Italy: "Watch out for the big wave coming in, use your legs!" Exclaims Gabriella Lazzari as her students try to keep their balance by trying to row up like gondoliers in the Venice lagoon. Gabriella is part of a group of about twenty Venetian women who are trying to transmit the art of rowing gondoliers of the Serenissima.
"We take our students on the lagoon so they can practice gondola boating without bumping into everyone," jokes Jane Caporal, who founded the Row Venice association eight years ago to perpetuate this ancestral technique. Because "Venice is today invaded by engines, people do not row more in their small boats", deplores this Australian installed in Venice for 30 years.
Row Venice also intends to promote the age-old craftsmanship that surrounds the construction of Venetian boats, their oars, their ladies swimming (which allow fixing the train), so that it continues, explains Ms Caporal.
Away from the cluttered "vaporetti" canals and mahogany taxi-boats, Yezi Jin, a 32-year-old accountant from Portland (western United States), is practising thrillingly to row his boat. "It's hard, my back hurts, but it's so much fun!"
At her side, her husband squeezes his rowing against him and tries valiantly to keep up. From here we see all the islands, it's very different from the Rialto Bridge, from the crowd of tourists," says Yezi Jin.
Row Venice offers lessons of one hour and a half, for 85 to 200 euros depending on the number of participants. Most of the association's "gondolières" also participate in professional races and "Row Venice" has become their sponsor. Jane Corporal sees in it a way to fight on equal terms in a sport and a profession dominated by men.
There is only one gondoliere in Venice today, explains this former financial analyst. And it has struggled to impose itself to transport some of the 20 million tourists who visit the City of the Doges each year.
"The number of gondoliers certified is controlled by a professional association, a very closed circle," says Ms Caporal. She says she chose the "batela", a traditional wooden boat with a flat bottom because it is more stable and easier to manoeuvre than an asymmetrical gondola.