Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Gondola Ride - Magnificient, Magical Venice

(Venice, Italy) That image you see is by the photographer Carlo Naya, taken in 1875, and is the best one I could find to evoke the magic that happened to me late this afternoon.

I had gone across the canal to do some business. On the way back, I joked with the gondoliers. They said, "We want to give you a ride." I said I had no money. They said, "We want to give you a ride." I said, "Oh, okay, very nice, in the future." They said, "We want to give you a ride RIGHT NOW. Right now is the time. Right now there are no customers. Now is the time." Of course I got in the gondola.

We made our way up the Grand Canal and under the Rialto Bridge. The people at the top waved to me and took photos; I waved back. It slowly dawned on me the significance of what we were doing. A single woman riding alone in a gondola is almost unheard of in Venice, and it will attract photos. But more importantly, that the gondoliers would give me a ride... it was a signal of solidarity. It was a great honor.

The gondola took me to places I had never been before, down thin, quiet canals nearly impossible for the sleek, black boat to navigate -- but these gondoliers have the Venetian water running through their veins, like blood, and the vessel slipped easily through the arteries. We burst back onto the Grand Canal, and the sky was Venetian Red, a Magic Color sent down from Heaven. The silvery Moon was almost full. It reflected the setting Sun. Dark storm clouds held their tears, as if painted only for effect by an omniscient artist. They held their tears, but I could not hold mine.  I had tears in my eyes... I had tears in my eyes... the very strong message this beautiful, strong culture was sending... that Venice... and Italy... is sending to you.

When the voyage was over, the gondoliers apologized for speaking to me in the familiar "tu" and not "Lei," but they said, "You seem too young for us to call you 'Lei" -- which, of course, appealed to my vanity:)  I thanked them, and thanked them... then I told a few people what had just happened... and they were stunned. I don't know how to describe, exactly, the enormity of the gesture because the gondoliers never do such a thing (well, sometimes they do if they think they will get lucky, but this was absolutely nothing like that -- this was done with the utmost respect). One person said, after a long silence: "That means the entire energy of Venice has changed." I said, "Yes. We must respect this new power."

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

AFTER I wrote this, I found that photo that you see on the left on the website of Gondolieri Travel, an agency that, apparently, the gondoliers have created themselves. No one whatsoever asked me to do anything for that gondola ride -- it was given from the heart. For me, telling you about their site is like buying them a rose. Click here to visit their site:

"Gondolieri Travel is a branch office of the historical Cooperativa Gondolieri of Venice, the cooperative Daniele Manin was born with a different name in 1868 on 12th July, setting up the Mutuo Soccorso society in support of the gondoliers of Venice.

The Daniele Manin company name officially were registered on 1948, initially to give assistance and support to the gondoliers, then developing into a bigger company, enlarging the gondola transport service to other different activities: gondolas and piers maintenance, the construction and restoration of gondolas in their own Squeri (shipyards for the hand craftmanship of boats), such as the Squero Ognissanti of San Trovaso and the Giudecca shipyard, and on these days new administration and payment offices.

The gondoliers category were helped in the past by this company also from the cultural way, as the company arranged historic lectures and foreign languages courses, in order to help gondoliers work better, expecially because during summer season gondoliers work with foreign tourists.

From the year 2006 the Cooperativa created their Travel Agency, in order to have the own booking office, and as they receive many different requests, enlarge their services offering any kind of private or collective excursions, selected hotels reservations, private transfers with water taxi and cars, and tailor-made solutions for any requests and needs."


  1. Hey there Cat! Sounds like things are getting a little better and that you're licking your wounds at this point. Here's hoping the year of the Tiger brings you better luck!!
    On a different note....I always wondered why the felze(sp.?) has disappeared. I think its return would make gondola journeys much more mysterious.

  2. Hello, Christopher! Yes, well, you can see I was a tad peeved; I just softened the last blog a bit. I suppose if I were in therapy that this would be the "anger" stage of my recovery:)It is just that I am outraged that a bunch of thugs think they can physically assault and/or verbally and emotionally abuse someone -- especially because I am such a wimp, really, I am no match for a flea -- and GET AWAY WITH IT! Not to mention everything else. Barbarians! The only weapon I have are my words, so, of course, that is what I use.

    In any event, your felze question is an excellent one, and something I do not know the answer to off the top of my head. We can imagine the reason why, of course:) (For those of you who don't know, the "felze" is the cover on the gondola you see in the 1875 Carlo Naya photo above.) Let's hope I soon have the funds that will give me the time to answer such a fascinating question!

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    The historical gondola was quite different from its modern evolution- the paintings of Canaletto and others show a much lower prow, a higher "ferro", and usually two rowers. The banana-shaped modern gondola was developed only in the 19th century by the boat-builder Tramontin, whose heirs still run the Tramontin boatyard. The construction of the gondola continued to evolve until the mid-20th century, when the city government prohibited any further modifications.
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