Feb
09

Carnival, the first stage

By

I’m not a big fan of Carnival in Venice.    The only bigness I can evince where this annual demolition derby is concerned is a jumbo-size package of the old Aristotelian pity and terror.

Last year there was a sort of dancing metal raptor to give the crowd at the Piazza San Marco some sensation of movement.

Last year there was a sort of dancing metal raptor to give the crowd at the Piazza San Marco some sensation of movement.

That’s not completely true: I don’t feel pity.

But this year I decided to take a different approach.   When Carnival erupted last Sunday (after several premonitory tremors) I thought I’d imagine it was something that could be fun, amusing, diverting, worth the trip.   Not for me — I’ve figured out how to make it fun for me but it doesn’t involve costumes or the Piazza San Marco — but  just going with the idea that  it could be entertaining for the thousands upon thousands of people who come to Venice expecting to enjoy themselves, at least, if not enjoy everybody else.  

By which I mean, enjoy being squashed like a grape in a winepress by your fellow humans.

So far, it’s working.   I had a fine time on Sunday afternoon.   But that’s because I made a point of not going to the Piazza San Marco.   The Gazzettino reported that some 90,000 people were there.   They certainly didn’t need me, even if there had been room.

The first years I was here I did go, at least a few times, to the Piazza San Marco, the gravitational center of the festivities.   It was all so new and strange, and memory reports that there weren’t   quite so many thousands.   Memory may be lying but it was fine anyway.   Perhaps the novelty of the situation carried me over the crush, as it may well do to people today.

I dress up, I walk around, I pose, therefore I am.  It doesn't exactly cry out "whirl of gaiety."

I dress up, I walk around, I pose, therefore I am. It doesn't exactly cry out "whirl of gaiety."

Then there was a hiatus, partly because I didn’t enjoy the winepress experience and also because what was going on there seemed strangely unfestive: Loads of people in  costume (95 percent of which seemed  to be identical),  walking around just looking at each other, striking attitudes, or taking pictures of each other with or without tourists posing next to them.   The nadir  is occupied by  the people in costume who charge money for allowing themselves to be photographed with your cousin or your kid.   And they can make a bundle.  

Another exciting moment.

Another exciting moment.

The details are sometimes lovelier than the whole costume.

The details are sometimes lovelier than the whole costume.

Dressing up as an ancient monument deserves a tip of the hat, or whatever she's got on her head.

Dressing up as an ancient monument deserves a tip of the hat, or whatever she's got on her head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we came to Castello and I discovered something of the way Carnival was, decades ago, before the event was trampled by the tourism behemoth.   Kids and families and dogs, and relatively few tourists.   And did I mention the kids?

A princess, a fairy with gauzy green wings, and an animal I still haven't identified.  This is more like it.

A princess, a fairy with gauzy green wings, and an animal I still haven't identified. This is more like it.

 

Put an aristocrat behind the wheel and just get out of the way.

Put an aristocrat behind the wheel and just get out of the way.

 

 Perhaps I’m going senile, or perhaps it’s because the confetti-throwing and occasional Silly String-spraying and strolling around have no evident commercial focus, but I think  the downtown version of Carnival beats San Marco in straight sets.    Here, if you see somebody taking a picture of a person in costume, it’s almost certainly a besotted relative.

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

   

 

 

 

 

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

A costume, a large bag of confetti, and a parental equerry to carry it for you as you perfect your bestrewing technique. He's having more fun than ten photographers.

Dressing your kid as a skunk (probably Bambi's friend Flower) doesn't seem like a compliment, but when he's this cute it probably doesn't matter what you put him in.

Dressing your kid as a skunk (probably Bambi's friend Flower) doesn't seem like a compliment, but when he's this cute it probably doesn't matter what you put him in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a little bit of face paint, artfully applied by one of the many artful appliers in and around San Marco. But it's enough.

Just a little bit of face paint, artfully applied by one of the many artful appliers in and around San Marco. But it's enough.

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you start to look around, you begin to notice how little it really takes to dress up and play Carnival.   There were people who were looking great with only a hat, or  a wig, or  a moustache or whiskers scribbled on with a black marker– even  the simplest mask imaginable just barely covering the eyes.   No plumes, no sequins, no layers of painted papier-mache.   It really works.

 

Or just a mask, and never mind the fancy garb. This is a version of the classic mask of a Zanni, the clever and/or foolish servant in comedies of the Commedia dell'Arte.

Or just a mask, and never mind the fancy garb. This is a version of the classic mask of a Zanni, the clever and/or foolish servant in comedies of the Commedia dell'Arte.

The first Sunday of Carnival (February 7 this year) was Opening Day, one of the maximum moments, as you can imagine.   The others are Fat Thursday (Giovedi’ Grasso), and Fat Tuesday (Martedi’ Grasso).   And the weekend between them.   If the weather is beautiful — as it was on Sunday — it can feel like a party even if you don’t do anything special.   If it’s really cold, overcast, windy or rainy, obviously the merriment becomes shredded and forced.   This isn’t Rio.

Next chapter: I’ll be tossing out  a few festive fistfuls of   history, gathered from a large bag of brightly-colored bits of trivia.  

Here’s a sample.   “Confetti” here refers to the sugared almonds which are given to wedding guests.   What speakers of English (and French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch) call  confetti    — brightly-colored bits of paper — here are called coriandoli   (ko-ree-AN-dolee).     Why?  

Because back in the Olden Days, Carnival revelers would toss all sorts of things around or at or on each other — eggs full of rosewater was one hugely amusing toy to everybody except the women who were on the receiving end.   People would also toss various tiny  edibles, particularly coriander seeds, which were used in pastries.   Then they became  bits of sugar pretending to be coriander seeds.   Only much later — in 1875 — did flakes of paper begin to be used instead, which is an entirely different story.   People who  had always called  the flying fragments of food “coriandoli” merely transferred to term to the newer-fangled form.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Krystyna says:

    I had previously thought that I’d rather not go to Venice in Carnival (because the crowds and so), but last weekend I was there and it actually was fun: especially in campo S. Margherita we saw carrots, aliens, a totally awesome Black Hole (!!!) and somebody who looked like a refridgerator and, restricted by his costume, could hardly walk (but anyway who would expect a refridgerator to walk?).
    These costumes were self-made with much care and attention and good ideas. I really liked it 🙂

  2. erla says:

    It’s great to hear this! I know that in many other campos you can see costumes and festivities that are not cut from the same pattern. Thanks for reminding me that all is not lost….

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge