Le Zitelle, part of the Giudecca Island facing San Giorgio and the San Marco Basin, is Franco’s home: when he can, he hides away here and only with difficulty you’re able to drag him out. A gondolier from eight generations, as a kid he went through not very convinced electrical engineering studies, beside taking on board the oar, with time he realized that his passion was for holistic practices besides martial arts. Forty-five years old, he alternates his main profession with teaching and therapeutic massage.
He writes poetry for pleasure. Since the Mose has been (partly) installed here in Venice, he complains the currents are too strong and it’s much harder to paddle. Shortly his new gondola will be ready, born out of a boatyard a few steps from his house, and he is gearing up for launch.
Your story from the day you were born to this day. In a few lines.
I was born in Venice but I’ve travelled and lived a lot in America for my studies: between Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Questing for an internal balance… which doesn’t really exist.
Balance is a constant adjusting of an imbalance; for this reason, we must look for the imbalances within us and not for the balances. And tune them to the vibrations of our heart.
I carry on being a gondolier because I like the people, the open air and my city. I’ve no idea what my future will be, where I’ll go, where I’ll live. I prefer to remain in the present for that is where you find life: the future and the past are only concepts but in truth they don’t exist.
Two ancient professions: the gondolier and the therapist. Both feed on illuminations, right? How do you separate your daily life with two such different practices?
Actually my Master always said that strength comes from the legs…when we’re young the legs are strong and the torso weak. When we get older the legs are weak and the torso strong. Like trees.
Venetian rowing makes the legs strong and the torso light; for this reason it tends to slow down old age and keep us agile and strong.
With rowing, you must hold the oar with force, without squeezing too much, otherwise you stiffen up, you would immediately get tired and have pain in your hands.
You have to be precise in the movements but at the same time employ an appropriate force. A bit like writing on a small piece of paper with a pencil weighing 20 kilos: force and precision, two opposites that need to find balance.
In life, social relations, in whatever we do we should employ the same rule. Being strong and determined, but not stubborn and hardheaded.
Excesses in one direction or the other always lead to a shortcoming.
Holding, not restraining…
How difficult is it to be a gondolier and in general which is the hardest part you have to deal with in your work?
Difficult yes, I’d say above all it’s demanding – physically but especially mentally. Because you’re dealing with an array of situations: with the ferry that causes too many waves and threatens to tip you over, to getting untangled in the canals whilst answering to all the curiosities of the clients. Regarding my job as teacher, the most demanding part is being able to express myself in a way that each person comprehends and assimilates what I’m trying to transmit.
Can you tell me of a fulfilling moment which has happened to you recently?
A blind girl to whom I described the places we were visiting by making her touch the walls and posts, making her perceive the differences of atmosphere from one place and another. Her mother thanked me a lot.
What has Venice given to you and what have you given to this city?
To Venice I’ve given 25 years of my life as a gondolier, trying to be nice with everybody and although it’s somewhat expensive here I won’t abandon her. Venice has given me a job, tranquility, friends. Then it also fills up the soul with beauty wherever you look.
What are your favorite foods and your favorite drink?
Breaded San Pietro (a sea fish) and freezing Ripasso (DOC wine from upper Valpolicella, a prestigious red – editor’s note.)
What music do you listen to and what is the book you’re currently reading?
I listen to all sorts of music apart from reggae. I’m now reading a book about cats by Roberto Allegri, Il mio maestro Zen ha la coda (my Zen master has a tail) and Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) in addition to a medical essay: Jean Pierre Barral, Trauma: An osteopathic approach.
A talent you have and one you’re lacking?
I’ve a sense of the absolute for aesthetics; I lack ponderation.
What have you learnt from life?
This question to Lao-Tzu (one of the greatest sages ever lived: he has written the Tao Te Ching).
Translation by Paolo Witte