Here is what led me to Nan McElroy: Italy: Instructions for Use, which she so cleverly created. I tell everyone I know who’s going to Italy that this is a Must Buy–a wonderfully designed pocket-sized quide and phrasebook that contains all the nitty-gritty details you’ll need–about making phone calls, taking trains, driving, etc. And for anyone headed to Venice, as JoAnn Locktov wrote in Golden Day 22, you Must download Nan’s Vaporetto Map.
Nan was an absolute joy and inspiration to meet the last time I was in Venice. She’s lived there since 2004 and has immersed herself into Venetian life bigtime–it’s fab to follow along with her on her Living Venice Blog. She’s a member of a woman’s rowing club, is producing a documentary–Voga alla Veneta–that centers around the unique traditional rowing style of the gondoliers, she’s a lyric soloist who performs in concerts around Venice, AND she’s a certified sommelier who leads wine tastings that turn into fun evenings for travelers to learn about Italian vintages–check out Lessons of the Vine for details.
When I asked Nan for her Golden Day In Venice, she wrote back with this imaginative take:
“They’ll come today,” she thought, “they won’t be able to resist. Not on a day like today.”
The sun glinted off the tops of the canal waves, as if invisible water sprites darted non-stop from peak to peak, setting them all afire as they went. It was one of those brilliant, early spring Venetian days, the sort that inspired the traveler to eschew the collection at the Galleria Accademia or the tour of the Doges Palace for one more sun-warmed caffè al fresco or a choice glass of wine at some cheery bar (Al Prosecco in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, perhaps); or a lazy saunter along the Zattere, admiring Palladio’s churches (San Giorgio Maggiore, Le Zitelle – The Spinsters, the Redentore) from afar, ending at the welcoming, green umbrellas of Al Chioschetto for a panino and a Spritz.
Today, whether for the traveler or the local, “inside” was not an option.
All this was not lost on la Tecolona, as she was known ( her odd moniker being created from the combination of letters from her four owners’ names). As she bobbed patiently in the side canal in the upper reaches of Cannaregio, nestled under the bridge at Sant’Alvise in a posta barca parking place just her size, she knew that this day, above all, no rower would be able to resist being in barca, taking the boat out for a spin. “Bene,” she thought. “Andemo.” Let’s go.
“Ma dove?” Where, she pondered…
La Tecolona was a s’ciopon, one of the smaller of the traditional Venetian craft, similar to the larger ones conserved by the Associazione Arzanà just around the corner on the Rio Misericordia. She considered these larger batele, the type once used to transport all sorts of merchandise around the city, as fratelli grandi, big brothers, and was glad such an organization had made the effort to save them, so more people could see and touch the world of pre-motorboat Venice.
It didn’t matter to her where she went today. As long as she was slipping agilely along the Venetian canals, wide, narrow, or Grand, navigating the city’s liquid labyrinth, affording her rowers and their passengers her unique perspective, she didn’t care. She always enjoys the greetings her rowers receive from friends who spot them from the fontamenta or pass by in another boat; the interest from travelers who pause on the bridges to photograph or just take in the unique sight. Even the inevitable advice frequently shouted by expert rowers “of a certain age” to her usually all-female crew — Daghe zo pope! Voga in drio! Scia prua! — was more than welcome, because these same curmudgeons just as often grinned broadly, declaring “Bea barca!” What a beautiful boat. All this – it’s what makes us a community, La Tecolona thought.
So today, once her rowers arrived with their long oars and fixed their wooden oar locks in her sides and were on their way, there’s no question they would first glide by what they say is one of their favorite churches, the beautiful Madonna dell’Orto, with its famed collection of Tintoretto’s works. If instead they headed down the Rio della Sensa, they’d likely be spotted by Lorenzo and Michele, proprietors of the exceptional new restaurant Orto dei Mori; they always wave their saluti. If they then headed down the Rio San Felice, they’d surely see Lolo, who offers perhaps the best fish in the city, at Fontego dei Pescatori, and Paolo and Laura just across from him, of Vini da Gigio (everyone knows to let Paolo pick their wine for dinner, she hears her rowers often say). They might even stop for un goto de vin, a glass of wine from the excellent selection at La Cantina, in the Campo San Felice — although that would be more likely on the return. Then again, if they instead turned into the Rio San Sofia, they’d likely “cichettare” at another of their favorites, the Bottega dei Promessi Sposi, in the Calle dell’Oca. It was hard to predict.
Their evening outing might take them then to via Garibaldi and the cheery, lively El Refolo…if there was music, so much the better. Or if her rowers were in the mood for a pizza after their long row, she knew that Tosi Grandi would be their choice.
As La Tecolona continued to bob and muse on the myriad of potential routes and sights she and her rowers might navigate today, her thoughts were interrupted by familiar footsteps and voices overhead. Ora, she thought, se ne va. Now, we go. For both she and her rowers, it would be indeed be a golden Venetian day.