We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wet, wet days in Venice

If you have been following Venice news this past week, you already know we've had our share of Acqua Alta (high water).  We had our first high water of the season, followed by the second, third, fourth, fifth, all in rapid succession. None of these were exceptionally high days, but high enough to throw a monkey wrench into your life for an hour or so each day.  And high enough for you to keep your boots handy by the door.

Because I've been talking so much about boots lately, and wearing mine so much, I thought a photo of them would be appropriate today.

If you need boots while in Venice, you should find Nadia's, at 2762B Dorsoduro, located just under the archway that leads from Campo San Barnaba to the Accademia Bridge. She sells an unbelievable assortment of boots (at very reasonable prices) as well as beautiful shoes, gloves, hats and bags. Mine came from Nadia's too.

What's app? What's that?

In the last 16 hours or so, I've become quite familiar with the image you see below.  It's the icon on my phone for the What's App app. Is it something you use also?

I am a brand new What's app user, I will confess.  About six months ago, a friend in England suggested I download it so we could stay in touch more often and not pay for phone calls. I didn't do it.  About two months ago, one of the Pink Lionesses asked me if I was on What's App.  No. I'm not. I didn't give it another thought.  Truth be told, I communicate with most people regularly via Facebook.  

A few weeks ago after finally upgrading to a new phone, I was loading apps onto it when I decided, what the heck, and onto my phone went What's App.  It sat there, I didn't use it. Until last night. 

Just before dinner time I noticed my phone was vibrating, a notification of some sort.  I checked emails, checked regular text messages, checked Facebook. And then I saw it- What's App had a new message!  Little did I know that message would significantly impact my life over the next few hours. 

The message was from one of the Pink Lionesses announcing she'd created a What's App group for us, and was in the process of adding members.  One after the other in rapid-fire succession came greeting messages from Lioness after Lioness after Lioness.  Who knows the numbers of other Lionesses that should be added?  How is everyone doing?  What a great idea this is to keep in touch? Is everyone ready for tomorrow's festa?  Don't forget to bring your cake! What boat are you getting on?  

For the next few hours there was a joyous interaction of Lionesses there in my own living room!  I could not resist reading each new one as it displayed. Some took me longer than others just to interpret them- I recognized they were writing in Venetian dialect, which is worlds apart from the Italian I am learning.  Not only that, several of the more technology savvy Lionesses were writing in Venetian text-ese, making  them even more complicated.  I need a translator.  Does "x" mean "per" or "che"?  

The night ended with a flurry of buona notte's and See you tomorrow's.  Finally all the vibrating of my phone came to a halt as bedtime approached.  I settled in for the night with a silly grin on my face, realizing the joy these unexpected little messages brought into my life.

This morning, around 8am just after the high water sirens went off ( yes, again), my phone began to vibrate.  I knew right away to check What's App.  And there they were- good morning messages, lots of happiness being spread around as we Lionesses prepare to head over to the Festa di Murano for a  day of celebration. 

My days may never be the same now that I belong to a What's App group.  

If you are on What's App, let me know so I can send you a Buona Notte or two! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Venice Marathon 2014- from the finish line

We're in the midst of another morning of Acqua Alta here in Venice. It's been a tough few days, with lots of rain and high water. I've been soggy, cold and damp, and my boots have been getting a work out. Fortunately for Venice, the forecast of 135cm of water this morning was downgraded at the last minute to 115-120 cm.  We're all breathing a sigh of relief. But it's still damp.

To lift my spirits a little this morning, I thought I'd post a happier moment. On the morning of October 26, the sun was shining brightly as 7,000  runners from around the globe crossed the finish line of the 2014 Venice Marathon. In my earlier post about the marathon, I shared a photo of the ramps over bridges constructed specifically for the race.  Here is a great view of racers coming down the home stretch, running across a ramp.  In this photo they are just one bridge away from the finish, after running 42.19 km.


The first runner to the finish line was Mamo Behailu of Ethiopia, in just 2 hours and 16 minutes. Unbelievable! The man runs like a gazelle.  Incredibly, just 2 minutes behind him came Giovanni Gualdi at 2:18 from Italy!

