Don’t Let Go of the Oar


“It could be said that the marvelous city, falling from the sky and splintering apart, had scattered about itself these shard of beauty.” Sean Wilsey, in his April 22 New Yorker article, here quotes 19th century poet Luigi Carrer when describing Venice’s surrounding island. Wilsey rowed from one to the next in a sort of mini mid-life crisis, trying to find some solace in aloneness and also reliving his early 20s, when he lived in Venice for a time, determined to become a gondolier. He writes about visiting the abandoned “infectious diseases” hospital and also drug dealers island (which is also described as a former dump until it caught fire).

But my favorite parts of the article are Wilsey’s descriptions of trying to row a gondola, which he likens to a giant skateboard. Except it’s not. On his very first gondola ride, he swapped places with the gondolier and said it felt like skateboarding on ice. Later, he takes rowing lessons from a blond in a bikini and is thrilled when she says he is good enough to row behind her.

Remember that forcola I bought in Venice in January? Wilsey’s names the parts of it–the morso, meaning bite, because it looks like a bite has been taken out of it; or the naselo, meaning little nose.

And I’m curious (and maybe some of you readers can help out here.) Wilsey translates the topo, a small Venetian boat, as a “rat.” I always thought topo meant mouse; in fact, Topolino is the affectionate term for Mickey Mouse. Is there another another slang usage?

But I don’t want to give away too much. The article is a good read. Online you can only see a portion of it, so you’ll have to buy a copy. It’s the April 22 issue, so you’ll have to rush to the store because I think the next issue is already out. Or check out this link, which shows some of the accompanying photos, and you can also see the first page or so of the piece on the website.

(The photo from the top of the page is from this link.)

Grazie mille to Karen, the most dedicated of New Yorker readers, for sending this to me. I can’t believe I saw it before Gondola Greg ( Marco Zecchin will certainly appreciate the photos of abandoned islands, reminiscent of his photo series of Fort Ord (

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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