In Venice, a Young Boatman Steers a Course of His Own
On the afternoon of Oct. 23, 1683, a young Venetian boatman named Giovanni Battista Picozzi, or Giacomo Baroni Bevilacqua, stepped onto a crowded shore in the heart of Venice. His feet, encased in leather boots, and his right arm in a sling, he moved slowly toward the boat he’d left that morning in the small stone quay at San Marco. As he reached it he looked up and down the dock and found no one he knew. Then he hopped onto the craft and pulled himself up into the cockpit, where he made a tight, fast knot with his left hand and fastened it to the gunwale with his right. He slid the rope up and over the stern and into a small pulley where it hung just inside the doorway.
It was 8:45, two hours after sunrise, and the wind was strong but calm. The gondola, Picozzi’s first craft, was tied to a gondoliere holding a paddle at the oars. They had finished a night’s sleep at the Venetian military camp on the island of Murano where the gondolier, a young Venetian named Giovanni Zaguri, had shared their sleeping quarters. The next day Giacomo was to return to the camp with a crate of wine and two boats.
Picozzi was a young man of 23 years old and a boatman, not simply a passenger, and it was his first time in a gondola. But he was not entirely new to the world of seafaring. He had also served in a gondola as a child and had learned how to sail while living on the island of Burano, the closest to Venice where the Venetians made their salt-based, open-water salt-meadows and salt pans. A natural sailor, Picozzi had made several voyages on this type of boat since he was three years old. He could be found in the yards of the fishermen who fished with boats at the port of Bur