Feb
15

Carnival farrago, part 2

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During Carnival nowadays, anybody who normally sells anything lays on a batch of souvenirs -- masks, capes and other stuff.

During Carnival nowadays, anybody who normally sells anything lays on a batch of souvenirs — masks, capes and other stuff.

Here are a few more morsels of lore about Carnival back in the Old Days:  

Laws:   I realize that the Carnival motto is “anything goes,” which makes the idea of laws somewhat incongruous.   But “anything” could — and did — lead to enough dangerous and unstable behavior over time that the adults supposedly supervising this city-wide party  were forced to set some ground rules.   Their significance is pretty obvious.      For example:

  • Face painting is beautiful and fanciful, both important for Carnival, though one can't say it's the best approach if you were to want to remain anonymous.

It was forbidden in 1703 to wear the bauta in the ridotti,   or gambling houses.    The government was apparently the last to realize (after centuries of Carnival) that being completely disguised was a great way to hide from your creditors.   So, no hiding behind masks and capes for any nefarious purpose, because they were also …

Just to make sure there was a stop to this particular bit of chicanery, on January 24, 1458 it was decreed that nobody wearing a mask would be permitted to enter a church,  convent,  or any other sacred place. Period.

One you really get into the Carnival groove, you start to look at everybody differently.  Like these two individuals.  Who are they really?  And what an amazing costume they've put together -- they look just like two little old ladies from the neighborhood.

Once you really get into the Carnival groove, you start to look at everybody differently. Like these two individuals. Who are they really? And what an amazing costume they’ve put together — they look just like two little old ladies from the neighborhood.

The Carnival Calendar:

You couldn’t wear masks just any time you felt like it.   It was like hunting season, with fairly specific dates:

It started in October, when everybody came back from summer vacation in their country villas, and the theatres began to open.   At its height, Venice had 17 theatres, an extraordinary number  for a city in those days.   And Carnival continued, with a brief interruption for Christmas, until Ash Wednesday ushered in Lent.

Masks were also  allowed to be worn during the two weeks of the feast of the Ascension and its phenomenal market, which filled the Piazza San Marco with vendors from all over the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

You know it's Carnival when there's confetti (sorry -- coriandoli) literally everywhere

You know it’s Carnival when there’s confetti (sorry — coriandoli) literally everywhere

And then there was the convenient clause of  “and whenever appropriate” (as I think of it).   Masks could be permitted by special decree for very special occasions.   For example, masks were allowed during the celebrations of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto (1571).   Among the countless public festivities was a parade of allegorical floats: “Christianity” was represented in the act of crushing a chained dragon; “Victory” vaunted itself over the vanquished; and “Death” was triumphant,  complete with sickle.   It was all party, all the time for several weeks, and that could only mean break out the masks.

In any case, in good times or bad, one unassailable rule was that Carnival could not be interrupted.   When doge Paolo Renier died on February 13, 1789, they didn’t report the  death  until March 2.

Party on!!

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