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You want another try

This time, when I returned to the dock, the long boat slid unpredictably at every touch of the

tiller. Trying to correct, the boat swerved more. The instructor raised his eyebrows. I had failed the test.I felt slightly better when a fisherman from Florida turned up a few minutes later and also flunked. He was left scratching his head as we both stood ruefully on the dock. Having taken boats out all over the gulf, he agreed that mastering the topetta was a lot harder than it looked.Still, my dream was evaporating before my eyes. I hung around the docks mournfully, racking my brain. Then I had a brainstorm: “Can I take lessons?” Seconds later, all hell broke loose. No sooner had I eased into the canal than I was blasted by a deafening horn. A vaporetto, a public ferry, was bearing down on me from the left. An enormous garbage barge blocked my way on the right. Two water taxis sped up behind, their drivers glaring furiously. The whole time, the instructor was waving his hands as if he were about to grab the tiller. “Avanti!” he barked. (Forward!) “Indietro!” (Reverse!) “Fermo!” (Neutral!)I had a sudden memory of a gondola accident in 2013, when a German law professor was crushed to death by a reversing vaporetto on the Grand Canal. That episode provoked the city to introduce a series of traffic measures to ease congestion and improve safety, not that one could tell the difference on the canal.
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