|John Synco, the Gig Harbor Gondoliere|
If you live in and around Gig Harbor, you may have seen John Synco, the Gig Harbor Gondoliere, cruising the Harbor with happy customers thrilled to experience an authentic Venetian gondola ride without having to leave town. Since Synco started serving the Harbor with his new service in September, he has been featured in numerous print and online news outlets, including KOMO TV, The New Tribune and several Gig Harbor newspapers.
Although his gondola came from Venice, and John has more than 10 years of practice and training in piloting Venetian boats, until recently he lacked one final touch of authenticity – a true “cappello da gondoliere.” He wanted a straw hat made by Giuliana Longo, a renowned specialist who supplies the gondoliers of Venice (Venezia in Italian). She has a shop near the Rialto Bridge and is vice-president of El Felze, a cultural association in Venezia “founded to protect the ancient crafts related to the construction of the gondola and the clothing of the gondolier.”
Because the hats are delicate and expensive, Longo does not ship them, so John needed to go to Venezia to get one – or he needed someone to get one for him. That’s where I came into the picture. John related his problem to Don Dosa, an officer of the Tacoma Sons of Italy, of which I am also a member. Don knew that I traveled to Italy regularly, so he let me know of John’s need. By good fortune, I had already planned a two-week trip to Tuscany in early November, so I contacted John to see if I could help.
John already knew exactly the type, size and ribbon color that he wanted, and I was able to use my Italian bank account to transfer the money to Giuliana to pre-order the hat. We were told it would be ready by Nov. 1. Then came the issue of how to get the hat from Venezia to Toscana. Lucy and I have close friends, Steve and Patti, who live in Strà, between Padova and Venezia. Their son-in-law, Neemias, works at a hotel in Venezia, so we contacted him to see if he could arrange to pick up the hat. Then we would drive to Strà Nov. 9 to help celebrate Steve’s birthday, pick up the hat and leave the next day,
|Neemias makes the hat exchange at Steve and Patti's house, just in time.|
It sounded like a perfect plan, but it almost fell apart when we found out Neemias works the night shift at the hotel, and he couldn’t get to Giuliana’s shop during its open hours. However, he found a way around that problem, calling Giuliana and asking if she could deliver it to the hotel where he worked. The hat made it to the hotel in time for Neemias to get it and bring it to us just before we had to leave on the morning of Nov. 10.
From Strà, the hat went in our car with us to Montecarlo and then to the airport at Pisa. It went on-board as my personal carry-on item to London, Newark (where we slept overnight in the airport) and Seattle. I brought it home to Gig Harbor Friday, Nov. 13 – unfortunately not in time for John to take it with him to the gondola national competition in Newport, California, on Nov. 14-15. However, Lucy and I met John for the first time today, and we were able to deliver his well-traveled hat. When he put it on next to his gondola, Nelly, with the water and boats of the harbor in the back, he looked the part of gondoliere perfectly.
“Now I have to retake all my publicity photos,” he said. He has been rowing hat-less this fall because he didn’t want to wear anything but the authentic cap. “I was using a fake hat for about a minute. I am Facebook friends with Giuliana, and she saw me wearing it and commented that it was ‘non bello.’ ”
It was a crisp November day, and John had Nelly partially covered with a tarp, but we could see that she is bellissima, a true Italian beauty. Although John gives gondola rides year-around, Lucy and I decided we will wait until warmer weather to take our first Gig Harbor gondola ride and see the hat, and John, in action.