A gondola ride in Venice is one of those things that boarder on cliché, like losing one’s virginity on prom night. You promise yourself you’re not going to do it and yet you wake up the next morning in the back of an El Camino looking for your knickers.
The gondola ride has another thing in common with losing it, you get in the “boat”, with your “friend” and it feels very awkward at first. You look around at all the people walking along the sidewalks like your friends at the dance and become very self-conscious, as if they are all making judgments and assumptions about you and the person you’re with. You can also hear your father’s voice in your head, chastising you. This time it’s not for lacking the inability to unhook a bra with one hand, but for paying more than 50 Euros for a 40-minute trip.
You eventually push past it. You get over all those silly notions flying around in your head, widen your perspective, look up at all the buildings from canal level and marvel at the cleverness of it all. My “friend” was Amanda. We boarded a gondola in the middle of the afternoon, feeling we’d only be in Venice once and we had to do it – if only to have an answer for the people who would ask if we did.
It was difficult for Amanda. She has a severe problem with heights and it affects her ability to climb into a boat. In her opinion “when you hit water you’re just falling more slowly.” We finally got in the boat and sat in the love seat in the back. We didn’t look like a post card or a movie, I had a big 35mm camera and we were both wearing heavy coats to stave off the early April chill.
The gondolier began his slow rhythmic strokes, gliding us down the canal and starting our tour. I remember being torn between taking pictures and taking it in. I was in Venice, a place I’d dreamed about visiting all of my life, in a gondola with a girl who was quickly becoming my best friend and all I could do was aim, focus and frame, my instincts as a professional photographer taking over. I eventually forced myself to relax, to lean back in the seat and something amazing happened, she leaned back into me. I don’t know if I smiled, but I’m pretty sure I did. I put my arm around her and we sat like a real couple in a gondola as we floated through one of the most romantic cities in the world.
So, take that gondola ride. It’s like your first time, good or bad you will never forget it.