Riding in Boats with Boys

“So you pull up on your boat and the girls just jump in?” I questioned Gianni.

I thought I was trying to console a friend’s twenty-year old son after his recent break-up, however his wisdom was greater than mine. I was giving him the “There’s plenty of fish in the sea” speech, with a few entertaining antidotes, but he was one step ahead of me.

“You see, here in Venice it’s easy to get over a girl,” Gianni continued with the utmost authority. “You loose one and there’s another five hundred arriving at the train station. I won’t be alone for long.”


Hard at work, Venetian-style


Ok, he had a point. In San Miguel Mexican men say the same thing about our bus station; however, it delivers only 6-8 females a day, and that’s in high season. In Venice the odds are better and the backdrop every woman’s dream.

“I ride round in my boat,” Gianni explained, “until I see something I like. It usually takes about 15 minutes.”



I was familiar with the concept. In my time guys cruised our local K-Mart parking lot. They looked cool and casual—“Hey, just happened to be driving by after a great party” when in earnest they were checking out the scene and the night’s potential. Here, our ever-popular K-Mart parking lot translates to their numerous romantic canals. (Women don’t stand a chance.)


A pick-up vehicle? Probably not.


“Ok, let me get this straight,” I said, trying to understand Gianni’s exact method and my adopted island’s unique culture. “You see a cute girl, park your nice boat (trust me, it’s a very nice boat), chat a little, and then say—Get in, I’ll take you for a ride.”

“Yep, exactly,” Gianni answered with a large grin.

“They just get in your boat?”

“Always. They always get in my boat.”


Hanging out on the not-so-high sea


A seafaring nation since its inception, Venetian men have most likely used Gianni’s technique throughout the centuries. At first they wooed women with dugout canoes and a sturdy, strategically placed reed for fishing…food, and the ability to fish being one of the main concerns of the day.

Then gondolas arrived on the scene. These sleek, black boats made the men look a little sexier. Standing beside the vessel’s decorative forked tail, holding a slim handcrafted oar, they tried their luck with many an innocent maiden. (Remember, this was way before those not so appealing striped T-shirts dictated gondolier fashion.) The girls probably though, “He’s cute, he must be prosperous.” They got in the boat.


18th-Century Gondola


On our first day of Italian class when we were asked to introduce ourselves, two of my fellow six students gushed, “I just moved to Venice…and I’m engaged…to a gondolier.” That was 1/3 of the class. Like all the women before them, they got in the boat.

So, I guess Gianni, with almost a thousand years of history to back him up, knew what he was talking about.

Have I gotten in the boat? I’m saving that story for the book.



Sarde in Saor also has a history dating back to the beginning of the Republic. It’s the most classic of Venetian dishes. Historically, onions were used as a source of vitamin C for sailors who were susceptible to scurvy. Marinated in vinegar and sugar for an intense sweet and sour flavor, the onions can be stored for weeks. They are traditionally served with sardines; however, if you prefer a modern take on the dish try any type of light fish or even chicken (grilled eggplant for vegetarians)


Sardines at Rialto Market


Sarde in Saor  (Venetian-style Sweet and Sour Sardines)

from Saveur Magazine

(this recipe first appeared in the March 2012 issue, with Dana Bowen’s story Good and Plenty.)


Serves 6

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup raisins

2 pounds sardines, cleaned

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup olive oil

1 large white onion, sliced thin

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup pine nuts

1. Combine wine and raisins in a bowl. Soak for 30 minutes; drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat broiler to high. Season sardines with salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Broil, until cooked, about 2 minutes; cool.

2. Heat oil in a 4-qt. pan over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook until browned, 10-12 minutes. Add vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 6-8 minutes. Stir in raisins, nuts, and salt and pepper; let cool. Place half the sardines on bottom of an 8 x 8 inch dish; cover with half the onions. Place remaining sardines on top; cover with onions. Marinate in refrigerator for 4 hours.


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