First used in medieval Venice as a deftly maneuverable getaway boat, the gondola evolved over the centuries into a floating pleasure palace, bedecked in silk, that facilitated the romantic escapades of the Venetian elite. Today, the gondola wears black a gleaming, elegant hue, and is manned by robust gondolieri in black-and-white-striped shirts and straw hats.A tourist favorite, the gondola has never ceased to be a part of authentic Venice. Each boat's 280 pieces are carefully fashioned in a maestro's workshop though Leon also recounts a tale of an American friend who attempted to make a gondola all on his own. The feat took five years and countless do-overs. But the gondola is a work of art well worth the labor.