Archive for gondola


Off for Christmas

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I know it seems like I just got back, so to speak, but Christmas is bearing down on us and we are fleeing to the mountains where we will alternately celebrate and combat it with cheese, apple strudel, needlepoint, TV, hiking, and sleep.

Happy holidays to everyone who reads my scribbles.  You have made this a wonderful year for me.

IMG_0096 gondola xmas card crop blog resize


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Latest on the gondola disaster

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A view from the Rialto Bridge.  I took this on a morning in April, 2009 -- nowhere near the height of the tourist season, but still. While the commercial traffic is momentarily light (I could have stood there all morning making pictures, but time was short).  What's useful about this image is the number of vaporettos visible in the space between the Rialto stop on the left and San Silvestro on the right.

A view from the Rialto Bridge. I took this on a morning in April, 2009 — nowhere near the height of the tourist season, but this gives you a rough picture of the space available and the dimensions of the daily vehicles.  At this instant the commercial traffic was momentarily light (I could have stood there all morning making pictures, but time was short). What’s useful about this image is the number of vaporettos visible in the space between the Rialto stop on the left and San Silvestro on the right, a distance of 409 feet (125 meters) between the two closest docks, and 669 feet (204 meters) between the furthest.  The distance between the starboard side of the vaporetto on the left and the stern of the gondolas on the right is 67 feet (20 meters).  This picture doesn’t show all the additional vaporettos which are out there now:  The #2, the “Vaporetto dell’Arte,” and the Alilaguna airport bus.  There are usually at least two of each arriving or leaving, going up- or downstream.  There can be as few as three minutes between dockings of one vehicle or another, the paper reported.  My personal experience is that there can be a boat ready to tie up to the dock as soon as the previous boat has left enough space.  If anyone is interested, a vaporetto on the average is 69 feet (21 meters) long, and 13 feet (4 meters) wide. I don’t think you have to be Archimedes or Euclid to appreciate the problems of this geometry.

I will correct my earlier post, but as the details begin to come into sharper focus, I want to report that the gondola with the German family did not capsize, so I can’t interpret early reports on the gondoliers diving into the Canal.  Of course they did what they could to help, but the boat remained upright, if damaged.

I know that the gondoliers recovered some small floating objects belonging to the littlest girl, and placed them on the fatal dock with a bouquet of flowers: one small rubber duck, and one very small pink shoe.

The gondoliers have carried their proposals to City Hall: To start with, a ban on any vehicle overtaking any other vehicle.  Vaporettos in line, taxis in line, gondolas in line.  (I don’t know about barges.) As anyone who has seen the Grand Canal knows, this procedure has not been the case so far.  I have no opinion on the feasibility of the idea but presume that men who spend all day in the area know something about how things work.

They are also proposing revisions of the vaporetto schedules, to prevent backups such as the one which contributed to the disaster (three vaporettos were idling in sequence, awaiting their turn to use their respective ACTV docks).  That would seem to be a no-brainer.

Hence another correction to my report: The fatal vaporetto was not moving slowly; it wasn’t moving at all, until it was time to engage the gears to move forward, which involved backing up first, which was the point at which the gondola was struck.

Two other vaporetto drivers have also become involved in the legal situation. I don’t know what the formal accusations are.  I could know, but I am not following every single sentence being written about the case.  The important thing isn’t what’s being said today, but what is done tomorrow.  Or next year.  Or whenever or if anything is actually done.

If something meaningful occurs, I’ll try to let you know.


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The end of art

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This was when it was art.

That was then.

Does everyone remember the gondola loaded with cut-up gondolas that was parked in our canal in the opening fervor of the Biennale?

The opening of the Biennale is, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, more like starling-swarming or the wildebeest migration than anything else.  Dramatic for a short sharp moment, then it’s over and people forget about it.

By now the process is complete.  The swarms began to depart the evening of June 2, and although fluttering shreds of tourists remain, the sort who seem to have come actually to look at the art and not each other (shocking, I know), life on the whole is back to its incomprehensible normality.

As everyone knows, the gondola assemblage was art.  A week has passed, and this creation has been demoted to Private First Class, downgraded to Economy, put back a grade, however you want to put it.

Having fulfilled its purpose — whatever it was — the object has been removed from its watery pedestal, and taken far away. Not so far in geographic terms, but extremely far in terms of appreciation. You may have heard of “value added”?  This is an example of “value subtracted.”

It is now resting quietly in the devastated territory of our rowing club.  Evidently the squero here nearby that confected it didn’t want it back soon (or ever); anyway, I was told that in exchange for painting one of our boats, we agreed to let them stash it here.

Sic transit.  


This is now.

This is now.


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How not to get gondoliered

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It pains me to write this, but I hope that doing so will serve some useful purpose.

Gondoliers are arguably the symbol of Venice, and as such could be expected to evince a sense of the importance of same.  That’s just my opinion.

What is not opinion, but fact, is that they are independent, masters of their own boats, lords of their lives, and — yes — of their money.  I mean, of your money.

I know a good number of gondoliers and can attest that many are fine, professional people and first-rate ambassadors for their amazing city.  Among other things, they’re often the first to fish tourists out of the canals when the said tourists have misjudged the slipperiness of the algae on that stone step, or to have miscalculated other maneuvers.

You can see the required card impaled by the small flag on the prow. Seeing does not mean reading.

Then there are the others. There are some that easily inspire apprehension, who resemble inmates out on a work-release program, with boats to match.  But don’t be distracted by the externals, because how a gondolier behaves depends on many and easily shifting factors apart from his housekeeping and personal care, and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle when the shifting is going on.

I wouldn’t bring it up at all, but there has been a recent situation here, amply reported in the Gazzettino, in which a gondolier charged a Russian couple 400 euros ($496) for a spin in his gondola that took less than an hour.  You could probably justify that price if you included a bottle of the Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck champagne poured into Baccarat flutes while the gondolier rowed you to Trieste singing the “Improvviso” from Andrea Chenier.

Then again, he could skip all that and just ask for the dough.  Which he did.

As you see by the rates standardized by the Ente Gondola, the gondoliers’ sort-of governing body, he should have asked 80 euros, or 100 euros, depending on the time of day.

But no.

People tend to be intimidated by gondoliers.  People need to get past that.  The Ente Gondola has tried to help, by insisting that the gondoliers exhibit the price scale.  Most gondoliers have done so, by attaching a piece of plastificated paper 5 1/2 inches square to the prow of their boat — a place a potential passenger isn’t likely to approach, even if armed with the necessary magnifying glass to read the type.

This card measures 5 1/2 inches square.

And it’s printed on both sides, so you’d have to turn it over to get the complete information.

Let’s move on to the happy ending: The Russian couple registered a complaint and got their money back, with a promise from the Ente Gondola of a free ride next time.  To which I’m pretty sure they replied “There’s not going to be a next time.”  It doesn’t sound better in Russian.

So here’s the simplest solution.  Let’s say that you and a gondolier have begun to converse.   Whether you approached him or vice versa, you’re talking about money.

He mentions a figure that doesn’t sound like what is printed on the Ente Gondola’s site.  So you say, “Would you please show me the rates printed on the card on your gondola?”

If he doesn’t have the card on his gondola, you move on.  If he has it but can’t explain why the rate he quoted you doesn’t match what’s printed, you move on. No need for complicated discussions or heated words.  It’s a big world, and there will always be another gondolier.


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