Posted on: Sunday, August 19, 2007
In Venice, another island culture found in oar shop
By Bonnie Friedman
Special to The Advertiser
Italy — On this particular morning the workshop of Le Fórcole was,
literally, abuzz as the maestro made the final mechanized cuts to an
oar. His young apprentice was deep in concentration as he finished
sanding another. Or so he thought. When the maestro checked the
apprentice's work, he said it was too strong.
"Too strong?" I asked.
"Yes," the apprentice explained. "It must be flexible."
"What do you do now?"
"Keep working it."
are not the hoe with which Island paddlers move their wa'a swiftly and
smoothly through the channels. These are the remi with which the
gondolieri of Venice deftly maneuver their 35-plus-foot-long craft
through the city's maze of canals. They are more than 10 feet long and
are specifically designed for the Venetian rowing style — voga alla
veneta — standing up, with a high vantage point to improve visibility
had been passing the workshop — with its sweet smell of cherry, maple
and walnut shavings wafting out into the street — and glancing in
several times a day for many days before I ventured in to have a real
look around. I had visited the Web site address engraved on the door
plaque, so I knew a bit about what was going on inside.
what goes on inside, in addition to the carving of oars, is the
sculpting of forcole, oar rests for gondole. Not oar locks as we know
them; these are open, and they must accommodate a wide variety of oar
movements. Though I suspect the maestro would modestly disagree, they
also are beautiful works of art. There are examples at The Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York and in the private collections of architects
I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry.
Venetian native Saverio Pastor has been carving forcole and remi for
more than 32 years. He is quiet, extremely humble. He just does what he
does and teaches others to do it. There are no other carvers in his
family. He has two young sons. They may or may not follow in his
footsteps. "Only if they want to," he says.
asked if he rowed; it seemed to me anyone who carves forcole and remi
as well as he does would have to feel the feelings. "Yes, of course,"
he told me. He still rows; today his craft is his small fishing boat.
I asked how he became interested in this particular art, he answered
matter-of-factly. "When I was young, one of our oars needed repairing."
Well, of course. Necessity is the mother of profession.
became Maestro Giuseppe Carli's apprentice when he was 15. He worked on
his first forcola two years later, and, five years after that, he
carved what he considers to be the first "real forcola" of his own. (It
takes about 20 hours to complete a forcola; you can learn about the
process on the workshop's Web site address below.) Since then he
estimates he has carved 2000 forcole and 3000 remi.
to put that in context: There are about 400 gondole operating in
Venice. Each has one forcola and all are made to order. There are three
workshops and four carvers in Venice, the only place in the world where
this art is practiced.
takes only one apprentice at a time. Twenty-two-year-old Pietro
Meneghini is the third. He also is a native Venetian with no other
carvers in his family. He has been at the workshop for 2 1/2 years.
When I asked the maestro how much longer this apprentice would need to
be with him he said, "Twenty-five years."
took me a minute — and I think it took Pietro a minute, too — to
realize he was joking. His first apprentice, who worked with him for
six years, now has his own shop and the next, who was with him for
eight years, is now a gondiliere.
Pietro rows, too, although not competitively, either. And he enjoys
woodworking in other forms; he proudly told me he built his bed to look
like a stylized boat. Island people. He has found his calling in the
maestro's shop and he hopes one day to open his own.
I told the maestro I live in Hawai'i, he immediately wanted to know if
we are concerned about what in Venice is called "acqua alta" — high
I told him, "Tsunamis are a major concern in Hawai'i. We're out in the
middle of the Pacific, unprotected. If, as in the worst-case scenarios,
the ocean levels were to rise greatly and quickly, well, I suppose it
would be disastrous," I said.
"We are at least somewhat protected," he said. "We have a chance of holding back the water. You do not."
was fascinated by Le Fórcole and wrote a bit about it on my travel
blog. This is a comment posted by an old friend: "I was tickled to
learn about forcole. When I learn about something new, something that I
had no idea even existed, I consider it a great day."
Fórcole is at Dorsoduro 341, Fondamenta Soranzo della Fornace in
Venice. For more information about Maestro Saverio Pastor's work and
workshop, go to www.forcole.com; and for more information about the gondola, its history, and its use in modern Venice, go to www.gondolavenezia.it.
year marks the 700th anniversary of l'arte de' remeri — the art of the
oar maker — and will be marked by events from August to October. Go to www.elfelze.com for information and a listing of events.