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Tales of An American Gondolier

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Day 2 VOGALONGA 2019

Grand Canal to the Rialto Mercato – Legendary Fish Market

This day is always a great day.  Its registration day for the Vogalonga team sign up.  Because of the amount of years, I have been doing this, I have some pretty old memories of this day.  At my beginning of this tradition, there were no cell phones or internet at all.  We would roust the team and head over to whatever building they decided to host the registration and stand in long lines for more than 2 hours to get the paperwork filled out.  Of course, it was all in Italian and little things like last name first, first name last was always confusing.  We sometimes didn’t have the right documents with us, somebody would forget their passport in the room and we would have to start over.  Usually at the finish line my name was usually announced, Mr. O’Toole Michael and pronounced completely wrong.

Well fast forward 34 years and all registration is done online, months in advance with full application translation available.  So today, we strolled out of the apartment to a café across the canal and enjoyed some strong espresso and pastry.  We stopped by the newspaper stand and bought our week- long boat pass and headed to the grand canal to catch a Vaporetto to the Rialto, the new home of registration.  On a side note, I highly recommend learning the boat system which is the aquatic public transportation.  Buy the pass, 2 day, 3 day or for us, the 7 day.  This allows you to catch any Vaporetto at any time even running on board at the last minute.  You can change directions at any time and never worry about missing a boat because you had to buy a ticket.  Even just one ride is $8 so you would spend a lot of Euro or just walk and miss so much of the lagoon.  I will always choose to move around by boat when I have the chance.  With the boat, I can get to every nook and cranny of this Ancient City much faster than the walking choice.

So, we hop on the Vaporetto and cruise down the Grand Canal to the Rialto Mercato stop.  This is where the vegi-fruit market and Legendary fish market is.  After an above water tour of the undersea world of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea, we head up the stairs to a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal and sneak up on my longtime friend, Erla, who runs the registration.  I met Erla 30 years ago when she married another long time Venetian friend, Lino.  She was a writer for National Geographic when she was on assignment in Venezia to do a story of the Vogalonga.  She hired my friend Lino to teach her how to row as part of the story.  Lino was quite the ladies’ man and she fell in love, went home to Washington DC, closed the book on that chapter of her life and moved back to Venezia forever and married Lino.  We stay in touch all year and its always sort of homecoming when I arrive at registration each year.  She writes a blog now with through the eyes of an American, living in Venezia, married to a Venetian.  It’s called “I’m not making this up.’  Check it out!

So, we grab our shirts, posters and jersey number and head down to the fish market district on a Cicchetti run to some really old classic haunts with traditional and inspired tastes of Venezia.  Cantina do Moro is truly a classic with a huge selection of local wines and traditional tastes.  It’s so old that it was the “local” hangout for Casa Nova around 1775.  We all thought Joe Jost’s was old.  Osteria All ‘Arco is next with crazy bruschetta of octopus, anchovies, bull meat and more.  Great Spritz and Prosecco.

After a full belly of sardines and other classics, I take the crew on a canal walk to find the skinniest, busiest and lowest bridged canals to watch the fancywork of the most talented Gondoliers of Venezia.  Being Gondoliers by trade, the crew could sit there and watch these guys and their talents and antics for hours.  So, we do, with a bottle of Valpolicella!  What we see is radically different than 99% of humanity.  Most people see the beauty of the historical gondola with a backdrop of an 800-year-old bridge and building.  We see the constantly changing position of the oar in the forcola (oar-lock,) the position of the gondolier’s feet, the kick off the wall, the hairpin turns that less than a 1000 people in the world could do. It’s an art that could be studied by scholars, yet never understood unless they stood on the back of that asymmetrical boat with a custom oar nestled in a perfectly carved piece of well grained Walnut, the Forcola.

I digress, I could spend way too much time on this beloved art of “Voga Veneta.”  I am so blessed to understand and be proficient at such an ancient and unique tradition.

After a long afternoon of study, we hop on a traghetto Gondola to cross the grand Canal to get to my beloved “Corner Pub.”  These types of Gondolas are set up at about 5 different locations along the grand canal to transport people across without having to walk so far to a bridge.  It costs about 2 Euro.  Cheapest Gondola ride you will ever have. Ha!

By a blessing from above my favorite table is available at Corner Pub where we dine on the best panini in Venezia and imbibe in some Venetian IPA.  The ancient breeze is wafting through the window of one of the greatest canal views I know and love.  I could truly sit here all day remembering and telling stories of 35 years of getting woven into the fabric of this ancient aquatic city.

The dogs are barking and it’s time to Cicchetti crawl home.  It’s getting too late to dine out, so I check the fridge upon arrival at our canal side apt.  I find beautiful Sausage, Rigatoni noodles, strained tomatoes and gorgonzola.  Well, thar she blows! As the stove fires up and the sauce and pasta begin to bubble, I throw together some Bufalo Mozzarella and cherry tomatoes for a salad.  We crack open some local Pinot Nero and dine in our pad…..Good night!

The American Gondolier

Michael OToole – Founder

Michael OToole – Founder

Tales of an American Gondolier

My name is Michael O’Toole, founder of The 37 year-old business “The Gondola Getaway.”  It started as College project at U.S.C. and has turned into lifelong business and passion.  The business has taken me to Venezia, Italia over 45 times now.  I have had the opportunity to live, eat, drink and row in the Laguna di Venezia being guided by the most local of Venetians.  I have rowed and sailed over 1,000 miles through the lagoon on almost every type of Venetian boat, stayed or visited almost every Island in the lagoon, eaten and learned to cook every classic dish and made the closest of friends. I have been able to bring so much of my experiences back here to Naples Islands, Long Beach and be shared with all the Gondola Getaway customers and locals of Naples Islands and Alamitos bay.

This blog will share tales from my experiences from the Venetian lagoon and how they have shaped my life.  You will find recipes, traveling tips, techniques, comparisons, funny stories, sad stories.  All the stories will be a reflection of my life that has, is and will be a blend of Venezia and home here in Long Beach and Southern California.  This will be my own unique blend of cultures that I hope you will enjoy!  I sure have!!

Michelangelo Otolini

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