Mamo Bahailu

 Giovanni Gualdi

First woman across the finish line - Biruk Tilahun of Ethiopia. 2 hrs 40 min           
Runners were jubilant as they neared the last few paces.  The children of the runners would dash out onto the course to hold onto their mothers or fathers and run the last remaining steps along with them.  Some pulled out flags to wave over their heads, others ran with balloons flying from their backs. I even saw two dogs running with their people. This man in yellow below even stopped running right in front of me to lean down and give his dog a kiss.  Those of us lining the route were cheering, yelling, encouraging all we could.  A few poor runners had to be assisted across the finish they were hurting so badly.


It was indeed a joyous day of accomplishment for all of the 7,000 runners.   I didn't even notice I had snapped the photo below until I got home and looked at it carefully.  I had to enlarge it to actually see the guy holding his hand up in victory, he was so far down the street from me when I snapped it. And, after looking at it very  very closely, I noticed I actually KNOW that ecstatic man.

I had watched and waited for a glimpse of my hairdresser, Simone, but didn't see him.  Finally, someone I thought might have been him went by, but I wasn't 100% positive. This was at about 4 hours 15 or 20 minutes into the race, and a fair number of runners were all at about the same pace-  so lots of runners coming by at the same time.  When I didn't spot Simone, I figured he had encountered problems with his ankle somewhere during the course. When I saw this photo, I'm not sure who was more overjoyed at his making it all the way to the end.   This photo sums up the jubilant spirits felt at the finish line that morning.


 Registrations for the 2015 Venice Marathon  on October 25, 2015 are already open.   Perhaps  next year I'll be snapping a photo of you!

The Gondola Maker - a book review

Today's post is something a little out of the ordinary for me, but nonetheless, a wonderful new experience for me.

Recently I received an email from Laura Fabiani of Italy Book Tours inviting me to read and review The Gondola Maker, by Laura Morelli.  This book was already on my current list of books to read; naturally I was happy to accept the offer.


The book cover tempted me, like offering sweets to a child. 

The book synopsis sent along with the book offered more sumptuous enticements.  I've included it below for you to be tempted yourself:

From the author of Made in Italy comes a tale of artisanal tradition and family bonds set in one of the world's most magnificent settings: Renaissance Venice. 

When Luca Vianello, the heir to a renowned gondola-making enterprise, experiences an unexpected tragedy in the boatyard, he believes that his destiny lies elsewhere. Soon he finds himself drawn to restore an antique gondola with the dream of taking a girl for a ride. Lovers of historical fiction will appreciate the authentic details of gondola craftsmanship, along with an intimate first-person narrative set against the richly textured backdrop of 16th-century Venice.

IPPY Award for Best Adult Fiction E-book 
Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award 
Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award 
Shortlisted for the da Vinci Eye Prize 

From the moment I flipped open the front cover to the very last page, I was enthralled. I will be the first to admit I had my doubts initially. I'm a tough customer to please. Here was a historical fiction about Venice, and not only that, specifically about gondola and forcole (the oarlock)  making. As someone who knows and loves this city, and knows several  artisanal craftsmen personally,  I was curious to see how Morelli could possibly capture all that Venice is- her grandness, the magic, the mystery,the  romance, the very essence of her. Surprise, surprise. Laura Morelli not only does it, she does it masterfully. 

The plot is intriguing, the characters so perfectly written you feel as though you know them as you are reading, the setting true to this marvelous city.  You cannot help but read on. And when you get to the last lines, you find yourself wanting still more. For me, this is the test a book must pass. The Gondola Maker passes with flying colors.  

Happily, I was able to interview Laura Morelli briefly.I hope my questions, and Laura's responses, let you get to know the author a little better.

1.It's obvious you did your homework about Venice, and it's history. Did you spend time in Venice while you were writing ?  If so, how long?

I lived in northern Italy for four years and spent a lot of time in Venice. The inspiration for THE GONDOLA MAKER came as I was researching another book called MADE IN ITALY back in 2001-2002. I traveled all over Italy, from the Alps to the islands, talking with contemporary artisans who still practice centuries-old traditions like Murano glass, Florentine leather, Sicilian ceramics, Roman goldsmithing, and of course, Venetian gondolas. Over and over, the extraordinary people I interviewed told me how important it was to pass the torch of tradition on to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen--especially centuries ago--if the successor were not able... or willing. The character of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape in my head. As I began to work on THE GONDOLA MAKER in earnest, it was an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the primary historical sources about the history of the gondola, the world of the guilds or arti, and the role and reputation of boatmen in Renaissance Venice.

