The Casual Commandeering of a Gondola

We didn’t know how we were going to do it. If it had ever been done (our research later revealed it had). Stealing a gondola is a (semi-)serious offense in Venice. And it’s obviously a terrible and terrifying experience to try to get away with a crime in that claustrophobic environment. But Marie was determined. From the second she descended from the boat that took her from Marco Polo Airport to Piazza San Marco, she found the nearest pizzeria to stuff my face with so as to “ensure my strength” for what was to lie ahead. Though I was disappointed by her food choice (I would have preferred to at least sit down at a restaurant to try some risotto al nero di seppia), I went along with her agenda, myself never having the gumption to do much of anything and finally coming to the point in my life where I realized that I had nothing left to lose. This could be my last vacation. My last hurrah. It wasn’t just that I had felt suicidal ever since Mattia–the only reason I had ended up in Italy in the first place–broke up with me, roughly two years ago now. It was because I was the sort of person who didn’t recover from rejection. Instead of getting over something–being able to get over something–it would fester inside of me like a spreading cancer.

I had planned to return to the U.S. to, I don’t know, end it all in my place of origin or something. But when Marie, one of the few old friends I still kept in contact with, heard of my plans, she said, “Bitch, you can’t leave Italy until I come to visit you.” As it was one of her longstanding goals to go to Venice, I felt I might as well oblige. I could delay my plans for spontaneous combustion a bit longer to help a friend fulfill a lifelong dream. Her intent to commandeer a gondola, however, was not made known to me until the day before she was to arrive. She began to talk quickly and in mostly coded language on the phone when she called me to confirm her arrival time, as well as the details of the hostel we would be staying at (I imagined a Venetian hostel to be a lot of ancient bunk beds floating sadly in an overflooded room). She said it was important to use my fake ID when registering us as she didn’t want to leave any trace of who we really were. I honestly had no idea why it was so important to her. Why we couldn’t just pool together a hundred euros to ride in one like normal, banal tourists. She wouldn’t really explain, but I imagined it had something to do with her obsessive need to control everything. Letting someone else literally take the oars was something that could make her grind her teeth right out of her mouth from the stress of not being able to really call all the shots.

Still, I couldn’t fathom that, of all the international crimes to commit, this one would appear to be the most important to her. I suppose in a way it made sense. She was always looking for something niche and off brand (by societal expectations) to do. This would be her crowning glory, her pièce de résistance of performance art. How could I possibly resist being a part of something so momentous. Unlike past thieves (of which there have been surprising few), we would not be thrown off by the unwieldy size of the thirty-five foot boat and its asymmetrical shape. We had done crew together both in high school and college (both of us securing authentic scholarships unlike the Giannulli daughters). We were prepared for the struggle of what was to come, particularly since we were both now out of shape and had just eaten copious amounts of pizza that would be sitting in our stomachs for a while, could sink the boat with our extra weight for all I knew. Despite our mild confidence in our ability not to draw too much attention to the stolen vessel by ramming uncontrollably into the side walls of the banks or, worse, other boats, Marie decided it would be prudent to flirt with a gondolier, get him a little drunk while on the boat and then kick him off once we had “set sail,” so to speak. I had to wonder about the gray moral area of getting a third party involved but then quelled that rumination on the basis of assuring myself that it wasn’t my business to question any heist that wasn’t my brainchild. Maybe I would come up with something equally as foolish in another country (tipping cows in Switzerland?) if we made it out of this scheme unscathed. And who would Marie then be to question me in any subsequent scenarios of illegality? I told myself this as it became dusk and we sized up the number of eligible gondoliers we might make apart of our con. Our plan to casually commandeer a gondola and never look back. Though where she intended to go was unclear. At best, we could make it as far as the Venetian Lagoon, and then what? Walk to the nearest major city? Which I guess would be Padua, and who wants to hang out there with all that residual Amanda Knox energy?

After about ten minutes of casing different guys, we settled on the meekest looking one, handing him the one hundred’s worth of euros we knew we would be taking back once he was knocked out.

***

“So…how does one become a gondolier?” I asked in the tone of John Bender demanding the same of Carl the janitor pursuing the “custodial arts” in The Breakfast Club. He didn’t seem to understand the question on any level, as though one simply appeared out of the womb as a gondolier with no desire or training necessary. As though just another miraculous being born from Jupiter’s fractured skull. And though I was curious to find out what special instruction might be required to transcend into a gondolier, it was primarily a diversion tactic to loosen him up and get him to drink our elixir of grappa and Halcion (thank god [?] for Marie’s chronic depression). After enough chitchat, he was amenable to taking a swig, the trusting nature of Italians being both their blessing and their curse. When Marie felt assured they were far out enough she gave the signal to me, and I, in turn, obliged the cue to kick him overboard, reasoning that I was probably his karma for doing something horrendous to an ex-girlfriend in the past.

The splash his body made was practically undetectable, especially in comparison to the gurgling noise made by the slew of crocodiles that suddenly appeared in a feeding frenzy. “Fuck!” Marie exclaimed so loudly I surmised that all of Italy might have heard her. “Since when are there crocodiles in this part of the world?”

“Climate change,” I offered. Then, seizing upon a moment of impetuosity combined with opportunity, I jumped in the water to match the fate of the gondolier, having carried out my end of the bargain.

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