Monday, June 23, 2014

Apple #675: Gondolas

Continuing the discussion of my many travels this spring, at one point in my travels, I rode in a gondola.  No, I was not in Venice.  This was one of those gondolas that is an enclosed little box that hangs suspended from a cable and carries you up the side of a mountain.  No, I was not skiing, I was riding up over a hillside covered with redwood trees.  Pretty spectacular stuff.

The gondolas of the SkyTrail. As you ride in your gondola, you're suspended hundreds of feet above the ground as you're being carried up the hillside through the trees until you're at the top of the hill and the top of most of the redwoods.
(Photo by the Apple Lady, a.k.a me)

But the fact that I have to explain what kind of gondola it was leads me to think about gondolas.  How many kinds are there?  Why are so many different things called a gondola?

Maybe a better shot of the SkyTrail gondola and its high altitude situation.
(Photo from the Trees of Mystery)

  • The first kind of gondola is the one from Venice.  A flat-bottomed boat with prongs that stick up, one at the front (prow) and one at the back (stern). (see also Venetian gondolas)

The Venetian gondola -- the first kind of gondola.
(Photo from Local Venice Tours)

  • The Merriam-Webster dictionary says there are also gondolas -- flat-bottomed boats--that were used on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  But I can't find images of any such boats. 

Gondola on the Charles River in Boston. Note the Venice-wannabe-suit the guy is wearing, but with Boston in the background.
(Photo from Gondola di Venezia a.k.a.

  • Venice or Boston, it's still pretty much the same idea -- a flat-bottomed boat that takes you across a river.  But there are many other types of gondolas.
  • There's also the railroad type of gondola, which is a flat-bottomed car with fixed sides but no top.  This sort of railcar is primarily used to transport goods.  Like coal, for example.

This train is nothing but gondolas full of coal. 
(Photo by the Apple Lady. That's me.)

  • Both the boat and the railcar have one thing in common: flat bottoms. 
  • The flat-bottomed boat and the railcar gondolas are also very long & skinny.  Elongated, if you will. So another type of gondola is also elongated, but this one is up in the air.  Not riding on top of something, as the boats were on top of the water and the railcar was on top of the train tracks, but beneath something.  Beneath an airship. As in, the place where the people ride under a blimp or a zeppelin.

In this photo of the Goodyear blimp over Miami Beach, the gondola on its underside is clearly visible.
(Photo by Chris Hansen, sourced from the State Archives of Florida)

  • Then we have other types of gondolas, which are neither flat-bottomed nor elongated, but they are suspended from airships -- from hot air balloons, to be precise. 

You could call the person-holding thing that hangs below a hot air balloon the wicker basket.  Or you could call it a gondola.
(Photo from HotelChatter, describing the hot air balloon rides you can take from the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, CA)

  • Now that we've got things hanging down from airships, and those things don't necessarily have to be elongated, we might as well include the closed, spherical things that also hang down -- not from airships, but from cables.  And here we have arrived at the ski lift gondola.

Whooee, that gondola is way up high in the air.  This is at Crystal Mountain in Washington. 
This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Caven, and normally I would not post a copyrighted photo. But this is just too good not to show it to you, and I hope he will be kind and realize that this blog's purpose is educational only, and allow you to see it so you can admire his work.
(Photo by Jeff Caven at VisitRainier)

  • Along with ski lift gondolas, we have other types of gondolas that hang from cables such as the one I rode in, and now we are back where we started.
  • So we've followed the progression from flat-bottomed boats to flat-bottomed railcars, then to elongated things that hang from airships, to smaller circular things that hang from airships, to smaller circular things that hang from cables.  But these are all pretty disparate things, lumped together under that one word, gondola.  Which leads me to wonder, what the heck does that word "gondola" mean, anyway?  I mean, what is its etymology?
  • The word originates in Venice in the 1540s, so the Venetian boat is the original gondola.  The etymology people aren't not sure, but they think the word comes from the pre-Italian dialect (called Rhaeto-Romanic) word, also gondola, which means "to roll or rock."
  • Yes, that's right.  Gondolas are rock & roll, baby.  The original rock & roll.

Led Zeppelin. Oh, the word play and the actual rock & roll. My Apple Lady heart is about to burst.
(Photo from Glow Magazine)

  •  Ahem.  [Adjusts Apple Lady attire, regains composure.]
  • So. I don't know if you'd want to tell your mother before you coaxed her into the swaying ski lift that the word gondola actually means "rock & roll" and therefore it is that to its core.  But you could keep this little fact in mind as you grin to yourself while you slowly sway up over the vast abyss below and tell yourself, I am so rock and roll.

P.S. This is the message that the SkyTrail in all seriousness gives you at the end of the ride:

(Photo by the Apple Lady. That's me.)

For more information about Venetian gondolas in particular, see my entry on Venetian gondolas.

Merriam-Webster dictionary, gondola
Online Etymology dictionary, gondola

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