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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Venetian traffic stop

Yesterday, while rowing down the Grand Canal in our dragon boat, we were pulled over by the local police.  Yes, you read that right. The Lionesses were pulled over, just before reaching the Rialto Bridge. I'll get to all the gory details in a sec.

Before last summer, any sightings of police on any canals was  rare, very rare.  Now, since a very tragic boating accident in which a German tourist lost his life, there are new regulations and a greater police presence. These regulations, on both speed and when and where certain types of boats can be on the Grand Canal, are directed towards delivery boats, water taxis, vaporettos and gondolas.   However, a  week ago the city has issued yet another boating regulation, a  ban on small rowing/paddle boats in the Grand Canal as well as several smaller canals in the city.  Effective March 1, no dragon boats, kayaks, canoes or paddle boats will be allowed on any of  the named canals. Niente. Nada. None. Basta. 

There was a meeting this past Monday between the city and one of the boating associations to request  the  ruling be rescinded. The result:  nothing will be changed. 

This map  shows all the routes included in the ban ( canals  marked in red and pink).  This also  limits the ability to row from one area of the city to the other, without rowing out in open waters. This gives the ban an even bigger sting, and it's going to be a tough pill to swallow for small paddlers like us.

And so, with March 1 just around the corner,  we Lionesses have only a few more days to enjoy our practice/exercise rows out on our beloved Grand Canal. There is something magical about being out there in a small boat. It's an entirely different experience, one I have a tough time putting into words.  I feel almost a part of the water, instead of a spectator looking down at it. Magical. Just magical.  

 We expected to be rowing on Wednesday, however at the last minute high winds curtailed our exercise plans. Yesterday the day began with thick fog.  We fully expected our row to be cancelled yet again. With luck, the fog lifted by mid afternoon. Almost gleefully, we put the boat into the water, loaded up and turned expectantly to our timoniere (helmsman), Francesco, wondering what he had planned for the day.  He grinned, "The Grand Canal, of course!"

We're rowing along, silently for a change (usually the lionesses are chatterboxes, requiring Francesco to be yelling "Silenzio!").  I think each of us were a bit lost in our own thoughts, savoring every moment of what will be one of our last rows in this magnificent canal. 

As we approach Rialto, we notice a the team of policemen in their new post alongside the canal are waving us over. We look around, thinking they must surely mean another boat behind us.  No, they mean us. Francesco complies, maneuvering the dragon boat alongside the pier.  The policeman bends down to speak to us all,  explaining calmly that there is a new law in place effective March 1, after which dragon boats are banned from certain canals, including the Grand Canal.  If we were found rowing after March 1, we will be fined.  Aha. He'd  pulled us over to give us a traffic warning. 

What ensued next should  have been enough to cause that policeman to run for the hills, and refuse that duty post in the future.  He should have known better, should have left well enough alone and let this group of Venetian women just keep on rowing, but no, he had to place nice cop and pull us over to issue a warning.  Everyone in the boat, with the exception of Francesco and myself, started yelling at the top of their lungs all at the same time. This is what Venetian women do, of course.  Me, I know better.  I'm an American by blood, and we Americans know to keep our mouth shut when a policeman pulls you over. "Yes, Sir, here's my drivers license and registration, what seems to be the problem, Sir? ".  That's how we're trained to handle any police interaction. These Venetians?? Oh, no. 

Here's how this situation went down. These women (most of them over 60), lashed into this young man like he was their son. I bet they would have smacked him alongside the head if we weren't so far down in the boat. Several of them were trying to stand up waving their hands as they yelled, but realized the boat was wobbling, so sat back down again. Thank God!

The yelling continued and continued. I heard a raft of stuff:   We want this law changed. Can you get it straightened out? It's not fair. We're Venetians, we should be able to row in the Grand Canal. This is shit. We're going to protest at City Hall. No, we're going to STORM City Hall!!   (And this is just the calm stuff). Just imagine a bunch of irate ladies going for the jugular vein. I think they expected that cop would grant them special dispensation right there on the spot.  

With what little shreds of dignity he had left, he tried to explain he was only delivering the message, making sure they all were aware of the law, and sadly, there was nothing he could do to change it.  "Bye ladies, have a nice day." 

We pushed off, continuing our row, but the lionesses were not very silent. Francesco was smart in not giving the "Silenzio" command at that point in time.

Me?  Yes, I was silent. I wasn't about to mouth off to any cop. I quietly observed the whole event, getting yet another lesson in just how differently life happens over here. 

Ohhh, the girls were hot under the collar after that.  They proceeded to yell at the next gondolier who passed, telling him all about the cop pulling them over and how unfair the whole new law thing is. Fortunately, for him, he agreed with them. He would have been taking his life into his own hands if he hadn't!

So what happens with this ban next?  There is a petition floating around locally and on Facebook, I hear there will be a protest at city hall schduled soon. In the meantime, I'm hopefully for two more days of rowing on the Grand Canal before the dreaded deadline, if the weather gods are kind to us on Wednesday and Friday. And praying for no more alterations with the local police. 


Larry said...

Oh no, this is absolutely horrible! I've been fortunate to spend a lot of time in Venice during the past few years and one of my favorite things to do is to kayak in Venice. Going down the Grand Canal on your own power in a boat is one of the best things in life. I'm glad the lionesses roared. I'm glad there will be a protest. If I were there now, I'd join it.

