You can enjoy watching the approximate 400 glossy black gondolas silently passing from the top of a bridge and on occasionally hear the echo of a gondolier serenade.
On an earlier visit to Venice, Elizabeth Rainer, one of the three contributors to ‘My Pretty Venice’ a guide to finding Venice artisans and experiences (ISBN-10: 8873017746), introduced me to several of the artisans/shops included in the guide. One of our stops was near the Rialto Bridge, S. Polo, # 60, to learn about the shoes sometimes called gondolier slippers or le furlane.
When you enter this compact store, you are assailed by the riot of color from the floor to almost ceiling, cubicles holding furlane in linen, velvet and some novelty fabrics.
|Furlane in many colors and styles|
Finding limited information about le furlane on line, some of the history is described on the web site for Piede a Terre. The following is from parts of their web site:
‘As a result of the poverty and lack of employment just after WW II, the area of Friuli, north of Venice, began recycling old bicycle tires and jute sacks formerly used for seeds and grains. The tire soles were waterproof and hard wearing. The shoes evolved as other fabrics from old clothes and even rags were used for the uppers.’
|The simple slipper has expanded to wonderful fashion footwear|
‘Hand made by women in the area, they were perhaps the first recycled products! The rubber soles proved long wearing, good for a sometimes wet surface and could protect the finish of a gondola, which is a very expensive boat.’
It is not difficult to imagine women sitting in their homes homes producing slippers and using the proceeds from the sale of this simple product to supplement the family’s income.
Today you can find the slippers in several styles and many fabrics or bring your own fabric to have a pair custom made. On this return trip to Venice I wanted to experience a pair of furlane. I passed on a store off the main tourist route, selling a lovely selection because they were not made in Italy.
Once I revisited Piede a Terre the problem was making a choice: first the style, then the fabric and finally the color. Furlane are made for men and children as well, so you might find all your gifts in one location.
My search resulted in shoe-less, sneakers or trainers as you may call them and dress shoes, but I did not find any furlane. Have you seen a gondolier wearing furlane?
|This gondolier chose to work in socks!
Gondolashave been plying the waters around Venice for centuries. After the introduction of the faster, motorized vaporetto, the need to use a gondola to travel the canals was reduced. There may still be some privately owned gondolas (Peggy Guggenheim enjoyed a private boat and must have had her own boatman) but you find most of the 400 + remaining gondolas offering the unique experience to visitors.
If you are brave enough to cross the grand canal standing up in a Traghetto with several other passengers, your experience may be somewhat different. Not on my list of travel experiences.
|A traghetto crossing the grand canal. Credit: bing.com images|
To maintain and repair the working gondolas in Venice, there are a few remaining squeri (boat yards). New gondolas are built by hand and can take approximately 2 months to construct, involving 8 different types of wood and assembling over 200 pieces! (see Veniceinsider.com)
Perhaps the best know boat yard is the squero di San Trovaso, not far from St Marks square.
You can view the squero from across the canal. If you are there at the right time you may see a boat returning to the water after a repair. click here
How to obtain a license as a gondolier, a short overview, far more information and details are available online.
The career of gondolier is usually handed down from father to son over the years.
First, a candidate must pass tests for rowing and swimming before continuing to the formal gondoliere school, a course lasting up to 18 months. Gondoliers must know the history and geography of Venice as well as speak sufficient English.
Exams must be passed before a student advances to a substitute gondolier assigned up to a year as a traghetti di parada, the cross canal passenger boats.
Gondoliers had been a male only profession until 2010 when Giorgia Boscolo, the daughter of a gondolier, passed the exam. Again Venice Insider was my source for this information but several other articles have been published. Chiara Curto has also been authorized to use a sandolo: smaller and flatter than a Venetian row boat.
When you visit Venice try to notice the unique design of the asymmetrical gondola and how the gondolier stands to one side. With practiced strokes the boatman can maneuver the 35+ foot long gondola around corners, around other boats and close to a stairway to embark passengers.
A close up look at other gondolas:
A boat serves as a perfect neighborhood fruit and vegetable stall. The locals stop by daily.
Perhaps the best known book store in Venice is Liberia Acqua Alta where a gondola is the center piece.
There is so much more on the history of Venetian gondolas so be sure to do an online search to learn more.
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