I’ll be honest here. I had a whole post about Venice prepared and I just scrapped it because all I really wanted to do was show you these pictures. Venice, Italy and I have a sort of love/hate relationship. I used to really hate her. She was the kind of bitch who would say things like, “You’re eating more Nutella?” while the spoon is still hanging halfway out of your mouth. The kind of bitch who would step on the back of your shoe while you’re walking or kick your puppy. The kind of bitch who would later get you drunk and have you giggling so hard you had no idea what was happening – kind of like right now with this paragraph.
But things are different now. My latest experience was much, much better. Actually, I’ll go so far as to say I had a great time in Venice last month. Is it because I didn’t ride in a gondola the first time? Is that the key to a successful jaunt in Venice? Do people know about this??
I’m pretty sure it was a combination of many things that went right this time but the gondola ride was a definite highlight. Probably the highlight of my time in Venice. Don’t believe me? Just watch…
Could I be any happier? Nope! I’m in Italy and the sun is shining, something I never thought would happen again. It’s SPRING! At least in Italy it is. I haven’t gotten cussed out, chased, yelled at, or slapped violently in the face by a pigeon… yet. Life is good!
Could my gondolier be any less enthused? Probably not. Another day at the very weird office, I suppose…
His job actually began as a job for slaves only but as gondolas became more and more a part of high-society, the role of gondolier became much more
important fancy and the position eventually went to the luckier sons of bitches higher members of society. Today, you just have to complete a six-month training course, 400 hours of instruction, learn English, be proficient in sailing law, and know basically everything there is to know about Venice, no biggie. This strikes me as odd though because the only time our guy spoke to us was to answer “yes” when I asked if I could take his picture. Literally, that’s all he said the whole time.
Now, if you’ve been to Venice, then you understand when I say gondolas are everywhere. I mean, it really seems like there is just an infinite number of them rocking through the canals under eager fanny-packed people who try to stand up for whatever reason. (I’ll save you some embarrassment – NEVER STAND UP IN A GONDOLA. I can tell by the gondoliers’ reactions that horrible, absolutely catastrophic things must happen.) I have an approximate number for you, believe it or not – currently there are around 400 licensed gondolas in the waters of Venice. Whaaa? I would swear it was a lot more based on the abundance of traffic jams and striped shirts, if nothing else. Gondolas actually were the only mode of transportation here until about the 18th century and during the 16th century, when gondolas were at their most abundant, there were no less than 10,000 gondolas.
Venice is probably the most colorful place I’ve seen. The turquoise water, the coral houses, the details of the gondolas, the blue skies, the tan of the coyote being led by on a leash (you can’t make this shit up)… every photo is a different combination of colors. The Crayola 64-Ct pack of Italy if you will. Above we have “Grape”, “Granny Smith Apple”, and “Antique Brass” just in case you wanted to do some doodling on your lunch break. They even have a color called “Venetian Red”. Coincidence?
In Venice, back in the day, the color black was associated with elegance and this is why every gondola you see is painted black. This is unlike the rest of the world who saw black as representing death or mourning. Venetians use red for these purposes. “Venetian Red”? Crayola, you devilish little minx.
The one thing that stood out about the gondola ride was the silence. Smothering, beautiful, not at all uncomfortable silence. In tourist Italy, silence really is golden, or in this case, wooden. “Silence is wooden” – maybe I’ll put that on a bumper sticker. Venice is crowded y’all and the silence I described is something only a gondola ride can provide. It was as if just stepping (obediently, carefully, very carefully) into the boat turned off everything around us. Except for something I will mention in a little bit…
One thing that makes Venice so beautiful is just how old and decrepit it is. Walls are falling apart, doors are caving in, broken stones, crooked architecture, stained buildings, but for some reason I find it incredible and a very unique characteristic of Italy, kind of like juicy public displays of affection – you just don’t get that anywhere else! The canals are also a good place to view the effects of Venice’s perennial flooding. I don’t have barnacles on my back porch, do you?
There was not a pot o’ gold at the end of this rainbow but there was a giant plate of seafood – even better? I love how something as crappy as annual flooding can turn a basic brick wall into a sort of work of art.
“Acqua alta”, as it is known, is the annual period of high tide in the north Adriatic Sea, experienced most severely in the Venetian lagoon during the months of November and December. Between the lunar influence on the tides and the prevailing Mediterranean winds known as “sirocco”, it has been said that Venice is sinking – but it’s less a sinking issue and more a global warming-related rising water issue that has become a speedos-in-St.-Mark’s-Square issue.
