Travel empowers. Not just the map-toting, lens-faced tourists but also the people who make travel possible. Often, mere faces. Rarely remembered by their names for their service. Giorgia Boscolo is an exception. She’s a rare breed, in a league of her own on Venice’s canals. Should your travel plans point towards this city, do catch a glimpse of this spirit who sails right through 900 years of taboo.
As a little girl in Venice, Giorgia Boscolo was forever bugging her father to let her ride with him in his gondola. While her three sisters played with their dolls, she would beg him for a turn with the remo, or oar. Dante Boscolo, an indulgent Italian father, humored his pint-sized shadow — to a point.
“My father only let me row when it was bad weather,” Giorgia recalled with a laugh.
His retort was swift: “That’s how you learn.”
With the splash of her oar, nine centuries of taboos in this romantic canal city shattered as Boscolo passed a rigorous exam of brains and brawn to become Venice’s first official female gondolier — or gondoliera in Italian, a term that didn’t even exist until her achievement made it necessary.
The waters have been choppy at times, and not just in the canals, but Boscolo at last feels in her element.
“I was born among gondoliers,” she said on a languorous afternoon brilliant with sunshine. “It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted.”
Boscolo’s breakthrough propelled her into the ranks of what can no longer be described with complete accuracy as an elite fraternity, made up of bluff and hearty boatmen whose presence along Venice’s winding waterways seems as timeless as the city itself.
Fewer than 500 gondoliers are licensed to navigate Venice’s network of 150 canals. They’re a fairly macho bunch, instantly recognizable in their jaunty black-and-white-striped shirts, lounging lazily against the bank-side walls waiting for tourists to hire them or letting loose the occasional low whistle at women who walk by.
They are heirs to a tradition stretching back nearly a millennium, when the signature banana-shaped boats first began plying the waters as a quick and easy means of transport. The men who captained them became indispensable fixtures around the Venetian lagoon, proud of their skill and bonded by shared experience.
As is inevitable when such a testosterone-laden citadel is breached, not all of Boscolo’s new colleagues have been thrilled about her entry into their midst. Some grumble sotto voce that she’s become too big for her britches, upending the old order and hogging all the attention.
Boscolo shrugs off the criticism with the same determined cool that got her here in the first place.
“The important thing is to do what you want to do,” she declared.
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