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gondola revolution
women, foreigners paddle on the scene

by Nicole Martinelli,

American Thom Price went to Venice in 1996 as the apprentice to a master gondola maker and launched his own boat-making shop.
Entranced visitors to Venice nestle into plush cushions as the black lacquered gondola glides through the waters of the Grand Canal -- now imagine the gondolier a woman, the boat made by an American and the gondola itself without the traditional bowed shape. These are just a few indicators that may add up to a revolution for the symbol of La Serenissima.

Alexandra Hai, a 32 year-old from Germany, is gearing up to take the exam to become a gondolier -- amid much resistance for what has likely been a male-only profession since its first mention in 1094. Hai, who
related books...

The Gondola: An Extraordinary Naval Architecture

The Last Gondola: A Mystery of Venice

more books...


has lived in Venice for years, is on her second try -- passing muster involves more than looking good in a striped shirt and straw hat. To become a substitute gondolier, she'll have to pass a written test on the technical aspects of the boat, a practical test on water and a 150 hour training course. It looks like she'll be rowing upstream to overcome resistance by her 400 male colleagues -- who think the job should go to a Venetian, one who needs to work and not a foreigner who's looking to become a media sensation.

American Thom Price who came to Venice in 1996 as the apprentice to a master gondola maker, launched his own boat-making shop in early 2003. The name 'squero,' or boatshop is Venetian, but otherwise the set up has all the accouterments of a stars-and-stripes business -- a site, offered only in English, with a webcam, workshops and an online gift shop. The frequently answered questions range from "can I put a motor on a gondola" (no) and "how much does a basic model cost?"(about $27,000).

Venetians, however, may be the most radical of all. A recently-formed association of local artisans involved in gondola making announced that a remodernization of the classic gondola form may be in order. Called El F�lze after the tent-like structure used to protect and disguise passengers -- fallen out of use because it ruins the view for tourists -- the group is determined to bring the gondola into the new millennium.

"We'd like to update the conventional shape associated with the gondola, which is basically unchanged since the 19th century" said president Saverio Pastor. "Though we don't want to radically change the symbol of Venice, just give it a much-needed update."

At the going rate, a 45-minute ride on what was once the transport of Queens, Popes and Doges costs about $90, excluding tip. Of course, gondolas aren't the only way to get around Venice -- water taxis and chugging steam boats (vaporetti) are plentiful. Those with a reduced budget seeking the gondola glamour can do a short crossing over canals -- like everyday folk in Venice have for centuries.

see also...
*Venetian Tourists... take a hint!
*Gondola Revolution
*Carnevale chills in Venice
*Off the moldy path... to villas!
*Veneto quiz
*Cuisine of Veneto
*Veneto region
*Travel Forum editor Nicole Martinelli first went to Italy spend junior year in Florence back in 1991 -- and stayed. Now based in Milan, she divides her time between producing content for zoomata and freelancing for outfits including Newsweek, BBC, Becker Entertainment and Abitare TV.

Nicole has been known to proudly produce handfuls of official Italian documents at the least prompting; she also holds a degree in Journalism from San Francisco State University, a Masters in Media & Communications from the Universit� degli Studi di Firenze and belongs to the Italian Order of Journalists. Recent after-work activities include research into stolen holy relics and advanced slalom on a Vespa.


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