12 May 2008
What a glorious day it was in Venice yesterday! Perfect weather for the Vogalonga, which I can only describe as the annual free-for-all boating parade around the city and right down the Grand Canal. Even the vaporetti halt service for this important Venetian tradition.
“Non è una regatta!” I was sternly told by one proud onlooker, meaning it’s not a race, and there’s no winner, no prize. The rules are few. No motorboats are permitted. Anybody can join in the merriment, even little kids in kayaks and one laidback guy on a pedalboat. Young or old, capable or comical – everybody is welcome.
Only in Venice can you see this particular spectacle! There was every possible combination of rowers and boats, and participants of all ages and abilities. I saw an eight-man team of Roman soldiers complete with the red brush helmets, a ten-man team of singing monks, a few children’s teams rowing to the beat of a sort of Venetian tom-tom, lots of what I would call ordinary canoes, some oldtimer duos in low-slung sandoli, a strange yellow boat laden with tropical flowers and La Serenissima’s scarlet and gold banner flying at the aft, a Dutch team in a classic Asian dragon boat, some very able and agile gondolieri zipping around in their traghetti, and a great many foursomes and sixsomes of both genders dressed in snappy white trousers and matching colored shirts, proudly showing the fine form that comes from hours of rigorous practice.
Everybody in town was very jolly and high-spirited all day. The tourists were dazzled, of course. I feared Rialto Bridge would collapse under all the extra weight! In short, it was great fun, with only one tiny disappointment: I missed seeing my cobbler and his seventeen fellow canottieri in their amazing craft, the disdottona. He’s so proud of it. I haven’t the heart to confess my failure to him.