The Carnival-scapades


Yesterday was the second day of Carnival 2018 (Jan. 27-Feb. 13), and the festivities started, as they have for a number of years now, with a monster boat procession in the Grand Canal.  The boats and rowers were decorated and trimmed and upholstered and whatever else seemed good across the gamut from minimal (a hat) to the glamorous (let’s all be Mozart for a day!) to the fabulously imaginative, funny, and irreverent.  They say that during “Carnevale, ogni scherzo vale” (during Carnival every joke works) and the boat people showed they’ve got plenty of high jinks still in them.

Note: For an overview of Carnival garb, behavior and general atmosphere back in the glory days, I recommend my very own piece on masks for Craftsmanship magazine.

Further note: I promised Lino that I would convey his belief that this festival, amusing and picturesque as it may be, is NOT the real Venetian Carnival.  He is extremely firm on that point.  Other cities, most particularly Viareggio, are famous for celebrating Carnival with highly elaborate floats (“carri allegorici“).  The floats of Viareggio are titanic constructions that can hold their own against any other carnival in the galaxy.  But Lino contends that this sort of parade is not the Venetian Carnival and he strongly objects to the introduction of this foreign body into the Venetian culture.  I am not going to adjudicate the matter in any way, I have only fulfilled my promise to add his voice into the festive confusion.  Confusion there has always been during Carnival, even here, and history attests this.  But no carri allegorici.

That said, I’d like to return to the floating (sorry) festivities.  I’m a stout defender of Venetian traditions, but I have to admit that I found the whole thing hugely entertaining.  That’s all I’m going to say.

The gathering of the boats at the entrance to the Grand Canal. We arrived around 10:45, and we began processing at 11:15. The weather didn’t get the message that it would be hilarious to rain or snow, so we made do with ordinary old sunshine. A good thing, too, because the day after was solid fog.

The boat in the foreground bears proudly on its bow the typical sign listing the stops that is displayed on the #1 vaporetto. Cute, but why?

Here’s why: The sign says “For today only, the ACTV will provide service by oar.”  The crew is wearing the regulation necktie that is part of the ACTV uniform.

The battling Casanovas, comparing gondolas and, probably frills.  Remember the gondola on the left, it will reappear further on.

I’m sure I’m missing something (I’m never wrong if I think that), but here we have a whaling longboat helpfully named “La Baleniere” (“the whale boat,” though the term usually means the entire ship).  Instead of being rowed backwards, it’s been fitted out to be rowed the Venetian way, standing up, facing forward.  Hazmat suits are always appropriate, so I won’t inquire about those, but the headgear looks like jellyfish brains or something else from the abyss.  I’m not even sure what they were made of.  Men wearing pink, though, is always entertaining.

The boats lined up to check in at the control station at the Customs House Point. The organizers threw bottles of water (never drunk) and packs of sandwiches (never eaten, at least not by me) into the boat. They took no chances that somebody might suddenly feel faint.

The star of everything was this enormous plastic mode of a rat, here being carried on a yellow boat to the end of the line where, at the crucial festive moment, he will be broken upon to release a mass of colored balloons. To get the joke you need to know that in the Piazza San Marco, one of the peak moments of Carnival, then and now, is the “flight of the Colombina.” In the very olden days a high-wire artistwould descend a wire stretching from the top of the campanile to the Doge’s Palace (no net.  Fun!!).  Or sometimes he or she was replaced by a huge model dove (“colomba”) which would burst open and shower the under-standers with clouds of confetti.  Seeing that our procession will conclude in the Cannaregio Canal, far, far from the piazza and its glamor and history, the ubiquitous rodent was chosen as the mascot, symbol, patron saint, whatever we want to call him or her, of our lower-brow festa.  I wish I could have gotten closer, this is the only picture I managed to make.  The backward-looking eyes make me laugh.  I wouldn’t have thought a creature this big would bother checking who was behind him.

Maybe he was watching for this, a dragon boat from the Canottieri Mestre. The American flag is flying…a yellow-haired effigy is standing…a model of a rocket is pointing…and all the rowers are wearing archery targets on their backs. Um….

And astern the flag of some unidentified nation (it is not the official flag of North Korea, I checked). But whatever that bit of fabric may be, I think we can surmise what it symbolizes. And a rocket pointing that way. Hilarious.

Wait: THIS is hilarious. The sign the central rowers are holding up translates as: “Mine is longer.” Badaboom.

The Addams Family, Uncle Fester rowing astern. The other family members were very white-faced, which was worth a photo but for some reason they kept looking the other way. Are they under witness protection?

She spent quite some time adjusting the black crape. We even have Cousin Itt in the form of the long blond wig on a stick.

Unlikely as it may seem, everybody manages fine with all those oars.

it does get squeezy under the Accademia Bridge, but we are not actually rowing the boat next to us. It only looks like that.

