Friday, October 27, 2006

I took a gondola ride last night and it was... nice. I can't really think of the right word here, because it wasn't fun or exciting or interesting. It was like: Take the It's A Small World ride at Disney World, then get rid of that goddamn song, the multi-cultural dolls, the other insufferable tourists in your boat and their even more insufferable kids, and the super stylized, sanitized rooms representing Europe and the Middle East. Throw in some real palazzi dating back eight hundred years, extend the ride to fifty minutes, and add an extra seventy dollars to the price tag. That's a gondola ride: a canal's-eye view of getting lost in Venice.

The only disappointing thing was that I was all set to bargain with the guy like the guidebook said — and I was all set to walk the hell out of there if I didn't get a price I liked — but it turns out that since the guidebook's been published, the Venetian government started regulating the gondoliers and there's a fixed price of 100 euros. (That's $125 for fifty minutes, or $2.50 a minute, which is slightly cheaper than phone sex.) I drew fifth-generation Angelo the Gondolier, and he was totally cool. I got myself on the gondola at around eight at night, although I was sort of hoping to go later — Venice itself shuts down around nine, and by ten, even the Grand Canal is almost completely empty. But eight was good too, and we had a lot of the smaller, quaint residential canals to ourselves. Sorry if I'm making this sound really gay.... it wasn't, even though I did bring a bottle of sparkling wine along.

(Hey, did you know that once you open a bottle of sparkling wine, you can't get the cork back in? I didn't know that. I had to get all MacGyver on the bottle and stuff a shower cap in its neck to keep the wine from spilling out.)

There's not a whole lot going on with the gondola — you sit back, listen to the water lapping against the oars, and take in Venice the way it was meant to be taken in: slowly, like hundred-year-old Scotch. The gondolier doesn't sing or play the accordion or do any of that cartoony shit — well, sometimes they sing to the other gondoliers, and they do it really, really off-key. Every now and then, he points out a palace or something, and the other tourists wave to you from the bridges and from their gondolas, but for the most part, you just get a chance to forget everything.

The gondola is actually more comfortable than this. I just don't photograph well.

Right where I got off the gondola, I came across these two guys playing classical music on wine glasses. Quite cool, plus free entertainment.