2.  You mentioned the idea for the book was based on wondering what might have happened if someone chose not to carry on the family traditional work.  How did you decide to use the gondola makers, as opposed to say, cheese makers?

I grew up around boats and the ocean, so the idea of boatbuilding has always been very alive for me. And of course, the gondola is such a specific artisanal tradition and so closely linked with Venice as to be synonymous with the city itself. A family boatyard (or squero) seemed the natural setting for this story. Cheese makers would make another great tale, though!

3. Your other books are non-fiction. Had you been dreaming of writing fiction at some point? 

Yes, I have wanted to write a novel for as long as I have known how to write at all. I wanted to pursue my passion and my career in art history, but I always felt certain that writing fiction would work its way into my life at some point.

4. Do you have any authors that have influenced your work as a writer?

I enjoy reading other historical fiction authors, including Barbara Kingsolver, Abraham Verghese, Ken Follett, and Umberto Eco. I appreciate authors who are masters of sensory writing--the art of conveying sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations through words. One of the best examples of sensory writing is Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It's one of my all-time favorite stories.

5. What book is on your nightstand currently?

Right now I'm reading Laurence Bergreen's account of Marco Polo's journey to the court of Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century (Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu). I've especially enjoyed reading about the unexpected predicaments in which the travelers found themselves. Surely major mishaps must have been guaranteed for anyone embarking on a long international journey during the Middle Ages.

6. Are you working on another writing project? 

Yes. Currently I'm working on a series of city and regional guides that lead travelers to the most authentic arts in each destination. The name of the series is LAURA MORELLI'S AUTHENTIC ARTS. Each destination includes a core handbook available in paperback and ebook formats, as well as an ebook-only companion that is a continually updated list of resources and authentic artisans. The first set of books is about Venice, and they will be out in early 2015. You can find out more about the series here: http://lauramorelli.com/laura-morellis-authentic-arts-series-coming-in-2015/. Once these guides are out, I'm returning to historical fiction. 

Grazie, Laura!

About the Author

Laura Morelli earned a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught college art history in the U.S. and at Trinity College in Rome. She is the creator of the authentic guidebook series that includes Made in ItalyMade in France, and Made in the Southwest, published by Rizzoli. Laura is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler and other national magazines and newspapers. A native of coastal Georgia, she is married and is busy raising four children. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.
Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  about.me

Where to buy the book:

Here is the list of other blogs included on the Blog Tour for The Gondola Maker, in case you wish to read other reviews of the book.

Nov 3 - Studentessa Matta - review / giveaway
Nov 3 - Il Mio Tesoro - review / giveaway
Nov 4 - Packabook - review
Nov 4 - Venice from Beyond the Bridge - review
Nov 5 - Monica Cesarato - review / giveaway
Nov 5 - Seductive Venice - review
Nov 6 - Food Lover's Odyssey - review / giveaway
Nov 7 - The Venice Experience - review / interview
Nov 8 - Hello World - review
Nov 9 - Orvieto or Bust - review
Nov 9 - Capturing Venice - review

The Gondola Maker deserves to be on your must read list. It's that good. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Venice Marathon 2014

Tomorrow is the big day, and Venice is ready. 

 7,000 runners from around the globe will participate in the 29th Venice Marathon. The weather forecast is sunny, 65 degrees, with no chance of rain.  Should be perfect for a 26 mile run. 

A temporary bridge across the Grand Canal was put into place yesterday, connecting Dogana Point on the Dorsoduro side of the canal to St. Mark's.  Spectacular to see without runners, I can only imagine how emotional it must be for runners to find themselves on the Grand Canal with such an 
incredible view.


 This afternoon, workers completed the finish line area which is located along Riva di Sette Martiri just before the entrance to the Public Gardens.  The TV camera trucks are in place, the reviewing stand and port-a-john have been set up, and even tents with cots so the runners can receive massages after crossing the finish line.
Last week, workers completed the last sections of  ramps on all the bridges between St. Mark's and the garden. The ones along the Zattere had been completed in the prior week. 

