28 August, 2006

95. It's official - black is back

It used to be common for Venetian gondolas to have an enclosed and sometimes elaborately decorated wooden cabin called a 'felze', which gave the passengers inside some privacy, both from the gondolier standing behind them and from the outside world. There are still a few gondolas that have this feature and they are mostly used for weddings or other ceremonial occasions, but because they restrict the view of the passenger looking out, they are not generally much use for tourist rides.

In July this year, the city's gondola association announced that those gondolas which carried a 'felze' would be allowed to keep it, but all of the other 400 or so gondolas would be required to strip from their boats all the elaborate decorations which have become so common recently.

Pitching joyrides to tourists, especially out of peak season, is a very competitive business and more and more decorative features have been added by enterprising gondoliers to make their boat look that little bit more attractive to ride in than the one parked next to it. But no more.

Today's picture is now an interesting historic record because by the time you read this, the fancy upholstery on these and all the other gondolas may well have been taken off for good. In future there will be no more plush upholstery edging, no gilded ornaments, no fancy chains and pompoms, no embroidered cushions. The upholstery must now be plain leather only, and the allowed choice of colour for the interior will be black, dark blue, or purple. No scarlet, or burgundy, or turquoise, and everything else on the boat must be back to the basic black as decreed in the Sumptuary Law of 1562.

It's nice to know that there are some places in the world where tradition can prevail over commercial pressure.

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