20 July, 2006

56. Mario il bragozzo

If you are a street trader, how do you set up your stall if the street is a canal full of water?

Simple. Your mobile shop is a boat – like this one and many others all over Venice – although the established street traders don't seem to need to be all that mobile anymore. This one at least was fairly permanently moored in its prime spot in the Rio de San Barnaba in San Polo Sestiere.

If I was the owner of the land-based greengrocery in this same street, I don't think I would be too keen on having a mobile competitor parked straight in front of my shop, but both were doing a brisk trade every time I went by. Perhaps they attracted more customers together than either would have alone, as they would have a wider range of produce for customers to choose from, and their proximity would tend to keep each other's prices honest.

In the modern world, fresh produce can come from almost anywhere, regardless of the season, but most of Venice's fruits and vegetables used to be grown on the outerlying, less populated islands – out beyond the big three, Murano, Burano, and Torcello. But with no pastures to graze sheep or cattle, the 210-mile square lagoon was the rest of Venice's 'farmland', and hundreds of boats just like this one dragged their nets across its shallow muddy bottom every day to feed the city.

The curled up prow of 'Mario' (Mario? Surely this should be 'Maria', all boats are female, aren't they?) tells you that this craft is a 'Bragozzo', a flat-bottomed fishing boat once common in Venice, but now almost non-existent as a working boat except for a few that carry tourists round the lagoon. This one may not be as seaworthy as she once was, but she is still working for her living.

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