Sunday 11 November 2007


Another piece originally written for Duckworks Magazine, after a trip to Venice.

I hadn’t realised that not all boats in Venice are gondolas. The Venetians have developed a type of boat for every conceivable purpose, from little personal craft to delivery barges. My first picture shows the contrast between old and new. On the left is a wooden sanpierota, named for the island in the lagoon where it was first developed. Sanpierottas are small work boats, the ‘white van’ of Venice. On the left is a buzzy little plastic motor boat that young people sit in for hours, chatting, while they rev the engine.
Some sanierottas are elegant craft for family transportation.
Everyone’s favourite boat is the sandolo, very small, light and fast. They are rowed standing up, facing forwards, with crossed oars. Every Venetian learns how to do this while we were learning to ride bikes. The complex wooden oarlocks are called forcole, and come in everyday and luxury versions. The everyday ones built for strength and utility, and are deliberately made plain so that no one will steal them! Luxury forcole are works of art, carved in ornate shapes from walnut or wood from a fruit tree, and often decorated with gold leaf. I snapped the young man sculling his sandolo down the Grand Canal, perfectly at ease despite the motorway traffic of water buses, water taxis, phut-phut boats and, of course, gondolas.
The UPS truck of Venice is the topa, a traditional barge that used to be sculled but is now inevitably engine driven. Here is a topa delivering stock to a corner shop in the San Polo district.

When Venetians get the builders in, they arrive on a huge steel barge that forms a floating building site, and, just like builders everywhere, block the road for weeks on end.

I could not go to Venice without taking the obligatory picture of gondolas.

One of the wonderful experiences of Venice is taking the taxi to the airport. The water taxi, that is. Is there anywhere else in the world where you can do this? The sunset picture was taken as the water cabbie opened his engines out and sped over the lagoon at incredible speed. Great.

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