By Greg Mohr
It began as a rumor from a gondolier friend of mine in Miami ?“Have you heard that there’s a gondola in Florence, Italy??nbsp; As a gondolier and self described “gondola fanatic?I hear gondola gossip all the time. As the rumor continued I was told that this gondola was painted red and was being kept under the Ponte Vecchio, the most well known bridge in Florence. rolex replica sale I made a mental note and didn’t think much about it again until I began hearing similar reports from other people. So in September of 2000 when I was in Florence with my family I had to find out if this mythical gondola really existed.
From the Uffizi Gallery - an art museum on the North side of the Arno River I caught my first glimpse of it, moored as expected, right beneath the Ponte Vecchio, the gracefully curved crescent shape of a venetian gondola. The gondola was black and had a small bright red sandolo side-tied to it. After some effort and exploration I met a very gracious Piergiorgio Hannelli, one of the officers of the Societa Canottiere Firenze, a rowing club there on the Arno who promised to contact the owner of the gondola on my behalf. Mr Hannelli then generously offered to show me around the facility of the club -- which is competitive in traditional sculling, canoeing, kayaking, venetian and other styles of paddling or rowing; this tour turned out to be quite a treat.
The Canottiere now occupies what used to be the underground stable facility of the Medici family who held power in Florence almost continuously from 1434 to 1743 and has been credited with helping bring about the renaissance through their sponsorship of such artists as Davinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. During periods of Medici domination, rule was usually brought about by force thus the Medici had to be wary of enemies. This underground facility was really more of a bunker, which was kept locked out of necessity, as in the two centuries prior to the time of Medici rule, feuding and fighting in the city among rival families was such a problem that bridges were constructed many stories above street level between houses of allied families. One can only imagine how much effort was necessary to protect the horses of an entire family army.
Today, every boat in the club which can be carried is stored in the long corridor that once housed Medici horses. Also underground are weight rooms, lockers, showers, and even an indoor practice rowing-pool, where athletes can sit and row next to the water, using special oars designed to be used in static water (no matter what the weather looks like outside). It doesn’t surprise me that the Societa Canottiere Firenze has come to be known in the rowing world as a force to be reckoned with; Florentines really take their rowing seriously.
Early the next day I met Emanuele Barletti, the owner of the gondola and was suiting up for what would be one of the most memorable rowing sessions I’ve had. Mr. Barletti told me about how his gondola was actually a standard racing gondola which he’d bought from a well known competitive rower in Venice. After purchase the gondola was transported to Florence ?at that time she was red ?Venetian red which has a bit of a rust tone to it, Barletti painted her black just last year and rows on the Arno regularly.
We rowed out on a small training catamaran to where the gondola was moored, Barletti untied his gondola and met me back at the Canottiere dock. We rowed for about 20 minutes taking turns a poppa and then rowing together while I was given a rare from-the-Arno tour of Florence by someone who lives there. Passing under the Ponte Vecchio was definitely a high point, the bridge was originally constructed in 1345 and was the only bridge in the city to escape being blown up by retreating Nazis as they fled the city near the end of World War II.
The funny thing about rowing someone else’s gondola is that it’s a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar: you’re rowing a boat with the same dimensions as your own but with a slightly different balance, rowing with a forcola carved by the same remer but made for someone of different height, same boat, stance, and techniques but different water, views, and in this case a different country.
After our first tour of the Arno between the Ponte alla Grazie and just beyond the Ponte alla Carraia we were waved in by rowing champion, Franco Ciardini, at the Canottieri because he had some passengers for us! After docking the gondola we met New Yorkers Andrea Siben and her parents. Andrea is currently living in Rome but before that she lived in Florence and was an active member of the Canottiere.
We rowed the Sibens up to the Ponte alla Grazie and then headed down river passing under the Ponte Vecchio and then the Ponte Santa Trinita ?a truly elegant bridge designed in 1567 by Bartolomeo Ammannati (possibly from sketches by Michelangelo). The Ponte Santa Trinita which spans the river today is a faithful reconstruction of the original which was blown up in 1944 and is thought by many Florentines as the world’s most beautiful bridge.
While rowing, Mr. Barletti and I took turns singing traditional Italian songs to our passengers and Mr. Siben told me about how he’d hired a friend of mine Andres Garcia who operates a gondola on the lake in Central Park for his wife’s birthday last year in New York City.
After our cruise with the Siben family we gave a similar tour to my family and friends who’d traveled there with me. Along the banks and in the river we saw an interesting creature known as the “nutria? it looks like a beaver with a rat’s tail and is about the size of a housecat. A few more passes under the Ponte Vecchio, a song or two, and then Barletti and I put the gondola away for a day.