“Will you sing for me?”, I asked as I gingerly tiptoed into the gondola. “Of course, my lady!”, said Cristiano, our gondolier.
Cristiano is one of the 400 gondoliers who has a license to operate gondola rides for tourists. Gondoliers have to go through a written test, as well as a duration of apprenticeship where they are tested not only for their skills in manouvering the gondola through the narrow canals of Venice, but also for their knowledge of the landmarks and history of Venice and language skills in communicating with tourists. The guild that regulates these gondolas fixes the price, which is a steep 80 euros for a 30 minute ride. But then, can you leave Venice without doing this mandatory touristy thing? No! So, you pay!
The gondola is a narrow boat which needs to be propelled by an oar by a gondolier. Each gondola is decorated with its unique upholstery and carved symbols. Until the early 20th century, gondolas were often fitted with a ‘felze’ or a small cabin with windows that could be closed with lowered shutters—the original ‘Venetian blinds’. Eventually they were removed as they obstructed the magnificent view of the architecture of Venice.
It was always a romantic idea for me to ride on a gondola and be serenaded! And so, with Cristiano crooning O sole mio, we went on a ride through the sinuous canals off the Grand canal. Needless to add, the Bollywood bug within me couldn’t resist emerging at this moment. And before I knew it I was imagining Amitabh and Zeenat and singing ‘do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahaani’ almost spontaneously! And the words ” yeh kashti waalah kya gaa raha hai” suddenly meant so much!
As we got off I noticed a huge tattoo on Cristiano‘s forearm saying ‘Anastasia’. “She’s my princess”, he said, “my two year old daughter!” How adorable, I thought. “My wife is not my princess. She will shoot me if she hears this”, he continued.
End of romantic dream. This subset of Homo sapiens, called ‘the husband’, whether Indian or Italian, is always such a crusty unromantic bore!