This was the order that captains of the old vaporettos used to announce by megaphone to the stoker before berthing. What they meant was: “Get ready to reverse”, a manoeuvre that demanded a series of preparatory operations. The phrase had been adopted with a sense of humour and mockery by the Venetians when they wanted to criticise someone who did not put much effort into his work.
I am certain, because of their youth, most of the readers of this fine publication by Riccardo Perale have never seen a real vaporetto. One of those that had a coal boiler that produced the steam to power them. Hence the name: from vapore – vapour – steam. Their form has not changed very much over the years. The hull, with its displacement, copied those of large shipyards. It was not the best because of a certain undertow provoked by the draught that drew up water from under the foundations of the buildings each time it passed along Canal Grande. Neither were they the greatest in terms of stability, with the weight of the passengers above the water level. During one of the seapanes competitions for the Schneider Cup a vaporetto overturned because all the passengers rushed to one side to see the planes pass overhead.
However, even with all these defects, the vaporetto remains a symbol of the city. Like the cable cars of San Francisco. Vaporetti, at least at the beginning, also provided service to the islands in the lagoon. The first steam-powered ones were replaced by others with diesel engines. They had two cabins. One to the bow and the other to the stern to protect the passengers from the harshness of winter when crossing the lagoon. These new, slow-running engines emitted from the funnel a strange sound that resembled the word Patate repeated continuously. So when we were young we called them “I patate” (potatoes) and to make a perfect imitation of the rhythm there needed to be two of us. One repeated “Patate, patate” and the other “Tazum, tazum” at the same time. These latter also had a stoker who obeyed the orders that reached him with the captain’s voice through a tube from the small control cabin.
Times have changed, but the vaporetti have remained more or less the same. The controls have changed, but not at the pace of the progresses in naval engineering. Riccardo Perale has idealised them in dreamlike forms. He is so talented as to make them seem beautiful.