Like both his grandfather and father before, Mario Costra has spent the past 20 years navigating the watery streets of Venice on his gondola. Mario's hands are scarred and blistered. From April until October, he clocks 12-hour days, three days on and one day off. On his good days, he takes seven clients on a 40-minute tour, in exchange for 80 euros. I was lucky enough to meet Mario this past week while traveling Italy and Greece with my family. We had a beautiful tour of this magnificent city, but meeting Mario and learning about this Italian entrepreneur was a real treat for me.
Mario's favorite part of the city is Cannaregio, one of the six historic districts of Venice, where we stood and talked. He shared with me that he purchased his gondola for 30,000 euros 20 years ago. Of course, he has had to maintain this boat, making improvements over the years like any owner would. The Cannaregio is near to the legendary five synagogues in the Jewish Ghetto where I spent that day exploring.
Mario knows every canal in the city and can move his boat effortlessly with a touch of his hand or movement of his fingers. According to him, 90 percent of the gondoliers in Venice have fathers and grandfathers in the field. He belongs to a cooperative of gondola owners and gladly pays his dues to the organization. Interestingly, Mario also doesn't seem to mind paying his taxes to the city of Venice as well as those to Italy. However, as I learned, he is eager for his children to follow a different path.
It is fascinating to travel the world and see how our communities are made of, and supported by, individuals like Mario, a entrepreneur in his own right. If you are ever in Venice, go to see Mario and experience his tour. You will be so glad you did it. Don't forget to tell him that Steve sent you.