Sunday, August 14, 2005

Swimming in Venice

On August 10th, reported that "an Australian tourist got away with a scolding from Venice police on Wednesday after he abandoned a sluggish water bus and plunged into the Grand Canal, fully intending to swim to his hotel."

The man, who jumped in near the Rialto bridge and intended to swim to his hotel near Piazza San Marco, wasn't drunk, according to the report. "Some observers suggested he may have been inspired by Lord Byron, the English Romantic poet who enjoyed swimming about nude in Venice's canals."

Well, Lord Byron would not have been impressed. This tourist's "swim" was nothing compared to Byron's marathons. Here's how he described one in a February 21, 1821 letter to John Murray:

"In 1818 the chevalier [a member of certain orders of knighthood, or of the French Legion of Honour, etc., Oxford Pocket Dictionary] Mengaldo (a Gentleman of Bassano) a good swimmer, wished to swim with my friend Mr. Alexander Scott and myself. As he seemed particularly anxious on the subject, we indulged him. We all three started from the island of the Lido and swam to Venice. At the entrance of the Grand Canal, Scott and I were a good deal ahead, and we saw no more of our foreign friend, which however was of no consequence, as there was a gondola to hold his clothes and pick him up. Scott swam on past the Rialto, when he got out less from fatigue than from chill, having been for hours in the water without rest of stay except what is to be obtained by floating on one's back, this being the condition of our performance. I continued my course on to Santa Chiara, comprising the whole of the Grand Canal/beside the distance from the Lido, and got out where the laguna once more opened to Farina. I had been in the water by my watch without help or rest and never touching ground or boat for four hours and twenty minutes." (Knopf Guides, Venice, page 125, 1966)

To give you some perspective: it's about 2 miles from the Lido to the grand Canal and the Grand Canal is about 2 1/2 miles long. Not a bad swim.
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1 comment:

Sam Day said...

That is indeed a good, long swim. And it took him a good long time. The Emerald City Open Water Swim, in Seattle, is one mile. Participants who cannot finish in one hour are pulled from the water by the attending boats. But that is rare, as even octagenarians finish within the alotted time. So for the nobleman to swim four and a half miles in under four and a half hours, he needed to do little more than a head out of water breaststroke and take plenty of rests. And that's probably exactly what he did do, as efficient strokes were not yet invented.