The Silent Gondoliers by William GoldmanThe Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman

The Silent Gondoliers

byWilliam Goldman

Paperback | January 2, 2001

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The return of a beloved classic,
from the bestselling author of The Princess Bride!

Once upon a time, the gondoliers of Venice possessed the finest voices in all the world. But, alas, few remember those days--and fewer still were ever blessed to hear such glorious singing. No one since has discovered the secret behind the sudden silence of the golden-voiced gondoliers. No one, it seems, but S. Morgenstern. Now Morgenstern recounts the sad and noble story of the ambitions, frustrations, and eventual triumph of Luigi, the gondolier with the goony smile.

Here, in this brilliantly illustrated exposition of the surprising facts behind this all-but-forgotten mystery, S. Morgenstern reveals the fascinating truths about John the Bastard, Laura Lorenzini, the centenarian Cristaldi the Pickle, Enrico Caruso, Porky XII, the Great Sorrento, the Queen of Corsica--and of course, the one and only Luigi. His tale will captivate you as much as his song!
William Goldman is an Academy Award–winning author of screenplays, plays, memoirs, and novels. His first novel, The Temple of Gold (1957), was followed by the script for the Broadway army comedy Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole (1961). He went on to write the screenplays for many acclaimed films, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance ...
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Title:The Silent GondoliersFormat:PaperbackDimensions:128 pages, 8.2 × 5.53 × 0.36 inPublished:January 2, 2001Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345442636

