Gathering Up a Group of Gondoliers

‘Man at Work.’ | Venice | July, 2008 | photo


I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:

I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying glory smiles
O’er the far times when many a subject land
Looked to the winged Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

~ LORD BYRON, from “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto 4)”

You get to a certain age — six decades and some change, in my case — and you think about your gallivanting, footloose days of yore. And you ponder the Really Big Questions. As in: Will I ever again be able to hit the cobblestones of Rome or Venice for days on end, as I once did? Or am I fated to give it a go and then peter out, winded, hands on knees. Done.

And then, collapsed, and emergency airlifted to an Old Folks Home for the Terminally Over-the-Hill Wanderer! (‘And please, nurse, tell the kind agente di polizia who picked me up after I fell and couldn’t get up in the aqua alta on Piazza San Marco I am dry, now,and safely in my locomotive pajamas back in America and I owe him an espresso and some Spaghetti alla Vongole with a good Italian red …’)

But there was a day when I could wander with the best of them, throughout the byways and calles, the alleys and piazzas of Italy. I have been reorganizing decades of photos after moving to a new Millennium Falcon Macintosh. Today’s post features a director’s cut of favorite shots I took of gondoliers in Venice, from a city-hopping, two-week tour of Italy in 2008, where I took my son and his cousin after they graduated from high school. (Ask about our tattoos)

‘Passersby.’ | Cannareggio bridge, Venice | July, 2008

She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers:
And such she was; her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

~ LORD BYRON, from “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto 4)”

It was a momentous sojourn in the land of my father’s birth, with many stories for another day. Venice enchanted my mind, heart and soul, while wearing out my feet. I long to return outside of high tourist season. To settle in and stroll, caffeinate and click. Write and and marinate in its evocative history and complicated present, before we lose this greatest treasure of human creation to human stupidity from our ceaseless, heedless churning at troughs of carbon-spewing, seawater-raising, planet-warming engines of climate disaster.

But I digress into editorial which is easy to do when it comes to existential crises.

‘Pole This Way.’ | Venice | July, 2008

I spent just a couple of night in Venice with two 18-year-old boys and one small, sapphire blue traveling guitar (A Washburn Rover, for those of thee who play). We landed there in June, 2008, on a very hot day, come to stay in a small, un-air conditioned hotel in the sestieri of Cannereggio, one of the six main ‘neighborhoods’ of Venice at the top of this city of islands.


Before St. Mark still glow his steeds of brass,
Their gilded collars glittering in the sun;
But is not Doria’s menace come to pass?
Are they not BRIDLED?—Venice, lost and won,
Her thirteen hundred years of freedom done,
Sinks, like a seaweed, into whence she rose!
Better be whelmed beneath the waves, and shun,
Even in Destruction’s depth, her foreign foes,
From whom submission wrings an infamous repose.

~ LORD BYRON, from “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto 4)”

‘Gondo-beer.’ | Venice | July, 2008

Byron’s melancholic ode to Venezia in “Child Harold’s Pilgrammage” is, in fact, an elegy to its faded artistic glory and heroic history. Venice, indeed, these days — an ancient fate foretold! — “sinks, like a seaweed into whence she rose!’ Or rather, the sea rises to swallow it, an inhumane human-fostered crime. When I first encountered the poem, I was struck by the line about the songless gondoliers. So struck, that for years now I have recorded and pushed out into the world instrumental music under the rubric of ‘The Silent Gondoliers.’

‘Gondoliers-in-Waiting.’ | Venice | July, 2008

In Venice, Tasso’s echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;

Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone—but beauty still is here.
States fall, arts fade—but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

~ LORD BYRON, from “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto 4)”

In the end, and still desiring to get me to Venezia for a season of writing — a tourist-reduced off-season, if possible — I shall, finally, cast my lot with Byron’s 18th quatrain. For even as the sea rises, the city sinks, and human beings scramble to save her, Venice remains “a boast, a marvel, and a show …”

I loved her from my boyhood: she to me
Was as a fairy city of the heart,
Rising like water-columns from the sea,
Of joy the sojourn, and of wealth the mart
And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakspeare’s art,
Had stamped her image in me, and e’en so,
Although I found her thus, we did not part,
Perchance e’en dearer in her day of woe,
Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show.

~ LORD BYRON, from “Child Harold’s Pilgrammage (Canto 4)”

~ Douglas John Imbrogno


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