Sometimes when kayaking a gondoliere will have an attitude, but usually not. It's clear that dragon boats and kayaks are not the problem on the Grand Canal. Speeding motor boats do so much damage. In Venice, where 80% of the city cannot be seen except from the water because there are no sidewalks, restricting small boats is terrible. How can there be restricted boat access in a city made for boats?

This is really, really bad news. They kept banning big cruise ships, but judges kept putting a stay on those laws, and the cruise ships kept coming. Then there was the talk about banning wheeled luggage starting this May, a proposal that also went by the wayside.I hope that some judge decides that this terrible law cannot stand.

I cannot imagine that a group such as yours would be banned from using the canals that were made for people to get around.

Dianne said...

Karen, I hope the Venetians succeed in getting this law rescinded. It makes absolutely no sense, especially since I think the accident you mentioned was between a gondola (where the German tourists were) and a vaporetto (but I am not sure of that). Are "gondole" next? That would really ruin the Venice we know and love.

Andrew H. said...

I think it was partly to do with the kayaks. The irresponsible folk who rent these out to inexperienced rowers who have no knowledge of the waterways of Venice and no sense of etiquette have a lot to answer for. Sig. Nonloso in his veniceblog gives a hair-raising account about this.

karen said...


Thanks so much for your comment- and for reading my blog! it"/ always special for me to hear you out there!

Do yiu tent fro Venice Kayaks? Rene, who owns it, is so nice. I know this new ban is rough for him too.

We're staying positive and hope for the best! cross your fingers, sign the online petitions and spread the word.

Anonymous said...

Andrew- I know, I've seen some of that myself. About 6 -8 months a go a new shop opened up near Rialto renting Kayaks all of a sudden. I think these guys afe a big part of the problem. I know Rene who owns Venice Kayak, I know he is very responsible. In fact, I wanted to buy a small canoe or kayak and contacted Rene. His first advice to me was to read all the regulations, know how to handle my boat, and stay off the big canals.

We'll see where this goes with city hall. This vould be the end of boat parades for us, as the council ruling is they will only make a special exception once a year. I think that will be for Vogalonga.


Larry said...

Andrew, there's some truth to that, but there is no reason to ban the pink lionesses because of that. When I am in Venice I do rent from Rene. He and his two partners are expert kayakers and they evaluate you right away, out of the main part of Venice, in the water of Certosa. Based upon what you can show them, the trip is handled accordingly. I know for a fact that he will not take someone onto the Grand Canal if he doesn't see that they have a lot of experience with kayaking. I live in San Francisco and go out under the Golden Gage Bridge, into the ocean. Another person who joined the trip just finished a 100 mile kayak race. He took us down the canal, but even then, on a very tight lease. He points to a place and says go there. Stops. Points again. That being said, we did see a few unaccompanied, unguided, completely amateur kayakers in some of the back canals, and they were a danger to themselves, obviously. Rene said something to them, and pointed out that they were German tourists who drive down with their own, barely water worthy, inflatable kayak.

After paddling the canals with Marco, one of Rene's partners, I went out with Rene on a very long trip to Torcello, we docked at Burano and ate lunch. We stopped at little marshes, did a lot of bird watching, went to a "gondola grave" way out there where they get discarded. We pulled up next to an abandoned church out there, and when you get close to the shore you just run your fingers through the mud, and almost every time, you come up with ancient pottery, and stuff that is legal to keep. Just old ceramics from the 14th century. During lunch on Burano, Rene gave me a thorough lecture on the ecology of the lagoon, the damage caused by boats, big ones and motorboats. After that we paddled out in some very open water to where they were constructing the MOSE Project. He's obviously not going to do that without carefully sizing people up. He mentioned to me that he only takes 10-15% of his customers out to Grand Canal.

Instead of banning legitimate organizations like the Pink Lioness, and businesses like Rene's that do a lot of good for Venice, why not just require some licensing? Shouldn't there be a way for the Pink Lionesses to get a permit, and for Rene to be made a licensed kayak guide, instead of just banning everyone.

If there is an online petition, I want to sign it, and make other paddlers aware of it. Rene was devastated by the hurricane, and lost most of his kayaks. Now this.

karen said...

Larry, are you on Facebook? Rene has the petition posted on his Facebook page.

Larry said...

Hi Karen,
I'm not on Facebook. Is there any other way to sign a petition? I and my family, and a number of friends, have dual citizenship, so perhaps our vote might count.

Now I recall, in addition to Marco, Rene's other partner is Loretta. After kayaking we met on Via Garibaldi for wine and ciccheti.

Although I don't have FB I did go on the Venice Kayak website and saw that Rene made a post about the regulation. He had me seriously considering giving the Vogalunga a shot next year. People losing the right to enjoy the waterways of

Venice and restricting them to just commercial use is sad, especially to a group like the Pink Lionesses who are keeping a traditional venetian rowing form alive.

There is nothing wrong with some regulations to keep people who are paddling around in inflatable kayaks off the water, but not this.

Larry said...

I found a petition to rescind the law on change.org, and signed it, and will pass it around. It's needs about 650 more signatures.



Theresa W. said...

Hi Karen -- just came across your blog and have to say, your posts are great. I've not yet been, but now I want to more than ever (even if I can't row). Here's hoping they'll finesse the rule change.

I wanted to touch base with you about something separate than rowing, but can't find a contact form/email on the blog. Do you have a way to be reached?

karen said...

Theresa- thanks! Yes, my email is kmc207@gmail.com. It should have shown up on the bottom just before you clicked on the publish button.