When I see the ramps going up every year, I know it won't be long before the marathon takes place. In prior years, the ramps have been left up for at least a month after the race, to give anyone (tourists and residents alike) with mobility issues a bit of a break.

This is the route map of the Venice Marathon, beginning out in the countryside, in Stra.  Twenty of the race's 26 miles are run outside of Venice, with the last 6 miles run from the cruise port to the public gardens.

While I was searching for a route map, I came across this interesting "fly-by" route of the Venice Marathon on You Tube. Click the link to view it, it's fun.

In previous years, I've taken a position along the Zattere just at the entrance point from the cruise port, so I could see the runners in the front of the pack as they hit this long stretch of sidewalk and make their way towards St. Mark's square and the last bit of running.  Last year the crowd was going nuts because an Italian runner was in the top contenders. He came in third, which is a very good showing considering the winners usually are runners from Kenya, and those guys are some very fast runners.

This year, I will be right by finish line, with camera in hand. My hairdresser, Simone, is running the race this year, I think I may be more excited about this than he is.  I bumped into him last night on the street in the vicinity of Rialto, so I had a last minute chance to wish him "Buona Fortuna"  He may need every little bit he can get. I probably should light a few candles for him right before race time, just to be sure to give him every last bit of help possible tomorrow. The poor guy injured his ankle a few weeks ago, and it's not good.    He informed me he is running tomorrow anyway, pain or no pain.

On your mark, get set.....

Friday, October 24, 2014

If it's Tuesday, it must be Mercatino Day on the Lido!

Recently I discovered the weekly market (mercatino) on the Lido.  While I love shopping at the Rialto market, this is something completely different. Vendors bring their trucks over to the Lido on the ferry boat early every Tuesday morning and set up outdoors along the lagoon.  Some of the trucks are designed to somehow magically unfold to become a shop, and other vendors set up tables alongside the truck and unpack everything onto the tables.  At the end of the morning ,every thing is packed back up again and the trucks leave the Lido.  It kind of reminds me of the circus coming to town!

There's no fish sold at the weekly mercatino, but there is plenty of just about everything else you can think of. It's become my go-to happy place now.  Besides the variety of merchandise to choose from, I am surrounded by only locals. No tour groups milling through the Lido mercatino!

I thought I'd give you a taste of what my Tuesday mornings are like.

I buy my fresh eggs from this guy now. I love that I can buy any number of eggs I want, even just one.  Large size eggs are 20 cents per egg. Well, 20 centesimi.

The linens truck sells towels, rugs, sheets, pillowcases, pillows.

There are several shoe stalls, with tables full of shoes for men, women and children.  Now you know where to find those green wellies at a good price if you need them when we have high water.

We're right smack in the middle of mushroom season here in Italy, and there has been a great selection to choose from at the mercatino. 


This is zucca (pumpkin), which is just about a staple in local vegetables. In Venice you will find pumpkin soup, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin with pasta, even roast pumpkin. It's all delicious, something you should add to your "must try" list next time you are here.
The olive guy is one of my favorite stalls. 

Tomatoes was the focus of this photo, but look at the view behind the tomatoes. It's the lagoon, looking back towards Venice.  Who gets to shop in a place like this?  It's heavenly.

One of the more popular stalls are the flower vendors.  They sell not only potted plants but also a huge variety of vegetable plants.  My shopping cart always has some new plants in it to bring home each week.

The rosticceria is another of my favorites.  I have a tough time not overspending when I get to this stall. He sells  roast chicken,  roast pork, turkey, chicken legs, sausage, lots of varieties of lasagnas, fried shrimp, fried calamari, roasted potatoes, bacala and tons of other things. Locals are queued up at this truck all morning long. waiting to take home their Tuesday lunch.
Yes, this is the sock truck. They just sell socks. Kids socks, mens socks, womens socks, winter socks, hunting socks.  Socks. I love it.

While Venice is overrun with trinket shops selling 2 Euro masks and 1 Euro glass souvenirs, a little bit of the old traditional Venice still exists, just a few minutes away on a vaporetto. Tuesdays are one of my favorite days of the week. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Clooney in Venice

Yes, George and Amal have arrived!  

