Archive for Carnevale

Feb
10

Ready, aim, Carnival

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I don't know what the rest of this partyer looked like -- I was too busy admiring her hands and mask.  I love her mitten -- it's like a hunting glove 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The grandmothers are hardier than anybody.

Case in point.

The Marias had lovely costumes but I was appalled to see that they had spent the morning in hairdo hell.  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.

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.

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.

Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.

He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of "What's the weather up there?"

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.

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.

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.

Bringing up the rear is a quartet of “sbandieratori,” or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.

Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.

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.

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.

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.

No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Feb
14

Carnival for everybody else

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Monday night looked sort of like this, except that the water was much higher and there was more snow, which was lifted up in large undulating slabs like polar icepack. But this is just our little corner of the universe. Multiply all this by quadrillions and you can imagine the Piazza San Marco. Still, the real problems weren’t where there was water, but where there was snow. And ice. And so forth.

You know the old saying: “Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.”  (Is that an old saying, or did I just make it up?)

Following that bit of wisdom gave me a Carnival which was modest to the point of self-abnegation.  With lots of fritole.  The only unpleasantness was the acqua alta, but it did not reach the predicted epic proportions. (In fact, let the record show that one positive aspect of the imminent threat of water in the house is that, when all the stuff was piled on our two pieces of furniture, I cleaned and washed and dusted objects and places which hadn’t seen the hand of man since we moved in.) We had no plans or projects or desires or dreams or anything which could have been frustrated or ruined. And we didn’t lose power.

Reading the rundown in yesterday’s Gazzettino, though, I get a picture of a Carnival which for lots of other people — most of whom had needs far surpassing ours, primarily to travel in some way or to some degree in the culminating days –should have been called, not “Live in Color,” but “Going to Hell in Color.”

If you wanted to come to Venice on Monday night, with or without an expensive costume — or more to the point, if you really wanted to leave Venice on Monday night — you’d have found yourself involved in a sort of Ironman Triathlon: Riding the Train/Bus, Crossing the Square, and Finding Your Way Home in the Dark.

I could write a long post full of details, and I’ll keep the paper for a few days in case anybody asks me for more information.

But the headlines howling from a few pages of the paper tell enough. The thing to keep in mind is that island Venice covers some three square miles; mainland Venice covers some 21 square miles (Mestre is 8 square miles, Marghera is 13 square miles). It’s not Mexico City.  It’s not even Hampton, Connecticut.

Translation: How hard could it be to clear away some snow and keep the buses and trains running?

Answer: Hard.  Very hard.  Harder than building the Eupalinian aqueduct. Especially since it appears that nobody believed this storm was really going to hit.

There is a rundown in the paper of how many squads were working, and how many snowplows and salt trucks.  Unfortunately, they must have been phantoms; hardly anyone seems to have seen either them or evidence of their passage. In fairness, I note that there were people out working to deal with it all. Not enough, but some.

The second thing to keep in mind is that this large and violent storm, with snow and high water thrown in at no extra cost, was forecast for at least three days.  And it had already hit the west coast of Italy, and much of the south.  In other words, it wasn’t some bizarre anomaly which struck without warning.

In the order in which they appear, starting on page one of the local section (translated by me):

Under the snow, the inefficiency of the Veneto.  The prefect calls in the chiefs of public transport.  Consumers resort to the Procura (that is, the court. The prefect is the local representative of the President of the Republic, and pretty much outranks everybody.)

The precipitation caught just about everybody unprepared, from the Comune of Venice to the trains and at the airport. There were photos of people deplaning and struggling across the slippery slush covering the tarmac to get to the terminal. The baggage handling system went haywire. And so on.

There were blackouts all over the place, including the train stations in Venice and in Mestre. Not only tourists, but lots of commuters were either stranded or left to wait indefinitely for trains that were late, late, and late.

SNOW PLAN, everything has to be redone. If you read the whole article, you’ll ask yourself what they think “plan” might mean, when you consider how it worked out. The plan is ten years old, for what that’s worth.  And why, you ask, does the municipality keep a plan that has to be dusted every year because it’s never used until it’s useless?

Acqua alta, a night of terror.  The wind saves Venice and Chioggia. As previously noted by me, but without the “terror” part, at least in our little hovel.

Bad weather freezes the arrivals; Fat Tuesday for 60,000. This would only concern people with something to sell, because it’s less than half of the numbers which were expected.  Having fewer people around was the only good news I can see for emergency crews or any other group which had to contend with the breakdown of the plan.  I mean “plan.”

Transport chaos: the prefect isn’t having it. Ca’ Corner (headquarters of the prefect) retorts to the accusations of the transport people and wants to shed light on the reasons for the inconveniences (meaning no excuses).

“Crushed in the few buses which left Piazzale Roma.”  Needs no explanation except why there were so few buses, something the prefect also will be wanting to know. But remember that the buses to the mainland are operated by the ACTV, which has shown such impressive skill in managing transport by vaporetto.

Burano: Blackout on an island which finished under water — volunteers at work the entire night. High water doesn’t affect only Venice, when you stop to think about it.  The people on the islands have to get out the mops too.  In this case, they had to do it in the dark.  Fun.

