expert boatmen, all of them.

Also, gondoliers don’t sing. Not at all. Sometimes they would have a little flotilla of boats traveling around, and one of them would include a serenading accordion player. That was always nice to see float by in the evening as you’re walking back from dinner. But gondoliers pretty much just yell at each other. They have little phrases they call when going around a blind corner, or docking, or passing other boats. The way the calls echo off the water and steep brick walls of the narrow canals is very melodic.

I think Mark’s favorite part of the whole trip to Venice occurred while we were in the gondola. We pulled into a thin canal behind a very old building, with ancient rotting wood piers and crumbling brick on either side. All of a sudden, Mark gets really excited and yells:

“Look! Look! A rat! There’s a rat swimming in the canal!” Sure enough, a very large rat was swimming away from our boat at we headed down the ancient waterway.

“Ok, now Venice is real.” Mark said as he settled back into his velvet cushion. And the gondolier chuckled to himself.