No looking back: George and Amal hugged affectionately as they waited to speed off for the start of their lavish four-day nuptials

In hot pursuit: Boats full of photographers surrounded the stars as they sailed along the city's canals in taxi boats

photos www.dailymail.co.uk

#Venice #Clooney #ClooneyNuptials

Brought to you by the letter F

For the last several months, I have thrown myself back into my Italian studies with a vengence.  Frustrated with not being able to speak well enough, I've made it my mission to focus on conversation this year. I'm going to be fluent if it kills me- and it just might!

Besides studying daily, I've added a few new things into the mix. I have a twice weekly conversation session with an Italian teacher via Skype, and I also have my twice weekly immersion sesisons with the Pink Lionesses while we row. Both have helped me make incredible progress, so I am pleased. 

I also look for all sorts of little ways to add to my learning. One that I find useful is the  Italian word- a- day email I receive in my inbox  every day. And that brings me to one of the words I learned this week. 

FANGO- the Italian word for "mud".  Many days, the word of the day is one that I already knew. But Fango, this was a new one.  Why hadn't I learned that one yet, I wondered?  I love the sound of it. The way it rolls off my tongue. And so close to Tango, I had images of people dancing in mud. After I repeated it over and over, including the use of it in the practice sentence, I mentally tucked Fango away in the back of my mind, believing it was a word I probably wouldn't get to use on any regular basis. Little did I know!

Just two days after FANGO invaded the recesses of my store of Italian vocabulary - tucked way way  back there in some far dusty corner of my brain, Venice experienced a very freak hail storm. Not just any storm, mind you, but a storm of biblical proportions. Hail literally covered the streets like it was snow.  The hail was followed by horrendous thunder storms and high winds. The next morning while Mike and I were ambling back home from a stop at Gina's, our neighborhood hang-out here on Sant'Elena, we heard a mother shouting to her 4 or 5 year old daughter "No, non vai lì!  Tutto FANGO!"
(No, don't go there, it's all mud!)  

She was right, there was mud everywhere - a remnant of the previous night's tempest.  I was able to put my new vocabulary word to use!  Did the weather god's plan the week's Italian word-of-the-day just for me? I'd like to think so.  And now you can roll this lovely word around on your tongue too. FANGO.  (FYI- it's a masculine noun, so that's il FANGO). 

Strictly coincidence, out of all the other new words I came across this week, another F word struck my fancy that I will share with you also.  FORCHETTATA.  It means a forkful, or a bite of something. Mi dai una forchettata. Give me a taste.  It's feminine, so it uses the definite article la or indefinite article una.

Today being Friday, I thought it was an appropriate day to share my favorite F words with you this morning.  

What language learning tricks do you use?  Do you create flash cards, either on 3x5 cards or electronic ones? Do you write all your new vocabulary in a notebook? I'd love to hear whatever tricks/systems you use to help you remember and use new words. 

Grazie!  Now .. let's all go find some Fango to play in today!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A sunny day

Ever have a day when things just didn't go as you planned?  Well, today was one of those for me.  From the minute I left the apartment, nothing went right. I probably should have stayed in bed. 

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you might remember that I had knee replacement surgery a few years back. For the last few months my other knee has been giving me all the signs that it too is ready for some modern technology. I knew I couldn't put off seeing my orthopedic surgeon any longer, so the other day I visited my regular doctor to request a referral.  At the same time she wrote a prescription for an x-ray, as I will need to take a current x-ray with me to the surgeon.  

This morning I got up early in order to be one of the first at the office for the x-rays.  I intended to have this done at Giustinian,  the medical facility over in Dorsoduro.  However, when I got to the vaporetto stop I had just missed the 5.2 boat going to the Zattere, the closest stop to Giustinian.  If they weren't doing construction on the Sant'Elena vaporetto stop, I would have been there in time. Instead, I had to walk up the fondamenta a bit farther, which took me a few more minutes. End result =missed boat. Knowing I'd have to wait another 30 minutes for the next boat  (thanks to the newly reduced winter boat schedule effective September 15), I switched gears, ran over to the other boat dock and waited for the 4.1 boat headed towards Fondamenta Nove, planning instead to get the x-ray done at Ospedale Civile. 

Once at Ospedale, I had to navigate the giant maze called our hospital to find the Radiology department.  Inside  that building, I waited my turn at the in-take clerk, only to be told I needed to make an appointment to have the x-ray.  I racked my brain, but for the life of me I did not recall ever having to make an appointment for  x-rays. I thought for sure I just took the prescription in with me.  I'd only had x-rays at either Giustinian or Fatebenefratelli, and the last time was 3 years ago, so perhaps they'd changed procedures since then.  This is Italy, and I'm learning I need to just go with the flow. I'll never understand how anything operates in this country. 

Nothing is ever easy. I then had to get myself back into the maze, wander around a bit, and luckily located the right office for appointments.They have been doing a lot of renovation at Ospedale ( a good thing) which means it will be even more confusing that it normally would be.   On one hand, this was good because I needed to make an appointment for the surgeon anyway. Good, I'll kill two birds. But on the other hand... not so good. When it was my turn, the girl behind the desk making appointments laughed in my face when I asked if it was possible to get the x-ray done today. No, three months from now, she tells me. I should have expected nothing less, seeing how my morning was going. 

With some magic, she managed to find an appointment for me with an orthopedic surgeon on October 7. That's promising. The appointment is somewhere on the Lido, and I have no clue where that hospital building is, but who cares. I'll deal with that fiasco on October 7.  I tell her to book it.  With that done, she managed to find an appointment for an x-ray on September 29, at Giustinian.  Wonderful. Thank you. At least I'll be able to have the x-ray to take with me when I go to the surgeon, otherwise his visit would be for naught. 

Not happy that I wasn't successful getting the x-ray as I had planned, but thankful that I at least had made some sort of  progress, I exited the Ospedale building into one of Venice's most beautiful campos,  San Giovanni e Paolo.  The campo is empty, the caffe's are just getting awnings out, and it's sunny. I decided I've earned myself a little treat, so I stopped for tea in the campo. 

There was only one other table occupied at Bar Colleoni when I sat down. Wouldn't you know it? It's a gorgeous day and I don't have my camera.  The photo above is mine, from some previous day of wandering.  Sitting with this marvelous statue in front of me, relaxing with a cup of tea is a pretty good way to spend my morning. I took out my notebook and started to write. I wrote the blog I intended to post today. A blog about yesterday's adventures.

I dragged my tea break out for well over an hour, just enjoying the sun and my surroundings.  Instead of heading to the closest vaporetto stop, I chose to walk most of the way home. I meandered my way from Campo San Giovanni e Paolo back to San Zaccaria. Along the way I popped into New Zealand's Architectural Biennale exhibition, where I had the best time meeting and chatting with  the two women running the exhibition. We've made plans to meet again in a few days.

Sunshine. Tea. New friends. Not such a bad day after all.

And that blog I worked on?  Saving that for tomorrow.

How did your day turn out? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Regata Storica 2014

Not a cloud in the sky, lots of sun- it was the perfect day for the Regata Storica. This is one of Venice's most spectacular festivals, the culmination of the rowing season AND a parade down Venice's main street, the Grand Canal.  But this isn't just any parade, it's a fabulous water parade of 16th century style boats filled with rowers and passengers decked out in period costumes. 

This is a festival for and by Venetians, and they certainly showed up for it this year. LOTS more boats lining the Grand Canal and people hanging out of the palazzo windows from St. Mark's to the train station and back this year than in previous years.  This was different- in a good way.  I too, was doing the Regata a bit differently this year.  In years past, I've watched from canal side at San Vio and by the train station. Both were great viewing posts, but not the optimum.   I have also had the pleasure of watching from in a gondola, in the water,  tied up near the Rialto bridge and I thought that was as good as it could get. This year, I got the golden ticket.  This year, I rowed in the historic parade- the Corteo.  Yes, I was not only IN the water, I was in the parade itself.  

For the last few weeks in August the anticipation had been building, and finally the day was upon me. I could barely believe it was true. I was going to row down the Grand Canal along with the Corteo in the Regata Storica.  Sunday morning I was ready. My gym bag was packed by the door. I practically wore a hole in the floor pacing until it was time to leave for the boat yard. 

Finally it was time to go.  As the vaporetto Mike and I were on motored past The Bucintoro, I spotted our dragon boat waiting on the fondamenta and several Pink Lionesses already in their rowing outfits outside finalizing their preparations. In just a few more minutes, I'd be there too.

