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First used in medieval Venice as a deftly maneuverable getaway boat, the gondola evolved over the centuries into a floating pleasure palace, bedecked in silk, that facilitated the romantic escapades of the Venetian elite. Today, the gondola wears black—a gleaming, elegant hue, and is manned by robust gondolieri in black-and-white-striped shirts and straw hats. A tourist favorite, the gondola has never ceased to be a part of authentic Venice. Each boat’s 280 pieces are carefully fashioned in a maestro’s workshop—though Leon also recounts a tale of an American friend who attempted to make a gondola all on his own. The feat took five years and countless do-overs. But the gondola is a work of art well worth the labor. And once its arched prow pushes off from the dock, the single Venetian at its oar just might break out in a barcarole, a popular Italian boat song. The best of these songs, as timeless as the allure of the gondola itself, are compiled into an accompanying CD.