by Donna Leon
Publisher: William Heinemann
Of all the trademarks of Venice—and there are many, from the gilded Basilica of San Marco to the melancholy Bridge of Sighs—none is more ubiquitous than the gondola. The internationally acclaimed “American with the Venetian heart,” Donna Leon, tells its fascinating story (The Washington Post).
First used in medieval Venice as a deftly maneuverable getaway boat, the gondola evolved over the centuries into a floating pleasure palace, bedecked in silk, that facilitated the romantic escapades of the Venetian elite. Today, the gondola wears black—a gleaming, elegant hue, and is manned by robust gondolieriin black-and-white-striped shirts and straw hats.
A tourist favorite, the gondola has never ceased to be a part of authentic Venice. Each boat’s 280 pieces are carefully fashioned in a maestro’s workshop—though Leon also recounts a tale of an American friend who attempted to make a gondola all on his own. The feat took five years and countless do-overs. But the gondola is a work of art well worth the labor. And once its arched prow pushes off from the dock, the single Venetian at its oar just might break out in a barcarole, a popular Italian boat song. The best of these songs, as timeless as the allure of the gondola itself, are compiled into an accompanying CD.