The Life of a Gondolier

Gondolier, Italysie

Fueling Up © 2017 Jed Smith

When many people come to Venice and negotiate their first gondola ride, they think they’re shelling out a small fortune while the gondolier is making easy money.

Think again.

Becoming a gondolier is no easy feat.

I used to think the whole thing about a taxi driver in NYC having to pay a hefty sum to buy a yellow cab medallion was ridiculous. I believe a wannabe gondolier has more of an uphill climb.

Used to be that a gondolier license had to pass from father to son.

Or to another male family member IF there was no son. Yep, all-in-the-family was the name of the game.

Now the process is even harder.

These days you have to belong to a 1000-year-old Gondolier’s Guild. And that comes only after 400 hours of training under the sponsorship and tutelage of an existing member, and after passing a stringent exam. A potential gondolier must demonstrate strength and agility of handling the unique boat, and a thorough understanding of the maze of canals and geography of Venice. Add to that a command of languages, and a thorough knowledge of Venice’s history and culture.

Then there’s the whole bit about staking out a spot.

I’m not an expert on this but, from what I understand, a new gondolier can’t just hang out his shingle anywhere and then commence to rake in the dough. As you would expect, some areas are better hot spots for a steady stream of ready-and-willing tourists. I’m curious to learn more about the ins and outs of route negotiations amongst the gondoliers.

Gondoliers make decent money.

Yep, in the neighborhood of $150,000 each year. But they work hard. Imagine all that’s required to cater to the desires of diverse tourists. Then there’s the physical strength required to navigate some pretty significant traffic on the canals of Venice. And, oh yeah, the maintenance required to keep one’s boat in top-notch condition.

Finally, Venice welcomed its first female into the historically all-male gondolier ranks.

This happened in 2010. And even this woman’s father was dubious as to whether she was fit to assume the role. I’m not sure if additional women have joined this boys’ club. You can be sure I’ll be keeping my eyes open for new developments.

Maybe I’ll even be able to track down the first female gondolier and capture her at work. If so, I’ll be sure to share.

For now, I hope you enjoy these snippets of gondolier life. Consider this post an appetizer for a more in-depth story to come––hopefully, in the near future.