• Nicoletta Fornaro

The alternative life of Paolo, a Venetian who chose to live on a boat


How many times have you heard that the only true way to experience Venice is by boat? Well, it's true, a city surrounded by water that made its fortune thanks to ship voyages and trade. Sailors and captains of the past would spend most of their lives onboard, either fighting foreign enemies or trying to bring home some sort of loot, but anyway totally immersed in the so-called sea-life.

Today, not all Venetians own a boat, but for those who have it, it's more than just a means of transport, I'd say it's like an eternal lover, the one they will never cheat on and they will always be willing to go to, so able to make them feel free and forget about earthly problems. I say lover because, in the end, after a day onboard most Venetians return to the comfort of their homes. But there is one boy, a dear friend, who fell so in love with the sea to leave the idea of a supposedly 'normal' life behind, bought a small sailing boat and chose to live in an alternative manner. His name is Paolo and today we're going to spend a few hours with him.

I have known him all my life, my mum and his parents are neighbours and we used to meet in the streets of the Lido nearly everyday. But honestly, I had no idea of how nice and full of resources he was until today. We met at 11, I reached him at the Diporto in Sant'Elena, where Indiana, his boat, is moored. His warm smile and sincere kindness made me feel immediately at ease and from the moment I stepped in I knew our day was going to be great.

His boat is quite small and I couldn't help noticing how every corner is optimised to gain space. His bed is right under the bow, with some recovered shelves on the corners where he leaves part of his clothes. Before the forepeak, a small bathroom, consisting of toilet and sink. No space for a proper shower, in fact he uses the shared ones offered by the sailing club. Obviously, there were only the essential things a person needs: towels, toothbrush, sponge, soap and toilet paper. The biggest area is below deck, again minimal and necessarily tidy. Paolo really impressed me, he organised everything very neatly: a nice wooden table where he sometimes hosts up to 4 people, some shelves with books and old objects, a pair of binoculars, three compasses and a bronze plate depicting the lion of Saint Mark's. He showed me his cupboards and how he stores dishes, glasses and cutlery, his tiny fridge and the movable stoves. He also showed me how that the stoves are like a rocket-chair, movable, so if you are cooking while sailing there is no risk of a fire spread!

I was curious to learn about how he copes in winter, when it's damp and cold. So he told me that he uses an electrical heater and has to wait about one hour before the house gets warm and at that point he pointed at another -much bigger- boat and said that one day he will buy something similar. "You see, on a boat like that you really have everything: two showers, a proper heating system that in less than 20 minutes heats up the entire space and a big kitchen with an oven" he explained. Then he made us coffee and suggested to leave the shipyard and go around the lagoon. How could I object?

The day was fantastic, sunny and warm but with a light breeze. Perfect. We went towards Punta Sabbioni, passing in front of Riviera San Nicolò (where I took you last week, remember?), the former Sant'Andrea fortress and the two seawalls, until we stopped and dropped he anchor. That was the nicest moment: Paolo opened a bottle of beer, rolled himself a sigarette and shared with me some of his passions and lots of sea anecdotes. The one that most impressed me was the legend according to which anchovies were once stars and that's why they all run in masses when a big torch is lighten, or that seagulls are sacred and that all boats carry a female name because women were not allowed on ships, with the exclusion of the wooden figurehead.

Then we made lunch: I had brought a simple salad with tomatoes, radicchietto, walnuts and carrots and my special chickpea hummus (special because I add a few dried tomatoes...yum!), while he had bought a super tasty burrata, a veg and mayo salad and lots of bread. How perfect! Hey friends... I could get used to this, in fact I will not hide that I am considering this lifestyle. I don't know if you can understand how I felt, but it was magical. There is nothing as powerful as the sea, when you are there, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by blue, you don't want anything else. Another of his dreams is participating in the solitary world tour competition, which follows the trade winds, thus favourable winds, and takes about 42 days. Something which would possibly allow him to see the whales and experience something unrepeatable. Wow, that would be so awesome!

We kept chatting while I helped him with the dishes and ...

I also found out that he writes poems and short stories and that the passion for the sea comes from his father. In fact, Paolo has an elder brother -Marco- who works on a petrol ship and is away all year round, while his father opened two sailing schools. It was their dad who brought them around the lagoon, to islands unknown to most visitors, and taught them about the different varieties of fish. Fishing, of course, is one of his favourite activities and in Venice he catches mainly brills and sea-basses, which he then grills. For a living, he maintains himself with a part-time job at a petrol station. He's quite aware he'll never be rich money-wise, but I think he doesn't care. After all, why would you need fancy clothes and elegant silverware when you have your own freedom?! I don't think there is anything as valuable as our own time and happiness and, as my father used to tell me when I was a child, as long as a person has all the basics and a little extra for a treat, what else do we need ?!

It was almost 5 pm when we returned. I had to run back home for a private lesson, but felt fulfilled in a way I had almost forgotten... My day was great and I am so happy I had the chance to get to know Paolo more. People are amazing, you see a person all your life, your neighbour, the boy who works at the petrol station, and then you find out how big is his heart and how deep are his thoughts. Speaking with him was so inspirational for me and I am very grateful. Anyway, we agreed to do something together so stay tuned ;-)

Bye for now and have a nice day!

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