Venice’s architecture constantly amazes me. It’s just such a different way of life than anywhere else I’ve seen. No streets, no cars or driveways, everything seems hidden away. Venice is basically a giant labyrinth only without any stolen babies or David Bowie and his super tight pants. You will absolutely get lost if you do not have a map and there won’t be any weird ass muppets to help you. Only grouchy gondoliers and ballsy pigeons, but maybe some talking door knockers depending on how much limoncello you’ve consumed, that’s all.
A gondola ride is probably the only way for you to feel like you are the only person in Venice. There are literally thousands of people around the corner but you can’t see or hear them. OK, there’s that guy – cut me some slack. #silenceiswooden
A view up the rear. Notice the curvature of the gondola? All gondolas are curved slightly to the right to compensate for the gondolier’s one-sided rowing pattern. Otherwise you would just spin in circles which could also be kind of fun. Like when you were a kid and you thought it was awesome to get dizzy as shit but now you do one somersault and feel like the planet is collapsing in on itself. The struggle is real.
The only thing robbing us of 100% wooden silence was this asshole’s cell phone ringing constantly. Honestly, who gets that many phone calls? Put it on vibrate maybe? What’s he talking about anyway – last night’s soccer game? man-purses? something about tiramisu?
I doubt talking-while-rowing was taught in gondolier school. Dude can multitask though…
Every gondola is handmade from 280 pieces and of many different types of wood. The style you see today is the result of centuries of modifications [insert Dolly Parton joke here] but as of the mid-20th century, the Venetian government has prohibited any further changes to the design or construction of their iconic boats.
You will inevitably hit a traffic jam if you take a gondola ride. There are just so many. Gondolas, gondolas everywhere! Traffic or not it still beats my morning commute any day. You know what they say, “A traffic jam in Venice is…” OK I just made that up but feel free to fill in the blanks for me! A traffic jam is the perfect time for me to tell you about the ferro.
The strange, curved ornament on the front of a gondola is known as the “ferro”. This literally translates to “iron” but it can actually be made of aluminum, steel, or brass. The purpose of these is three-fold: 1) for decorative purposes 2) as a counterweight for the gondolier and 3) for defense purposes against possible collisions, something I think would be hilarious to witness. Since it’s inception, the ferro has undergone 1,000+ modifications [insert Pamela Anderson joke here] resulting in what you see pictured above.
- The curved S-shape of the ferro represents Venice’s Grand Canal
- The six teeth on the front represent the six districts of Venice
- The semicircle under the top piece represents the Rialto Bridge (just like, a super big famous bridge in Venice)
- The wide top curve represents the Doge’s* cap
- The prong on the backside of the ornament represents nearby Giudecca Island
Pictured above is the Roman Catholic church Santa Maria della Salute (St. Mary of Health) as seen from Venice’s Grand Canal. In Venice in 1630 there was a raging outbreak of the Black Plague that killed nearly a third of the population (approx. 94,000). Prayers to Venice’s other churches failed to stop the horrors of the plague – go figure – and so the Venetian Senate declared that if the city was delivered from the plague a new church would be built, amen. This actually worked and so Santa Maria della Salute came to be, dedicated to the healing Virgin Mary, and consecrated in 1681.
He has a terrifying job.
Prior to WWII, the gondolier’s official uniform was an all-black ensemble. After this time, the ever-fashionable French army, of all people, decided it was time for a redesign. And probably a smoke. You know, a pipe and a crepe? Bong and a blintz? The stripes I get, but where are the berets? the baguettes? the pencil-thin mustaches with the curlicues on the ends? Obviously I haven’t been to France…
Not that I mind in the slightest but I’m clearly losing the gondola race. Here are some things I would not lose at:
- weirdest meal ordered at lunch
- most Venetian carnival cat masks purchased
- teaching fun Italian phrases to teenagers
- scariest pigeon encounter (I’ll save that story for another day)
* The “Doge” (first of all, I didn’t learn this until I was there but “doge” is pronounced “dough-jay”) was the Venetian equivalent of a duke. This was not a hereditarial position but rather one voted on by the Great Council of Venice. The doges were elected for life terms and were basically both civic and military leaders.
Have you taken a gondola ride in Venice?
Was it everything you dreamed and more?
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