Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Venetian Rowing & a wonderful visit to the 'Arzana'

Learning to row 'Venetian style', that is, standing, facing forward and with a single oar that one uses to pull rather than push, was a definite highlight of our recent Venetian conference. Always on the look out for activities that offer our conference delegates something out of the ordinary plus very indicative of the locality, this one definitely met these objectives!

In an original wooden boat known as a Batela, our lesson began with a some instructions in a small narrow canal before heading out into the lagoon that surrounds Venice. We were assured that the flat bottom design of these boats makes it almost impossible to capsize, so proceeded with abandon to look like original Venetians in our endeavour (complete with the stripped shirt of the gondoliers - though I don't think I fooled anybody!) Like many things, it definitely looks easier than it is in reality but the experience was something we will remember for a lifetime.

Our wonderfully enthusiastic instructor Nan, an American who has lived in Venice for some years was really the rudder that kept the whole boat on course, but we eventually made progress and spent several delightful hours moving around the Venetian lagoon, albeit sometimes in circles, I have to admit! If ever given the opportunity to live in Venice for a length of time, this is definitely something I would love to master as it is hard to beat exercise that comes in the form of so much fun, laughter and when we were quiet, serenity.

Following this we were privileged to have an incredibly interesting tour of the 'Arzana', a museum dedicated to the preservation of the Batela, the original boat that has served as the mode of transport in Venice for centuries (basically the Ford motor car of this region). This museum is totally operated by volunteers and houses an incredible array of boats, including some original covered gondolas, plus equipment used in the making of Venetian boats that once proliferated in the canals of Venice. The Arzana Association acquired the old 'squero' which is an original building that accommodated this Venetian boat building and today is truly a 'living' museum - the passion of the participants is palpable and it was such a pleasure to spend time listening to their stories. 

With the influx of modern motor boats, this age old Venetian craft of the manufacture of wooden Batela is in danger of being lost and in essence the lagoon craft are the most identifiable image of Venice, so loosing this would be almost unthinkable! The Arzana association survive on the small contributions groups like ours give through visits (in addition to time & money from local enthusiasts), so if you are interested in Venetian rowing lessons or a group visit to the Arzana, contact - I am sure your visit will be very memorable!!