Your story – starting from the beginning
I was born in Venice, in Ciovere. When you cross Ponte della Libertà coming from the mainland, take a look on your left, you will see some pink houses, they look new (they are from the 80s). Behind it, you have Ciovere. Back in the days it’s where textiles were left hanging out to dry. I was born in the area of Cannaregio, into a simple Venetian family, , speaking Venetian dialect – my mother tongue. I have an older brother who’s four years older.
I went to school up to the age of 20, now I’m 34. As soon as I finished high school I started working. I worked for a couple of years in tourism (I took foreing-language studies) then I flew to Spain on my own. I was there six for six months, I was a bit of a hippie back then and I ended up spending all the money I had.
I came back, I went to college for a couple of years – I was working part-time to support myself. I couldn’t see a future for me. I was studying literature and Hispanic-American languages (Spanish and Portuguese), very beautiful, I liked it, I would have gladly continued but I just didn’t have what it took! However, I did learn spanish and portueguese all the same.
Then I met a gondoliere, at a karaoke night I would always go to, I was good at it. We became friends and he asked me if I was interested in becoming a gondolier. One day I called him up, he just told me ‘bring some black trousers and I’ll teach you’.
I so learned to row gondola.
Alongside this, I was musician and I had plenty of time to play drums. I rehearsed in a studio (in La Misericordia) for about 10 years. I was there eight hours a day, I used to play eight hours a day! Well, let’s just say my ears are not what they were anymore… I can hear a constant buzzing on both.
Nowadays I started singing, actually I’ve been writing songs for years. Now I only write in Italian and no longer in English, because I find it easier to be a big fish in an aquarium rather than one on the ocean. Also, english is not my mother tongue, I actually never lived in an English speaking country.
At the same time I produce my art I want it to be understood. That is why, I assure you, I speak very easily.
Why did you decide to start writing songs? You could’ve just composed the music or either just play it… what is it that inspired you?
When I think about it, it was precisely that something blossomed, which could not stay in limbo. I had already written songs for my former rockabilly band, I remember people would be singing them at our concerts, years after we started playing. Venice is small, you know…
When I was little, in elementary school, I wrote nursery rhymes…
Do your parents attend your concerts?
They used to, sometimes. Now they are actually very happy, because according to them I finally got a job. In the meantime I became a gondoliere, I still hadn’t told you.
Speaking of music, I almost finished a record, which is my first. I don’t know yet if I’ll get a label, Marco Forieri also played in it… let’s see. You know, now a lot of records are self-produced. I play with Bebo, so we still have the studio available at La Misericordia. We were joined by other great musicians such as Federico Nalesso, Maurizio Tiozzo, Luca Bortoluzzi, Corrado Battorti, Maf Mafal Diaw and Gerardo Balestrieri (a famous songwriter, he also lives in Venice: by the way, you should also interview him!). They all came along and played for free.
The record has 11 tracks, from two to five minutes each, plus a ghost track. It’s called ‘Sottoportego’. After a comment that we made to each other one day, we wrote a song that goes as such ‘I thought it had stopped raining but instead it was a covered walkway’. When we play it now, the audience gets on stage and comes up with other lyrics, other verses. I like the interaction with the audience. And I like the moment that I’m living.
Did you become a gondoliere because you like it or in order to make your parents happy?
Because I like it. I was working in four-star hotels, wearing ties, a clean cut guy… And I also used to work in Murano, giving tours with a microphone to a hundred people about was going on in a furnace. This kind of business is not for me, I’m simply not a seller. I like being outdoors, singing, I’m a carefree spirit – so then being a gondoliere is the perfect fit for me.
So do you sing in the gondola?
I do if I feel like it and usually I always do!
I just started being a gondoliere, only three months ago. Now I work the gondolino in San Toma (a kind of public gondola of ancient tradition, which serves to cross the Grand Canal in various spots across town for just a few coins, 70 cents for the locals and two euros for the tourists, in order to avoid significant detours on foot as there only three bridges over it: Scalzi, Rialto, Accademia).
Women ‘gondoliere’? (Slow Word’s birthing interview has been with the first of this kind, Alex)
If I were to work with Giorgia (the first female gondoliere to be ‘approved’ by the association) or Alexandra, we would become friends (I presume). I don’t know about the others… some have the elegance of a pirate, which I like… and a woman would maybe think, ‘I ended up in the wrong place’.
Apart from anything else, being a gondolier is very hard work, especially where I work, at the Hotel Danieli. There are peaks of great fatigue: in a span of two seconds you have to show a lot of strength. You have to be an athlete. And sometimes it may not be feasible for a woman.
I haven’t joined the association of gondoliers in order to change it, and I don’t even feel like judging.
Thirty years from now will it be possible? I think it is similar to the issue of gay families adopting children. Of course it will, but maybe we’re not ready just yet, but who am I to talk about this, I’m not even a father.
(he’s always playing the guitar all the while answering the questions, but on this one he stops and turns serious)
What does Venice give to you and what to you give in return?
I’ll reply in a second, just allow me this digression: I really like that there are students, although they are much more inexperienced that we used to. Young people play computers not musical instruments. This is quite a shift. I’m a Neanderthal man by comparison, I go away with my strings.
