The Central Park Gondolier

July 16, 2012

New York finds a strange twin in Venice, Italy. Both cities are islands that expand up rather than out; in both the street life flows through dramatic corridors of stone and brick; and in the thick of summer both smell a little like someone just put out a garbage fire with dog pee. Then there’s the architecture: NYC is full of Venetian references. The theme is covered in chapter 4 of the book; recently I had the chance to interview a key player in the Venice connection: Andrés Garcia-Peña, Central Park’s longtime gondolier.

There have always been gondolas in Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted had them in mind when he designed The Lake, and the first rowers—nearly a century and a half ago—were in fact Venetians. Today, Garcia-Peña is the man. He first donned the red stripes 18 years ago; he knows pretty much everything there is to tell about oaring a weirdly tilted Adriatic boat in the middle of the world’s greatest park. Listen for yourself: