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

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.


Debra Kolkka said...

What a great experience.

Michelle said...

Wow! Bella Karen....you did it! How fabulous!
And I barely recognized you in the picture....a mere shadow of your former self.
Now you have to be good for the next month to make up for all that great food.

karen said...

Debra- thanks! i must say, every day is a wonderful experience here in Italy, as you well know! I'm really lucky to have very special days that are icing on the cake, like Regata Storica.

karen said...

Ciao, Michelle! Grazie mille, you are very generous! truth be told, I don't even recognize myself anymore either! The day was so joyful I decided I could give myself a break, but I wasn't too naughty. Very small piece of torta, and only a half a panini- even though I wanted more. The Lionesses can be quite bad influences when it comes to the dolce!

Rob C said...

Wow! First of all you look amazing, congratulations.
And secondly, you are now truly a Venetian,

See you in December?

Rob & Natalie

karen said...

Ciao Rob and Nat!

Grazie mille! Yes, I do feel a little bit Venetian, finally.

Absolutely we need to see you in Dec. Please email me with your dates, we'll work out time to get together!


Dianne said...

May I echo all the "Felicitazioni" for how marvelous you look. I'm sure the rowing helps too to get your metabolism pumped. What a marvelous experience you continue to have in La Serenissima.

I've been to Venice for Carnevale. Now I sure would love to come to Venice for the Regatta Storica in the future. Is there a special weekend (day) that it is held? Is it always the second Saturday of September?

karen said...

Thanks, Dianne! Regata Storica is ALWAYS the first Sunday in Sept. The parade usually begins at 4pm, followed by the races. It's a great afternoon!

Anonymous said...

Argh. It's happened again. I must do something wrong, sometimes my comments don't sneak through the security screen.

It is wonderful to see the look of joy on your face, and your body posture echoes that. Well done, woman.

Anonymous said...

I have kayaked around the Grand Canal, and the many Rios. I never thought I'd get to row, or vulgare. It turns out that there is a small group of women, venetian to the core, invested in maintaining the rowing tradition.

They started a non-profit called Rowing Venice. For the price of joining their organization for one year, you get to go out with an experienced woman from the group, and take one-on-one lessons. Actually they can hold four students.

The boat is very similar to a gondola; it is a batello di gamba, a common boat of the venetian style.

By joining and supporting this non-profit, I had an incredible day on the water, standing on top of the boat and learning the Venetian Rowing technique.

If someone wants to row the venetian way for a day, this is a great way to do it, and to experience something non-touristy.