James Brown says that the music played with the machines, because it is programmed, it’s like canned food. If you find good food around then good, but if there is only canned food available, you forget the taste of real food. Brown came from the streets. I like him.
Venice gives me visual beauty, in every corner and in every small calle. It gives me silence, which I love (and that is something special when you play music) and let’s see if we can manage do improve the scene somehow, with a little more cultural movement.
I give to Venice many smiles. I don’t feel so important as to give back something to Venice. Perhaps the good news is that I get on people’s nerves (laughs!)
Well you really are the prototype of a freelancer…
The more you work the more you earn, but even when you don’t work you get something out of it. Not because they pay you, don’t get me wrong, but because you have time for yourself and that it is already a gain. If you have something to support yourself than that’s better… I took a vine coming down towards me, I just grabbed on it firmly. I found out that I’m a very strong character.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
It all depends whether I meet a woman or not… I don’t think I will leave Venice, but I think I will travel a lot. I would like to work very very very hard, save some money (I’m not a big spender!) and then leave.
I’m still hoping to fall in love, I do.
Ten years from now I see myself always young and traveling. I’m still very fit, and I hope that I will stay healthy.
The book you are reading at the moment?
The autobiography of James Brown: he believes he’s a superhuman. There are super-humans.
I don’t have an academic background when it comes to music, I just feel it inside. To me he is like Beethoven or Mozart. He’s from the 20th century, he created the revolution. He invented the modern sound along with Bob Marley, Jimie Hendrix, Miles Davis. He makes music with a chord only, repeating it until the end. In a hypnotic fashion. If you think about it, the music kids dance to today in clubs is the same one. He often said, they tried to imitate my sound, but they weren’t able to do it. There needs to be an awareness of rhythm, emphasis, a cultural identification. You need to have your feet on the ground, to do things with your hands, to breathe.
What are you listening to now?
I love songwriters, I’m not a songwriter, I’m something less, some people don’t have a mouth, they have a harp. I love Italian singers, such as Piero Ciampi. I heard him saying things like, ‘that punch I once gave you is a gesture that I don’t forgive myself for, but now the nose is different, I created it, not God’.
I like all music, really. I am a musician.
Besides having recently become a gondolier, what is a nice thing that happened to you recently?
Many, for instance the fact that some great artists are playing on my record. Marco Forieri, for example, has played in Sanremo and he also used to play with Pitura Freska and Sky-J. I feel important, gratified, a bit less borderline than the avarage musician really.
What you like to eat?
Fruit, because it’s ready.
Because it’s there ready to be eaten not because it’s healthy? (laughter)
Oh, yes, I also like eating beer. The good one. Lager, Pils.
When it comes to cooking, I make risotto, but I have never really applied myself in the kitchen. I prefer to go to a music shop and buy two different stringed instruments on the same day. Something highly not recommended by the best psychologists!
(he starts playing the guitar again, melodies between Janis Joplin and sitar sounds: I never noticed they were so close and complementary. Meanwhile, I make more tea, this time a black aromatic australian bush: he does not have any favorite ones, he’s absorbed by the instrument)
How did you meet Stefania, the restorer, whom we interviewed also and who advised us to interview you?
Back when I was singing with my other band, the All Inside.
A talent that you have and one that you miss?
I’m great at making a fool of myself, I’m incredibly talented when it comes to that. I should have been a resort entertainer.
You know I’m a drummer, I’m like a monkey! I would like to have a stronger ear for music rather than rhythmic. The perfect ear to understand if the notes are growing or declining.
Most of the people we interview would like to be musicians… actually all of them.
According to you, if they were to do it for a living, would they still like it?
Everybody loves music (surely at different extents). However, there are some people with a talent for it, you notice it from how they move, perfectly feeling the rhythm, and it is inexplicable to me that they don’t study it.
You need some talent to begin. And then it all about perseverance. Have you ever tried to play a trumpet? I think it is something like being on Mount Everest. There are instruments that are very difficult to play, more than the guitar.
I play guitar, bass, mandolin, ukulele, and other stringed instruments from the Middle East. I play drums very well, although I haven’t trained in years. She’s my girl, we’ve been married.
Do something to live slowly?
I live in Venice, it can’t get slower than that. I woke up to an alarm clock going off at dawn most of my life, so now even without an alarm I wake up early. I can get a lot done, I like to do things, and then I may talk about them.
Music is a great gift, my great fortune.
Except when you were writing nursery rhymes in elementary school, when did you realize that music was all you needed?
During finals in high school, they took notice of what I had done in elementary school and in junior high and asked me whether I was still writing poems. Now I write songs, I replied.
The other year I started this songwriting project (with a small s, though!). And I was reminded about this story during the exams. When I played with the cool band, and I played the drums, nobody stopped on the street. Now they recognize me. It’s been a year and a half that I have been playing with Fuori Bordo and I get stopped for two or three songs, which are actually very nice!
Translation by Michelangelo Miccolis
If you wish to read another stunning story of a gondoliere (and also teacher and poet: we have his verses, as Butterfly, in our literary section) on Slow Words…: