At first glance the gondola appears a pretty standard vessel, and in keeping with my recent reference to Henry Ford you can apply one of his frequently paraphrased quotes to these boats:
You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black.
The length, width, and weight are also largely standard, but the work required to finish the vessel is not. I’ve already written about the uniqueness of the forcola, or oarlock on each vessel and the smaller polished metal decorations. This ornamentation (el parecio) is a feature that varies widely, and this seat back was a case in point, featuring both gold and silver with finely painted details. Even in black and white you can see that this was the work of a craftsman for the man who owns this craft.
For all the implications that a ride in a gondola is a romantic experience, most of the boats are understandably full of camera wielders spreading the costs by travelling in larger groups.
Every so often though, the occupants look right.
No, not ferry. Ferri, plural of ferro, meaning iron.
The curious adornment at the prow of a gondola is immediately recognisable, yet I wonder how many visitors actually appreciate and understand its symbolism, which I suspect may be partially lost over time. I saw some which lacked all of the component parts of the examples in the picture below, perhaps because of ease of manufacture and the resultant reduction in costs. Of course it may be that the most elaborate are the latest incarnation of a piece that has evolved through the centuries.
The functional purpose is to protect the boat from collisions and scrapes; a hazard in a city with so many bridges to pass beneath, but in a wonderful piece of artistry, this equivalent of a car bumper also embodies the six districts of the city (sestiere), as well as the island of Giudecca in the “teeth” that protrude from it. The head, appropriately enough, is shaped like the caps worn by the Doges, while the semi circle formed below the cap represents the Rialto Bridge. The overall “S” shape of the piece echoes the shape of the Grand Canal, and on some vessels an additional three ornaments (leaves) protrude between the pairs of teeth to represent the lagoon islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. Some also state that the half moon formed beneath the curve of the Ponte di Rialto signifies St Mark’s Basin. For a labelled diagram look here.
Italian style and function!
From the small campo behind Miracoli the open access to the canal gives an unobstructed view, allowing for a full length gondola shot made longer by the exaggerating perspective of the buildings beyond and further enhanced by my choice of lens.
Nevertheless these vessels near eleven metres in length. I’m sure there’s a sound navigational reason for this. It couldn’t possibly be overcompensation by gondoliers could it?
The life of the gondolier may seem idyllic much of the time; slip on a stripy T-shirt, row a succession of generous passengers around a few sites that you can quote a fact or two about for half an hour, bump up your tip with a few bars of a barcarole, pose for some photographs and then repeat.
The reality is a little different. From conversations I overheard, a gondola can cost between forty and sixty thousand Euros, so the price of each trip reflects the financing of the vessel rather than the gondolier’s disposable income. Naturally with such an expensive asset, they take great care of the boats, and a rain storm such as that described in a recent posting will quickly leave the gondolier with a headache.
Just like any other boat, there’s a fair bit of baling to be done.
A good number of postcards for sale in areas of high tourist traffic will show a narrow stretch of canal (or more likely rio) running behind old gothic properties and made interesting by a row of highly polished black gondole and their matching blue tarpaulins. As a reminder of the city it’s a misleading image as most visitors will never see this, for during daylight hours the gondola will be earning its owners keep. If you want the shot, then you have to rise early before the vessels and their owners get to work.
Which is not to say that you don’t see narrow rii with rows of small boats threaded along them like charms on a bracelet. Just don’t expect the boats moored behind houses to be quite so romantic. These are the equivalents of the family car.
We were overdue another one of these weren’t we?
Like the angles here between tilt of gondola, vertical of rower, diagonal of oar, slope of bridge and “v” of collar.
So much going on and the passengers are oblivious.
- The Gondola Man (viewriter.wordpress.com)