I had no intention of going to the Piazza San Marco during Carnival, much less on Martedi’ Grasso, otherwise known (not here) as Mardi Gras, the last day of the fracas.
But the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we figured, why not? So we went.
It was less chaotic than I had imagined, which was nice. In fact, it verged on the placid.
And best of all, MY “Maria” won the pageant, and was crowned the Maria of 2015. I was as shocked to discover my wish being fulfilled as I was the one night in my life that my bag was first onto the carousel at baggage claim at I can’t remember what airport. And just as happy, too.
Here are some glances at the closing hours of revelry, not including the fireworks which we heard later on. It seemed as if they were exploding from various points in the city and gave a satisfying concluding note to it all.
The contestants vying for the prize for best costume had very fine outfits, though not many were as original as what we saw outside the show ring. This doge and his attendant (I’d have to study up on who his servant represented. One of the Council of Ten? Doubtful.) came from Palermo because they love Venice. I myself think it would have been much cooler for him to have dressed up as Roger II of Sicily, or some other non-Venetian notable. Dressing as a doge in Venice is like dressing up as Wyatt Earp in Dodge City.
This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.
I imagine that eventually she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.
I’m always glad to see some costume that isn’t an 18th-century-powdered-wig-tricorn-hat-walking-stick-beauty-spot conglomeration. No matter how elaborate that sort of outfit may be (and the gowns almost always look as if they’re made of upholstery fabric), it’s a look that isn’t very imaginative, and becomes very monotonous. So this turbaned wonder gets points from me.
On the other end of the spectrum was this homegrown marvel, whose costume basically means nothing and whose sign (in Venetian) translates as: “I’ve got a lion between my legs, grr grr meow meow.” Still, people were happy to be photographed with him, even if they didn’t know what it said.
This astonishing family seems to have been born and bred in a pastry shop. At first I thought the cakes were fake, but now I’m not so sure. If the hats are real, I want to be there when they bet against eating them.
Food as accessory. I like it. You don’t have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.
I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.
And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.
Yes, those are security people. I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.
And here is Irene Rizzi, the Maria of 2015, bigger than life on the jumbotron behind the stage. She’s all decked out in some Chinese headdress for reasons that were unclear, though the presenters were babbling something about Marco Polo and the spice trade.
The supreme moment of the afternoon was the closing event: Drawing a version of the Venetian flag up the same cable that the “Angel” had slid down, all the way to the top of the campanile of San Marco. A small group of men sang the “Hymn of San Marco” in an oddly drifty, lounge-y way. I’d have brought in trumpets, myself.
And up it went. The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.
A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.
I think it’s so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.
Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.
While I’m working on a post with slightly more substance, I thought I’d send out a few recent diverting glimpses:
A week ago I saw the first peach blossoms of spring, accompanied by a few pussy willows. Some people look for daffodils or primroses, but the peaches do it for me. Seeing them now in this form means I won’t be seeing them later in edible form, but this is definitely a good sign.
For anyone who might have wondered what this sign could have been promoting, it is mostly written in Venetian. (I say “mostly” because the Venetian for “oggi” is “ancuo.”) The Italian equivalent would be: “Cosa bolle oggi in pentola. Zuppa di trippa, pasta e fagioli, musetto caldo.” “What’s boiling in the pot today? Tripe soup, pasta and beans, hot musetto.” Musetto is a thick sausage-like object about 6 inches long which is made of ground pork, specifically the muso, or face, or snout, of the pig. It’s hugely good but only in the winter, when foods involving hot fat exert their fatal appeal.
Who says Carnival is only for walking around in the Piazza San Marco? The cashier at our local supermarket is totally into the spirit.
I spied this pair of unknown birds at low tide (admiring how cleverly their colors blended with the mud). Lino thought they were jackdaws, a species of crow known here as “tacoe” (TAH-kow-eh), or Coloeus monedula. However, a sharp-eyed reader has confirmed them to be hooded crows (cornacchia grigia, in Italian), Corvus cornix. Never seen them before. If I’d been in a motorboat I wouldn’t have seen them this time, either, they’d long since have flown away. Another fine reason to row.
On a small side street there is still someone using the old-fashioned doorbell, as in door + bell, a real bell, which rings upstairs when you pull on the handle so conveniently placed outside. I’m showing the entire door to draw attention also to how high the handle is. No funny games by bored little hands, for sure.
This is a sturdy, businesslike handle that seems to discourage frivolous ringings. The proprietor’s name is incised on the small bronze rectangle, and the floor he or she or they live on. When Lino was a lad, most people had doorbells like this one, but his family didn’t add a name tag.
The wire reaches all the way up to the designated domicile and disappears into the wall (obviously).
A few steps down the street, there is another house with the old doorbell handle, but this one doesn’t completely convince me. There may well be three tenants, but the two modern doorbells make me wonder. I must go check sometime.
This is the bell that rang in Lino’s childhood home, salvaged from an extremely damp (as you see) storage area more or less at canal level. An object something like a nail (he doesn’t remember exactly) was passed through the tightly-wound roll of metal on the right, which held the bell upright against the wall. The wire to be pulled from below was attached just above the bell.
And it makes a spectacular clang. Bronze on bronze makes it impossible to say “Oh, was that you? I didn’t hear anything.”
I don’t know what the rest of this partyer looked like — I was too busy admiring her hands and mask. I love her woolly handwarmer. It’s like a hunting mitten for stalking Smurfs. Don’t let the word get out that you don’t have to encumber your entire body with pounds of upholstery fabric, and a long ton of accessories, to be all dressed up for Carnival. There would be civil unrest.
For whatever reason, Carnival does not attract me anymore.
Headlines such as the one yesterday reporting on Sunday’s attendance: “100,000 yesterday for the opening of Carnival” could have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm. Headlines such as one today: “The purse-cutters have arrived,” referring to the young pregnant Bosnian women who now, to expedite the lifting of your wallet, have taken to slashing your handbag, could also be relevant. Crowds, however amusingly dressed, make life awkward, at best, for most people except other dressed-up persons and, of course, the purse-cutters.
But let’s do a fast rewind on the festivities so far. Last Saturday — the day which opens the 11-day clambake — we saw the first major organized entertainment: The Procession of the Marias.
The main reason we saw it is because it takes place mere steps from our front door. Also, the weather was beautiful and it was great to be outside. Also, the participants outnumbered the spectators (or almost).
The program is simple. Everyone lines up in Campo San Pietro and wends their way slowly, and with great clamor, across the wooden bridge and along the fondamenta to the foot of via Garibaldi. Here the space opens comfortably and everyone has a chance to see the many costumed processioners, and the Marias themselves, close up.
“Everyone” includes the Marias (obviously), the phalanx of young men assigned to carry the Marias, and abundant and varied troupes of trumpeters, drummers, knights, commoners, banner-twirlers, and the doge and his wife and some Venetian senators and councilors, all in vaguely Renaissance garb.
The girls are loaded onto their respective wooden platforms, hoisted on the shoulders of their bearers, and carried at the head of the procession all the way to the Piazza San Marco, where they mount the stage and are generally admired and photographed. On February 16, the penultimate day of Carnival, the Maria of 2015 will be chosen and crowned.
In case this doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, the Maria of today will become the “Angel” of next year, sliding down a wire from the top of the campanile of San Marco to the pavement on the opening day of Carnival.
Here are some things I enjoyed seeing this year. Yes, there were things I enjoyed. Briefly.
Not really marching, more like strolling. The important thing is not to stop suddenly. Or at all.
I’m guessing that the three life-size paperdolls (which ought to be of wood), recall the eventual fate of the Marias and their festival. Conflict and strife arose between the participating families (when your daughter’s in a beauty contest with really rich prizes, you tend to get tetchy), so the Serenissima substituted Marias made of wood, and when nobody was happy with those, stopped the festival altogether. That was in 1379, so I guess they made their point.
I like the lookers at least as much as the looked-upon.
This little guy was my favorite. But why is he trapped behind the window? Everybody else has got their windows open and their mufflers on.
Case in point.
The Marias had lovely costumes but I couldn’t stop looking at their hair. They must have spent the morning in hairdo hell, the tonsorial equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara getting laced into her corset. When you consider the labor involved in arranging all this hair, and applying 146 layers of hairspray, not to mention the pain, they might as well have gone one step further and just worn wigs.
I’ve already picked my favorite, if anybody cares. No idea what her name is, but if she doesn’t win, I’m going to have to take action.
Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.
He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of “How’s the weather up there?”
And the caravan moves on, up via Garibaldi toward the Riva degli Schiavoni. Better keep moving while the sun’s still shining because as soon as it starts to set, the cold will make your hair break off.
These are major trumpeters, evidently saving their fanfares for the Piazza San Marco.
Bringing up the rear is a quartet of “sbandieratori,” or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.
Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.
Speaking of banners, I have no idea what regiment, nation, creed or sport this might belong to, but it looked great in the wind.
And the Maria-cade moves on toward the distant Piazza San Marco. Better them than us.
No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.
I walk out the front door and sooner rather than later I notice things that make me ponder. Sometimes I ponder deeply and fruitlessly, and sometimes I do Ponder Lite and just absorb the beauty.
Here are some recent places and things that made me look twice:
It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Roma. I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage. In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only. It’s true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it’s true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn’t remove his backpack. Does it make him feel safe? Smaller?). There is nothing WRONG with what he’s doing, it’s just outlandish. My trying to imagine what the ride would be like if everybody decided to bring their own chairs doesn’t help me feel any better about this. And yet I still can’t say why.
A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini. A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree that could perhaps have been more useful on the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen. The amount of effort and money dedicated to supporting this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as Komodo dragons and Hungerford’s crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one. This isn’t the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree, though perhaps someone somewhere thinks that if it can be kept upright, eventually this tree will achieve some status worthy of the Guinness Book.
Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.
And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depend on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.
The game is on, Watson — here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Venice as “campanon” (“big bell”). Lino says boys play it too. Nice to know there’s something other than soccer going on here.
At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.
Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.