The ‘native’ Venetian knows how to do it, because it is written in his DNA, while we outsiders, however willing, stand by and... watch, hopeful that maybe one day, we’ll manage to imitate them: I’m talking about
‘Venetian-style’ rowing, that way of moving on the water with apparent stealth, through the density of the traffic along the canals and the rii, smaller canals.
Venice offers a special attraction: the possibility of exploring the city by rowing a boat. Just as you learn to walk, you learn to row in Venice: rowing, here, means gentle and smooth sailing, consisting of short hops and some stops, not so different from how the Venetian-born women move about the streets and squares: in a leisurely fashion, and in the meantime, they chat, they look and allow themselves to be looked at. You can ride through the water network of Venice effortlessly, slowly: after all, is it not said, perhaps, that the
Laguna is made up of ‘slow territories’?
The beat of oars on the water without waves is like the ephemeral sound of the flapping of seagull wings: the water opens and creates tiny vortices, a delicate and almost shy undercurrent, especially noticeable in the narrowest or least busy canals. The beat marks the time. It is a natural, non-mechanized way of travel, fitting the environment, amphibious in nature, adding the echo of our moving presence to that of the seagulls and swishing vessels.
Floating on the waters today takes on the same ancient, almost thoughtful but above all curious rhythm, that is suddenly interrupted and requires frequent landings, to keep pace with the wanderer in an unknown land: Venice as a myriad and labyrinthine Gallery or, better still, as a Museum of urban dimensions that pulls
you in and envelops you like that character in the Kurosawa film who enters a Van Gogh painting... and its liquid character is welcoming and light.
Venice is delineated and defined by infinite ramifications of water and by a network of paved roads, and it is within this dual system that life is lived, and onto which a world is projected. So, let us enter, therefore, this liquid urban geography, which good fortune has allowed to be magical even in its physiological reality: in this area of natural and cultural significance, preciously sealed from the sky, waters and the edges of the mainland, our boats carry us into a branched gallery of time where the masterpieces of creativity rise on the great tides of History and await us.
Rowing means understanding, especially in Venice where the fascination with, and I would say, education towards respect for such fragile beauty keeps the city duly separate from the white noise of a civilization that is so frenetic as to go overboard sometimes.
Rowing is a little like flying. And maybe it’s also a way of knowing yourself and others.
Max Bohl Jr is the pseudonym of a Veneto writer, used with discretion.