Vance Thompson's Cab Drivers / 53: The Gondolier of Venice / 14
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The Mayor of Venice and his uniformed gondoliers. Photo by Gribayedoff.

Gondoliers have long had a reputation for serenading their passengers (except perhaps the mayor during official public events). Gondoliers originated the barcarole or "boat song" with a tempo well suited to rowing, but they have readily adopted any and all songs popular with tourists such as the Neapolitan favourites O Sole Mio and Santa Lucia.

Outing magazine, vol. LI no. 6, March, 1908, p. 658.

Vance Thompson's Cab Drivers / 53

The Gondolier of Venice / 14

Only the memory of a laughing woman, her head wrapped in black lace, a white hand splashing the water and eyes that were an invitation and a menace; 'twas as though she said, "Don't tempt me for, thank God, I am weak!" Only a memory the black and flying bark and the Nicoletto swaying to the beechen oar, a slight figure, escaped, I fancy, from some picture of Carpaccio. And if my thoughts were not given wholly to the skill of the waterman they bent that way.

The gondola, as I have stated, is so perfectly adapted to its purpose that it is like a sentient thing in the gondolier's control. It obeys the slightest impulse of the oar. Through the narrow and intricate lanes of Venice, with the sharp and baffling turns, it glides with unfailing accuracy. The boatmen have about ten different calls by which they announce their approach, as they come to a corner, the turn they will take in a crowd, their way to right and left and all that. And these calls, half-song, half-cry, echo day and night and yet so musical are they that they seem to be merely a part of the brooding silence of Venice. Indeed the wonder of Venice is how all things the city and the sea, the boats and the people, the songs and the sky combine to make one perfect whole, caressing and idle as one of Petrarch's sonnets, which one I care not. Here even death is not merely somber; it is friendly and familiar, as well. I saw them put old Paolo to bed for the last time. He had been in is prime a stout gondolier of thetraghettoof Santa Sofia, near the Rialto, but in old age was a ragged "hooker" of the gray. In his quarter however he was a respected man. Indeed to be old or to be a child is among the gondoliers a title to tenderness and respect. And so when a good man dies in the poorer quarters the neighbors combine to hire a brass band to celebrate his virtues.

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