Don’t Drink and Paddle: Venice Looks To Tame Unruly Gondoliers

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REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch

Gondolas pass in front of the Danieli hotel at Palazzo Dandolo in Venice October 23, 2011.

The gondoliers of Venice, who often serve as the quintessential symbols of the City of Water, might be facing some strict new rules. A series of reports citing drunken and unruly behavior by the city’s iconic boatmen, which culminated in a YouTube video that showed a hazing incident on the canals, has brought their behavior to the attention of Nicola Falconi, president of the gondoliers’ association.

Posted online last week, the video (which has been removed), showed an aspiring assistant stripping bare and diving into the Grand Canal under pressure from other boatmen. Alcohol was probably involved, Italian news source Ansa reported. On Monday, Falconi proposed to city councilors that gondoliers undergo regular and random drug and alcohol testing. The measure will hopefully curb gondoliers’ unruly activities, he says.

(MORE: Venice’s Hungry Tide)

City councilors are eager to rein in the boatmen, who they say  serve as ambassadors of Venice to the city’s tourists. Earlier this year, an Italian consumer group criticized Venice’s gondoliers for charging excessive prices to tourists. One gondolier was caught on tape asking 400 euros for a 40-minute gondola ride. Despite recent controversy surrounding the boatmen, they still embody the romantic tradition in the city of canals. Gondoliers have been criss-crossing the waterways of Venice since 1094, ferrying tourists through the miles of canals that traverse the city like latticework. With gondola rides so popular and some canals quite narrow, the maneuvering isn’t always easy — especially when the gondoliers aren’t exactly sober.