If you live in Newport Beach or have spent time on the waters of the harbor, you may have seen us out there, in the north end, rowing in and out of the canals beyond the Newport Boulevard bridge.
We are the gondoliers, we have one of the most unique and interesting jobs in the area. We take our passengers, usually in groups of two, for relaxing rides through some of the more serene areas of the harbor. We aren't always that visible because we often seek out those quiet canals that are so perfect for things like marriage proposals and other romantic gestures.
Our boats are long and grand, built for comfort - not for speed. In a harbor full of white boats, you'd think that a 36-foot black Venetian gondola would stand out, but not everyone sees us, and unless we're singing, they won't hear us because we don't have noisy engines or loud music blasting. No, we create that calm serenity that is so rejuvenating for our clients and because we are somewhat stealthy, the gondoliers and their gondolas are one of Newport's best kept secrets.
Not all of our cruises are romantic, but most of them are. We have folks celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, we have "just because" cruises, there are lots of engagement rings presented on board our boats, and then there are the "I'm sorry" cruises. Another one of those best kept secrets, is that the quickest way out of the doghouse is often by gondola.
The tradition in a gondola is that you have to kiss under every bridge, and we make sure our passengers know it. Here are a few other things I need to point out:
Kiss the person you are sitting next to - in a four passenger gondola, do not kiss someone else's sweetie (we have lifejackets for the expected aftermath of such behavior). And never kiss the gondolier, in the case of this author, he's married to an Italian. Believe me, it would be bad luck.
You don't need the bridges to kiss - they're only there to remind you. When you start needing the bridges, that's when you really need to come see us. In fact we have a marriage counselor who sends us couples on assignment for this reason.
Make the kisses count - you know that "Hi Honey, it's nice to see you" kiss? the obligatory peck? Yeah, that's not the kiss you give on a gondola. The gondola kiss is the kind that is remembered for all the good reasons. No two couples are alike, so I won't pretend to know what's best for each couple. As a gondolier, I prepare my couples for that moment; we approach the first bridge, I tell them about the tradition in a light and fun way, I tell them that it's also tradition for gondoliers in Newport to sing under the bridges, and I sing my very best romantic version of "O Sole Mio" with the acoustics of the bridge echoing romantically. The kiss should match the music, the mood, and the moment.
For the past 19 years I've had the good fortune of serving as a gondolier in Newport Beach, and for the last five years I've maintained a blog on "all things gondola" - aptly named the Gondola Blog (www.gondolagreg.com). Feel free to peruse the Gondola Blog, and look for more writings from a gondolier's perspective here in the future.
And if you're looking for a good place to kiss, remember that in a gondola...You have to kiss under every bridge.