I do not recall the first time I entered Saverio’s’ workshop of rowlocks, maybe because it felt very familiar, as if I had always known that place. But maybe it was also the smell of the freshly carved wood that gets into your brain and welcomes you warmly. Everyone likes it. Similar to when you sit in front of a fireplace and you get hypnotized. It feels good. Look at the steps to get in his workshop 🙂
Saverio and Pietro, his talented assistant, make the oars for the rowboats in Venice, not just for gondolas. And they create the unique, elegant rowlocks that help the oars touch the water and govern the movement of a boat in the lagoon. The Venetian rowlock has a very original design: here we call it “forcola”.
The forcola differs according to your height, your strength, your boat, according to where you row, by the prow, by the stern. It differs if you are racing or if you just want to lullaby around in the canals of Venice. It adjusts to your body and that of the boat you row…
Saverio knows how much I am happy to show his work, how we all get enchanted by the slow movements to shape the wood. I love the tools, especially the sawbow, it is exactly what you see in the mosaics in St Mark’s church when Noah built the ark. Or it is the same sawbow lying on the ground in Tintoretto’s majestic Crucifixion in the Scuola di San Rocco. Tintoretto must have loved oarmakers, even if at the bottom of the Golgotha he imagined a whole set of hammers, planes and sawbows 🙂
I am sure though Saverio knows that when I pay him a visit, I always feel like intruding in somebody’s intimate home. I am not sure how many of us when talking about our place of work could say it feels like home. Well, personally, I feel privileged being Venice my place of work as it was when I studied at the university here. But working and home in our modern societies tend to be at the opposite ends. Here is Saverio carving the legs of his table at home 🙂
And more personally, Saverio’s workshop reminds me of my grandfather’s. His workshop was up there, in a room under the roof of our house at the Giudecca. Old, steep wooden steps led us up there. And a gigantic heavy door locked that place, where only a couple of small gables let some light in. One of the windows connected to a huge cage where he kept many pet canaries. And there, as when he was out in the lagoon rowing and fishing, his unquiet soul found calm in creating things with his own hands. There he imagined and made our toys. There he carved his own rowlocks.
Honestly, I did not like my forcola at first. When as a child I went out rowing in the lagoon with my grandfather on our blue sandalo, that forcola did not seem to help me at all! I pushed and when feathering the oar, there the forcola, suddenly open as a free hand, let the oar fall in the water and my poor arms struggled uselessly to hold it, against the water. A hundred times (yes, I don’t learn fast this type of things) there it was, the oar floating in the calm water of the lagoon, my grandfather patiently helping me put it back on the forcola… You are right, why is it that Venetian rowlocks do not have a lock? Well, the day I stopped looking at the forcola and moved my gaze ahead of me, pushing, feathering, pushing, feathering, sliding on the surface of the water in silence, there I forgot about the forcola ready to share magical moments with my grandfather. Just as we do not need to watch our fingers when we write.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy