Dec
16

A different Venetian carnival

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It’s not exactly the swallows returning to Capistrano, but a few mornings ago saw the arrival of a modestly historic moment in the calendar: The amusement park began to set up shop.

One of the ferryboats that normally plods between the Lido and Tronchetto makes a special run (and there will be more) loaded with trucks that are going to turn into irresistible rides, games and food stalls.  Irresistible if you don't mind the cold weather, and the prices.

One of the ferryboats that normally plods between the Lido and Tronchetto makes a special run (and there will be more) loaded with trucks that are going to turn into irresistible rides, games and food stalls. Irresistible if you don't mind the cold weather, and the prices.

Admittedly Venice, in its long history, has often seen its embankments loaded with heavy objects destined for commerce -- timber, marble, and bricks come to mind -- but there is something a little startling about trucks.

Admittedly Venice, in its long history, has often seen its embankments loaded with heavy objects destined for commerce -- timber, marble, and bricks come to mind -- but there is something a little startling about trucks.

The rides and games, not to mention the  stands selling cotton candy, fried dough slathered with nutritional hot-air balloons such as Nutella, caramelized peanuts, and anything else that can emit a powerful odor of imminent obesity, started to disembark, all folded up inside the trucks, on the Riva dei Sette Martiri at the head of via Garibaldi.  They will be open for business on Saturday and will remain until the end of Big Famous Bloated Carnival, which this year will be March 8.

Just to avert any possible misunderstanding, BFB Carnival is known here as, well, Carnival, or if you prefer, Carnevale.  This little county-fair assortment of playthings is generically called a “Luna Park.”  Probably after an Ur-version somewhere bearing that name which I have been unable to identify.  It’s no competition for Coney Island or the Prater in Vienna but as everyone knows, available space in Venice is calculated in millimeters.

Till last year, this annual event was set up on the Riva degli Schiavoni between the Arsenal and the next canal on the way to San Marco.  But the residents’ complaints about noise, confusion, smells, and garbage finally overrode the carny-people’s desire to be as close to the center of the touristic hurricane as possible.

You can't just drive ashore -- you must prepare the way very, very carefully with damage-blunting boards.  Even so, the fondamenta when they're gone is pocked with cement patches where the stones have somehow disappeared.

You can't just drive ashore -- you must prepare the way very, very carefully with damage-blunting boards. Even so, the fondamenta when they're gone is pocked with cement patches where the stones have somehow disappeared.

So last year they were moved just a little bit downstream, to an area beyond the invisible demarcation line separating Tourist Motherlode and Just Somewhere Else in Venice.  Hence we now have residents here in this new strip of space that are just as unhappy as their predecessors were over the way, plus unhappy carny-people because they’re missing out, they believe, on loads of business.

They probably have a point (and they ought to know, considering that they’re the ones standing out there in the freezing cold for hours waiting for customers). Whatever their dreams may be of cashing in on the typical tourists, my impression is that this amusement park is frequented almost exclusively by locals.

Which means: Parents and grandparents with small children, and shoals of bored teenagers who will go anywhere in any weather as long as they can hang out with each other and not be home.  Of course weekends are the prime moments, but the stands are open every day from mid-afternoon till about 8:00 PM, even though there are few things on earth as unappealing as an amusement park in the middle of a weekday afternoon.  The magic of this extraordinary collection of stuff and stimulation, at least for people over ten years old, is that it happens in the dark under glowing, flashing lights. Otherwise this wonderland is just Norma Desmond before her coffee, so to speak, even if it is in the most beautiful city in the world.

This is so much what the stand-owner doesn't want to see.  He's thinking about making it up on he weekend.

This is so much what the stand-owner doesn't want to see. He's thinking about making it up on the weekend, and during Christmas, and Epiphany, and the two weeks of Carnival.

In any case, next year, if the plan is fulfilled, they will move to yet another location, at Tronchetto.  This will have the advantage of offering more space, and will solve the problem of irritating the locals with the noise, etc., because there are no locals.  I have deep doubts that they will make anything like the money they do here, because Tronchetto is about as convenient to everybody in the city, tourists as well as Venetians, as Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

I’ll be sorry to see them move away, because no matter how funky it may be, this Luna Park  does a lot to sparkle up the winter atmosphere, at least in a neighborhood like ours where the minute you go out the door you run into the same old people doing the same old things making the same old comments.  I can tell you that it’s as much fun to watch all the goings-on as it is to participate (I speak as a veteran of the kiddies’ roller-coaster, who last year appalled and offended the two little girls in the car ahead of me not only because I’m an adult but because I screamed on the turns.  One of them turned around and asked me scornfully, “Aren’t you a little old to be on this?” This made me laugh, which by the look on her face was not her intention).

Correct answer: Of course I am.  So sue me.

Sunday afternoon during Carnival in the sunshine.  This is more like it.

Sunday afternoon during Carnival in the sunshine. This is more like it.

IMG_5985 carnival

Marie Antoinette is training for Monza.

But even if after three months you've grown completely used to it, an amusement park in Venice is still a very curious thing to have.

But even if after three months you've grown completely used to it, an amusement park in Venice is still a very curious thing to have.

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Comments

  1. Alison says:

    There’s a restaurant in Falls Church / Arlington / Clarendon Luna Park — Maybe we’ll go there next time you’re in U.S. and see what it’s about.

  2. > Tronchetto is about as convenient to everybody in the city, tourists as well as Venetians, as Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. <

    What about the People Mover cable cars? They should provide easy pedestrian access to Tronchetto.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Of course there is the People Mover (which I have had no reason to take but I know it’s there); there is also a vaporetto which stops at Tronchetto. The point isn’t really the logistics, it’s the necessity to add another phase to your procession toward the rides and games. Getting to Piazzale Roma takes time and/or energy, like getting anywhere in Venice, and if you have small children or bored teenagers the trip(s) to and the trip(s) back may not seem worth it in the end. To me, the comparison would be similar to saying “We used to have the fun fair in Central Park and now it’s in Hoboken. But there are trains which go straight there.” In any case, you know what? We don’t even know if the thing is going to be set up there anyway. And you know what else? I’ll be happy for people to do whatever they want.

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