And speaking of squeezy, the overloaded vaporettos had to stay where they were, tied up to their boat-stop dock, until the procession had finished. That’s for everybody’s safety, obviously. And to allow all the passengers to crowd to the outboard side to make photographs of the spectacle, which judging by the inclination of the boat wouldn’t meet anybody’s safety standards. Fun!

Splashing along toward San Toma’, the boats seem to be organizing themselves by color somehow. Suddenly we’re in the blue section.

One caorlina’s crew maintained the roditory (made up — we need this word) theme by dressing as mice and loading the boat with cheese. Another hefty form of parmigiano adorned the stern as well.

Now we’re getting closer to the old satirical bone. Here the rowers are each carrying a cardboard rendition of a MOSE floodgate, complete with streamers of algae and the occasional barnacle. Algae also trailling from the boat, as you see. Check my last few posts about the condition of the gates to appreciate the satire here.

A quick refresher on what the real gates look like.  They do not inspire mirth.

And while we’re on the subject of current events, this boat has remnants of jewelry strewn across its bow and the sign says: “Doge’s Palace, here’s what’s left of the Maharaja’s treasure.”  Maharaja helpfully rowing nearby.  For reference see my post “Lugash on the lagoon.”

Every square or triangular or rhomboidal inch was occupied by people, even up onto the roof of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

Behind us, yet more miles of the flotilla. In the center, the “peata” of the rowing club G.S. Voga  Riviera del Brenta, bearing the soundtrack: music, singers, people yelling reckless happy phrases that added to the general atmosphere of revelry.

This little group demonstrated yet again that you don’t need an elaborate or expensive costume for carnivaling, but just a little imagination. Everybody in bathrobes and with towels wrapped around their heads; the two seated people are armed with the moveable showerhead and back-scrubbing brush. I think there’s a shower curtain there too.  So: Bathrobes. How can you say you don’t have a costume?

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the alligator will lie down with the young penguin ..

This caorlina was draped with wafty white fabric and clumps of big cotton balls to create a wintry Alpine scene, complete with rowers in down jackets and somebody on the bow wearing red reindeer antlers.  Pay no attention to the blue and white bits in the background — that’s a white caorlina whose bow has been surmounted by a very large seagull head trailing sky-blue fabric.  If they had wanted to create a real Venetian scene, they’d have added a few bags of garbage pecked and ripped open with the contents strewn wildly around.

A charming couple in fairly authentic mountain-dwellers’ (as opposed to mountaineers’) garb.

The gloriously bedecked man astern is Angelo Boscolo, who recently launched his gondola made of 350 fruit crates. However amusing this may be, he spent a year and a half at it, and scrupulously adds that it is 30 cm (11 inches) shorter than the traditional gondola, and that the crates are made from 11 different types of wood (classic gondola uses 8 types, possibly not those used for kiwi containers).  On the thwart behind the seats has been carved a very Venetian saying: “Chi sa tace, chi non sa chiede. El mona sa già tutto” (Who knows, remains silent; who doesn’t know, asks.  The asshole already knows everything).

First prize and a blue ribbon in the “Actually, why the heck not?” category.

The Rari Nantes Patavium boat club (in Padua) has an elegant 12-oar gondola, here made even more elegant without six of its rowers but with the addition of two tangoing couples.

Of course it’s possible to tango in a space the size of a bathmat. I admire them even more for doing it on a boat, where even the smallest rogue wave could add a few steps they never studied in school.

They made it to the end, this extravagantly dressed pair of rowers. It’s true that everyone was rowing against the tide, but somehow seeing them at it made it appear even harder and more thankless. In any case, this is the once- typical boat of Lake Como, and bears the banner of the lakeside town of Bellano. Five centuries ago the craft was simply called “batel,” used for fishing and also passengers; since 1827 it has been called a “Lucia” in honor of the heroine of the novel “I Promessi Sposi” who makes her escape across the lake in such a boat.

Our four boats of the Remiera Francescana moored near the top of the Cannaregio Canal, in what appears to have suddenly become the Red Zone (the facing boats belong to the G.S. Voga Riviera del Brenta club).

The crowds along the fondamentas were in full cry. Here, a very cool family.

Cool, as in wearing your sunglasses over your mask.

The view of people ashore was almost as good as the one they got of us.  Fun!

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  1. So entertaining – thanks for sharing this fun with us!

  2. Debby
    Twitter: Misswang

    So fun, so real! Thank you for your posts. I subscribe to your blog so I get the pleasure of instant reading. Just wanted to thank you and tell you how much I live through your eyes, so don’t ever stop!

    Buon carnevale!

  3. harry says:

    Hello Erla,
    This is the great post. I love it, thanks for sharing this post!
    harry recently posted..Best Duck Call for Beginners in 2018

  4. harry says:

    Thank you for sharing nice information

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