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Saturday, July 24, 1999 Published at 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK


World: Europe

Female gondolier misses the boat

The profession of the gondolier remains an all-male preserve for now

By David Willey in Rome

The gondoliers of Venice, who for centuries have plied their sleek black craft through the canals of the Italian lagoon city, have vetoed the admission of the first woman to apply for the job.

In theory anyone can apply to become a Venetian gondolier - you take an exam, just like applying for a driving licence.

But the 400 gondoliers of Venice, a select and rather wealthy band of oarsmen considering the high cost of taking a gondola these days - upwards of $60 an hour - are accused of being prejudiced against letting women try their hand at propelling their boats.

Years of training

The gondolier steers and rows with a single oar from a platform on the stern of the craft. It requires strength, agility and years of training.

But 30-year-old Alexandra Hai, a film-maker from Hamburg who has settled in Venice, thought she had mastered the craft after practising for three years on one of the gondolas which ferry Venetians and tourists across canals.

But when the time came to take the test to become an official gondolier - the test is run by the Gondoliers' Association - she failed because she bumped into another gondola. There was a stiff wind and the sea was choppy at the time.

All-male preserve

Miss Hai was furious at the examiners' decision and accused the all-male Gondoliers' Association of sexual discrimination.

But the examiners replied that she had failed the test because she had bumped into another boat.

Some of Venice's top oarsmen, who regularly take part in rowing races in the local annual regatta, have also been failed by the examiners when they took the test.

But the local press remains convinced that the gondoliers of Venice are determined to keep their lucrative profession an all-male preserve.



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