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There was a meeting this past Monday between the city and one of the boating associations to request the ruling be rescinded.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.