I think I flew off the vaporetto and raced to the boat house.  As I entered, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my fellow Lionesses and enthusiastic greetings. Many of them had been away on their summer holidays for the month of August and this was the first time seeing them since they had gotten back.  That's when it hit me. I wasn't just rowing in the Regata Storica this year. I was rowing with my fellow lionesses. That made all the difference.

(Me, with our beautiful dragon)

 Even our dragon boat was ready for a special party! Several of the lionesses had spent the previous afternoon decorating our two boats for the occassion.  We not only had a full dragon boat of lionesses, we also had our smaller boat filled with guests, other women in pink, from Chioggia, Mestre and Montebelluno.  The small boat was lifted into the water, fully loaded with excited women ready to row.
 Next the larger dragon boat was lowered into the water, with  only  4 rowers and our helmsman on board.  The rest of us marched down the street to where we normally board. Today we not only had ourselves loading up, but also Nina, the grand daughter of one of the lionesses, who would be up front beating the drum cadence for us during the Regata, and lots of sacks full of food and wine.

 Finally, we were off, paddling towards the Grand Canal.
 Once on the Grand Canal, we took up our position behind the elegant historic boats, the ones filled with rowers and passengers in period costumes.  As we headed towards Rialto, we passed by the judges stand at Ca Foscari, where we, like every other boat, raised our oars in salute.   All along the route people stood and clapped  in recognition of  the women in pink as we rowed past.   I couldn't have been more proud of my lionesses!

Having rowed the entire length of the Canal, we then turned the boat around, heading back towards the Accademia Bridge searching for the best spot to tie up along the banks to watch the afternoon's races. After slowing down at several possible locations, the ladies finally agreed on the spot they thought would be perfect, just before the San Toma vaporetto stop. We tied up alongside several other boats, and then the party really got started.  The women in the front of the boat dug into the sacks of food, passing plastic cups and plates down the rows from front to the back. Bottles of prosecco were popped open. Amidst lots of  Salute's and Cin Cin's  (toasts) we had ring side seats to view  the historic boats as they completed their return trip down the canal. Next, mortadella paninis (sandwiches), olives, and pizzettes (small pizzas) were passed down the line. When I thought  we couldn't eat more the tortas (cakes) came out.  Peach torta, apple torta and even a nutella torta.  And cookies.  In between it all, the prosecco and red wine circulated from the front of the dragon boat to the rear. Things were being passed from our boat to the boats along side us, and vice versa.  

All along the Grand Canal Venetians just like us were celebrating, eating and drinking in their boats. This is how Venetians do it, and here I was, right smack in the middle of it all.  I had a grin plastered on my face from ear to ear that lasted the entire day. This was beyond my wildest imagination. 

Races in several categories - children, older youths, women, six man teams and finally two man teams round out the rest of the afternoon. The last race, the two man teams of gondoliers in gondolini (shaped just like a gondola, but specially constructed for competitive racing) is much anticipated all year long. Everyone in boats or on the sidelines cheers madly for their favorite team, and the competition is fierce.

I had the perfect perch from which to observe all the action!  And "action" is not quite the appropriate word to describe the last race. It was a nail biter! The two rival boats were neck and neck as they passed me on their way up the Grand Canal, and they were within inches when they came back past me towards the finish line. The race ended in a photo finish. It was that close. The sheer muscle and athleticism required to perform at this level is indescribable.

Add to that, if you can just imagine, the setting: the Grand Canal, empty except for these boats, with the pink hues of the setting sun behind the palazzos as these racers headed for the final few feet at Ca Foscari.  An amazing ending to an amazing day.

For me, it wasn't quite over yet. We had to row back to the boat house, in what suddenly seemed like rush hour at Grand Central Station.  Every boat was back on the canal, rowing at the same time!  Bedlam!  It only took seconds for the local police to be directing traffic so we all got to where we were headed safely.

After putting the dragon boat away for the night,  we headed up to the locker room to change clothes. Reflecting on the day, and not really wanting it to end, all I could think about was how different this experience was from the year prior.   I've somehow, miraculously, gone from being on the sidelines to being right in the thick of it. I'll take that.