Venice gondola cartel

gondola postcard
Some institutions resist change. Apparently gondolier guilds are one of them. Alexandra Hai finally broke the glass boat bottom (err, something like that) to fulfill her dream of being a gondolier.

Venice Canal

Chicago Tribune news : Woman takes on Venice gondola cartel:
If Alexandra Hai ever had second thoughts -- or third, fourth or fifth thoughts, for that matter -- about challenging the male hierarchy of Venice's gondolier class, they were swept away last week after a simple rowing test.

For more than a decade Hai has maneuvered Venice's ancient waterways as an apprentice but time and again has been denied a gondolier's license. In her latest test, a four-man panel, entrusted with selecting students for a newly conceived school for gondoliers, graded her as too inept to even be a student of the trade. Forty men were accepted; three women, including Hai, lost out.

“Well, no, she's not dangerous. She was a little stiff but she was good. ... In my opinion, she knows how to row,” gondolier commissioner and judge Aldo Rosso said of Hai.

But Rosso said there is much to understand about being an oarsman: “The tradition is to keep this from father to son. The idea was to keep the tradition. ...Venice is Venice. A gondolier only makes so much money. If he has a son, to whom their license can be passed, that furnishes them with a pension.”

Hai's battle with the gondoliers has become part of the lore of doing business in Italy's north. A woman and a foreigner -- Hai is German -- she had failed three times to pass a test to become a gondolier. She called foul in two of the three tests, saying bias against women and outsiders kept her at bay.

Lost Meanings

This spring, she went to court to secure her right to work privately. A hotel that hired Hai as a private gondolier -- without a license -- asked the courts to review the city transport laws.

The court found that Locanda Art Deco had the right to hire whomever it wanted to provide for “essential needs,” and surprisingly, the court defined hotel guests as needs.

The ruling meant hotels, or any businesses with such needs, could do end-runs around all city-licensed gondola stations and find their own boatmen. A cozy and lucrative trade barrier was suddenly breached.

The gondoliers reacted by huddling with city fathers in hopes of filing an appeal. They also scrambled to begin a school for gondoliers, the first ever, to prove they have standards that outstrip private concerns.

Most of those included in this inaugural class of “professional gondoliers,” as trade representatives said last week, just happened to be sons or male relatives of gondoliers. Other observers said that the gondoliers were intent on preserving their own.

“If you look at it from the marketplace, the gondoliers can lose everything,” said attorney Antonio Iannotta, who is coordinating legal strategy for an appeal to a higher court in Rome. “The court went much further than we thought -- and this could go much further than we anticipated. That's the fear.”

...Her detractors remain adamant that she has no right to wear the distinctive blue-and-white stripes of a canal man.

“Don't even call her a gondolier. She's no gondolier. She failed her test,” said Roberto Luppi, head of the trade group.

Luppi turned out last week to watch Hai, 40, row, as well as his 23-year-old son, Stefano, who made the grade for the school.

Luppi, a longtime critic of Hai, said the German should never have tried, even though he said he supported other women from Venice who did.

“A woman is the best thing in the world, but she shouldn't be a gondolier. What does she want?” Luppi said. “In my opinion, she should stay at home and take care of a family.”

The gondola is the symbol of Venice's centuries-old grandeur and, perhaps more importantly to the gondoliers' fortunes, a magnet for tourist dollars. A licensed gondolier can reap $110 for every 40-minute ride in a 12-hour day -- and even more depending on the gullibility of tourists.

Gondola ride Town Lake Austin

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on July 9, 2007 12:28 PM.

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