ISBN - 13:9780345442635

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Read from the Book

Until his first day at Gondoliers School, nobody knew that Luigi wasanything out of the ordinary.The reason nobody knew he was anything out of the ordinary was this:nobody really knew Luigi at all. Oh, he was popular enough. He waseighteen and slender and taller than most, with black hair and eyes. Hewould have been handsome except he had this smile the Italians called"tontone" which is hard to translate--there is no exact equivalent inEnglish. The closest I can come is this this: "goony." He had a goonysmile. He was strong but very gentle, and no one could ever rememberhis having done a mean thing since he was five and, in truth, itcouldn't have been that mean, since no one could remember what exactlyhe did back then. "Oh, yes," his mother would say; "Luigi has a finedisposition and except for once when he was five, I have no complaints." When pressured as to what he had done she said, "Oh, something, youknow how boys are."Gondoliers' School deals strictly with seamanship, and it is athree-year course. That's the minimum. Some young men take five oreeven six years to get their Gondoliers Diploma. The school is run by asmall staff, all retired gondoliers, and it is an honor to be a teacher. The only requirement to be on the staff is this: you must not just be aretired gondolier (preferably with thirty-five years or more ofservice), you must also be bad tempered. Only the cruelest quality forteaching positions.The reason is this: it is extraordinarily difficult to make a gondola gosmoothly, and only experts get diplomas. If you had a sweet-naturedfellow running the operation, he might pass a young man who wasn't goodenough and once word got out that there was an incompetent gondolierworking the Grand Canal, rumors would surely spread that the caliber ofgondoliers was down. The reason the rumor would surely spread is this:everyone in Venice is jealous of the gondoliers. It is the finest jobin the city if not all Europe, and the highest standards must be upheldat all times.The reason it is difficult to make a gondola run smoothly is that thegondola is weird-looking boat. It is very long--twenty-five feet--andvery heavy--thirteen hundred pounds. It is also shaped like the bottomof a coffee saucer, like a mild "U." The shape is necessary because thegondolier stands on the back of the boat and steers with his single oar,and if the gondola were shaped, say like a canoe, the minute thegondolier stood on the back his weight would make the boat capsize.There are many tests along the way during the three years, but forcenturies, there has only been one final exam--"Tombolon Corner." Again,there is no exact equivalent for "Tombolon"--the closest I can come, Iam embarrassed to say, is this: "SPLAT." SPLAT Corner is the finalexam.SPLAT Corner got its name because so many gondolas go SPLAT when theytry and navigate it. It is in a very out-of-the-way part of Venice, one,in fact, that few natives even know about. The two narrowest canals inVenice intersect, and the total turning space has been measured exactlyat seven feet eight inches.To take a twenty-five-foot boat and make it turn a corner seven feeteight inches wide is not the easiest thing in the world to do.On the first day of Gondoliers' School, in order to frighten thestudents, the cruelest teacher available takes all the young men andsays, "Follow me." The students don't know where they are going, butafter an hour's trip, the teacher suddenly stops, and points, and says,"That, you miserable idiots, is your final exam."One-third of each class, on the average, decides then and there to seekother form of occupation.On Luigi's first day, Luigi and the four other would-be gondoliers tookthe trek to SPLAT Corner and the teacher stopped and pointeddramatically and said, "Look, you peanut-brained imbeciles, look at yourfinal exam."Two of the class decided immediately to open souvenir stands in thePiazza San Marco and left without a word. A third turned deadly pale. The fourth, the one nearest Luigi, began trembling out of control as herepeated the word, "Impossible, impossible," again and again. To try andmake the poor fellow feel better, Luigi whispered, "Perhaps he's justtrying to frighten us, it can't be that difficult."Unfortunately, sound travels over water and they were standing by thewaters of the canal. The teacher that day happened to be John theBastard, by far the cruelest man ever to grace the board of directors ofthe Gondoliers' School."Luigi," he snapped.Now Luigi turned deadly pale."Not so hard, eh?" said John the Bastard. "I heard you and I'm notsurprised--you've got a bad reputation--everyone knows you did somethingmean when you were five.""I was only trying--" Luigi began. " I was only trying to make him feelbetter" was what he meant to say. but John the Bastard hollered"Silence!'Luigi stopped his thought."You think we're jokes at Gondoliers' School, isn't that right, Luigi? You think SPLAT Corner is easy, isn't that so, Luigi? He stood directlyin front of Luigi now, and he bellowed: "Well, we'll just see. All ofyou stay right here."He left them at attention and when he came back, he was rowing his ownpersonal gondola. All black (gondolas are black--by law) and shiny. Hegot out and gestured for Luigi to get in. "See how easy it is, smartguy--"Luigi didn't understand and said so."I want you to make the turn at SPLAT Corner," John the bastard said. "If it's not so hard--that's what you said, I'm just quoting you--youshould be able to do it without scratching my gondola. And now he madea horrible smile. "And if you do scratch it--your punishment will be toshine my gondola every night after class for the next three years. Orfive years. Or however long it takes you to graduate, and since I'myour teacher I can promise you I don't think you'll ever graduate."Luigi gulped and stood alone in John the Bastard's boa, holding the oar. He looked at SPLAT Corner, all of seven feet eight inches at its widestpoint. He looked at the gondola, all twenty-five feet in length. Thenhe closed his eyes and shook his head.(I should add at this point that the normal training procedure atGondolier's School is this: you don't even think about attempting SPLATCorner until midway through the second year. Then you begin with alittle boat the size of a bathtub. Then, when you've mastered that, youget a slightly bigger bathtub. Then a rowboat. Then a bigger rowboat. Then a small canoe, a large canoe, etc. Even with all this training,only three candidates in this century have made the SPLAT Corner turnthe first time without severely damaging their gondolas.)"Go!" John the Bastard shouted.Luigi kind of zipped around SPLAT Corner and out of sight with a foot ofclearance on each side.John the Bastard's immediate instinct was to flee to the famousGondolier's Tavern and have a gallon of beer to settle his nerves. Buthis reputation for toughness was well earned, and he managed to shout"Blind Luck!"Luigi, out of sight around the corner, spoke very loudly. "I couldn'tquite make out what you said.""I said come back here!" John the Bastard cried.Luigi returned through SPLAT Corner--only there wasn't room to turn theboat totally around so this time he did it backwards.At the sight of his gondola coming toward him in reverse, John theBastard sort of came unglued. He muttered and sputtered and spittlecame to his lips and he blinked his eyes and shook his head beforemanaging to get out, "Two gallons of beer, at least two gallons ofbear." Then he turned and raced of in the direction of the Gondolier'sTavern.Class was definitely over for the day.How did Luigi manage such an extraordinary feat? For Luigi, it wasn'textraordinary at all. Remember I mentioned before that no one knows himwell? The reason for that was this: Luigi had secrets.He had known all his life he would someday be a gondolier; his familyhad been in that occupation for hundreds of years. And he loved hisfather's boat. Nothing pleased him more than sitting and watching thepalaces go by as his father rowed smoothly with the single oar.Luigi never needed much sleep and when he was seven or eight, he used toget up before dawn and creep out and sit in his father's gondola andimagine great voyages. These imaginings grew as he did, and when he wasthirteen, he first had the courage to take the boat for little rides byhimself. While the rest of Venice slept.By the time he was fifteen his little rides grew longer, and one day hebecame so absorbed that he realized too late that the sun soon to rise.He knew he could never get home undiscovered unless he tried someshortcuts.One of those shortcuts was SPLAT Corner.Luigi didn't know its name then. All he knew was that he'd found thisterrific narrow place for cutting the time home in half, and so greatwas his fear of his father's discovery what he'd done, he just wentthrough it without much though.From then on, he always took the shortcut. For five years he'd beenrowing in semi-darkness along the black canals, always getting safelyhome in time, tying up the boat, scooting up to bed before anyonesuspected.The fact that what he had done was fairly unusual was something he neverrealized until that first, soon to be famous, day in class. (There wastalk of nothing else in the Gondolier's Tavern for weeks. At one pointit was suggested to pass Luigi then and there--since it was obvious youcouldn't teach him anything about the gondola, why try and teach himanything about the gondola, why try and teach him about the gondola? but ultimately the decision was to have him stay the full three years. No one had ever graduated in less, and gondoliers love tradition.)As I said, Luigi had secrets. This, the dark silent pre-dawn rides, wasa little secret. Luigi, like the rest of us, had lots of littlesecrets.

Editorial Reviews

"This inventive, offbeat fable has a touch of magic about it."
--Los Angeles Times

"Where The Princess Bride was lightheartedly brutal, this story is gently whimsical, well-complemented by Paul Giovanopoulos's zany drawings.
--San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle