|Click all photos to "embiggen"|
- John Ruskin, "Modern Painters," 1888
So romantic to think of gliding along the narrow canals in a gondola beneath a sunset sky, slipping beneath arched bridges where, in the shadows, we exchange a kiss.
Alas, it's a long way from Southern California to the fabled canals of Venezia.
But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy our own gondola ride.
Naples Island, in Alamitos Bay where the San Gabriel River meets the Pacific Ocean, is a man-made island. And just like its rival, Venice, California, Naples was a real-estate development. Conceived in 1903 by Arthur Parsons, it featured Mediterranean-style architecture, promenades, and winding canals plied by gondoliers giving rides to tourists. Naples Island is in the city of Long Beach, California.
|Historic photo of gondolas on Alamitos, Los Angeles Public Library|
"As the gondola brought us back along the Grand Canal, we watched the double line of palaces between which we passed reflect the light and angle of the sun upon their pink flanks, and alter with them, seeming not so much private habitations and historic buildings as a chain of marble cliffs at the foot of which one goes out in the evening in a boat to watch the sunset."
Marcel Proust, "Remembrance of Things Past" Vol. II.
We arrived at the pier just before 5:00 pm on a January Saturday. The sun was setting and its rays beamed a golden light at the houses across the still water. We packed a small picnic of cheese, fruit, and a bottle of Brut Rose sparkling wine.
Our gondolier was Micah. He wore the traditional striped shirt and be-ribboned straw hat. A high school senior, he told us of his hopes to study oceanography or marine biology in college. He pointed out the sights as he rowed us through the narrow Rivo Alto Canal, and reminded us that it was good luck for couples to kiss as they rode beneath each bridge.
The boat was comfortable, with a padded couch for us to nestle close together on, and a raised place for our ice-bucket and snacks. A kerosene lantern was mounted in front, for visibility to other boaters.
As you might expect, such a unique and picturesque community is quite an affluent one, and the housing values are quite high.
Why's the Pucci Palace flaring
Like a beacon to the blast?"
- Robert Browning, "In a Gondola"
The houses here are a jumble of architectural styles, built so close together they seemed to rub shoulders. Much of the original 1903 Naples was destroyed in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, although a few older homes remained. Mock Spanish and Italian villas rise next to Cape Cod shingled cottages.
|House with Moorish-style architecture|
|The oldest house on Naples Island|
As it got darker, the kerosene lantern on the front of our gondola glowed against the water.
|Yes, it's a pirate statue on the upper left embankment|
With a pricking of yellow stars.
There is no moon,
And the waves push darkly against the prow
Of the gondola...."
- Amy Lowell, 1777
We emerged from the narrow canal onto the placid water of the bay again, and back to the docks - and back to the real world.
This weekend is our 25th wedding anniversary. I surprised [The Man I Love] by booking this gondola ride. He didn't know where we were going until we arrived at the dock.
If you have a longing for a romantic interlude and you can't fly to Venezia - come ride the gondolas of Naples Island, Long Beach.