Between water and blocks of ice; the fear finishes at midnight.  Bridges and streets slippery, people walking with tall boots alarmed (the people, not the boots) by the prediction of 160 cm.  Merchants on alert.  Nobody could help that there were blocks of ice floating around, which actually were more like heavy slushy shards; the street outside our door looked like the polar sea in spring, and so did the Piazza San Marco. Unlike the last acqua alta, there were no bare-chested tourists frolicking blithely in the gelid waist-deep water.

On the Giudecca, fondamente in the dark because the electricity was out.

Chemical toilets (port-a-potties) adrift in campo San Polo. Wow….

A storm of protests; the snow plan has to change.  The Comune demonstrates the efforts made to deal with Monday’s weather emergency, but even City Hall admits that in the future it will be necessary to do much more. Brains on fire! Smoke coming out of their ears!

No buses at the hospital (in Mestre); the employees forced to sleep in the hospital. 

And so on, and on, and on.

There are 220,000 Scouts in Italy; surely somebody in the Comune must have been a Scout at some time.  But “Be Prepared” seems to have been replaced by “Let’s just hope for the best.” 

Categories : Venetian Problems
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Mar
02

Carnival: more is less

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Carnival opened officially last Saturday with the parade of the “Marias.” And it opened in a super-mega-jumbo-cast-of-thousandsly way on Sunday with the “Volo dell’ Angelo,” or flight of the angel, in the Piazza San Marco.

On Saturday we personally got our first taste of Carnival by going — do not ask me why, we must have a death wish — to the Rialto market to shop, as we often do on Saturday morning.


People can easily acquire costumes, but there also seem to be costumes waiting to acquire people.

There were so many people in the city at 10:00 AM that they were being left on the vaporetto docks because the vaporettos couldn’t take any more passengers.

Let me pause here, because I don’t want to rant at random.  Let me organize the current Carnival scene in as concise a way as I can.  And I do this, not because I want to dash glacial water onto anybody’s fantasies of a festival which some widely distributed photographs lead you to believe is made only of dreams and glamor and a batch of feathers.  No, I don’t want to do that.

But neither is it Rio or Trinidad or the Fasnacht in Basel or the Carnival in Patras or even, God help us, Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  It is a strangely soulless, almost totally manufactured event which every year baffles me more than the year before, the only occurrence here which distresses Venetians more than the cost of living and the lack of affordable housing put together.  I’ve lived in other cities which swarm with tourists every day (New York, Washington).  The difference is that those are cities.  Here, it’s like 70,000 people (official Saturday count) are trying to get into your living room.

Regular common garden-variety confetti, here called "coriandoli."

So every year I wonder why people come and what they remember when they leave — I mean, apart from the spectacular cost of everything.  (A bag of confetti, 2.50 euros, or $3.50, in the Piazza San Marco, is one small example. I ask myself, why acquire pieces of colored paper just to throw them away?  You’ll already be doing that with fistfuls of other colored pieces of paper issued by the European Central Bank, beginning the minute you need to pay for anything at all, from a drink to a bathroom, not to mention dinner or a bed.)

Just like confetti, only bigger.

Here is what has happened so far:

Parade of the Marias — check.  Lovely girls borne aloft on wooden platforms hoisted by gondoliers, and a costumed entourage, wend from San Pietro di Castello to the Piazza San Marco.  Great for pictures. So far, so good.

Trumpeters and many other costumed characters lead the procession of the Marias.

The "Marias" proceed to the area where their wooden platforms are waiting.

The “Flight of the Angel” — check.  Under the Venetian Republic, the intrepid soul who undertook this Flying-Wallendas sort of stunt literally risked (and occasionally lost) his life.  This is just a person in a costume sliding down a cable to which she has been cinched at least eight different ways. But there were 80,000 people crammed into the Piazza to watch. Great for pictures.

A “white strike.” I’m not referring to some exotic piece of performance art. It means a major slowdown — not a total strike — by the ACTV, our eccentric public transport company.  In its wisdom, the first real weekend of Carnival was clearly the ideal time — two days in which the city’s population doubles — in which to make its labor grievances known, whatever they may be.

On a normal day, the ACTV skips an average of 150 runs anyway.  (I’ll wait while that sinks in.)  Saturday was worse, because not only did they skip runs at random, thereby creating large accumulations of people at each stop, but the vaporettos went v-e-r-r-r-r-r-y  s-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y between stops.  Seeing as the workers refused to effect extra runs for the entire duration of Carnival, the city was ultimately compelled to hire a private company to provide extra service during peak hours.

Ugo Bergamo, the Assessore (councilor) for Transport, gave a brief interview to explain the situation. To the reporter’s question, “Couldn’t this have been anticipated and prevented?” Mr. Bergamo gave the astonishing reply, “A strike is supposed to create problems, otherwise what kind of a strike is it?” Mr. Bergamo didn’t feel it was appropriate to criticize the ACTV (though plenty of criticism has been made over the past year, not only for erratic service but for ticket sellers stealing money, and the deeply rooted practice of hiring relatives of employees).  To him, the ACTV was far more sinned-against than sinning.

He blamed lack of money for problems which were seen as having been imposed on, not created by, the ACTV.  (Translation: “Get over it.”) Rather than bring up the strike in the next City Council meeting, he wants us all to take to the barricades to protest the national and regional funding cuts which are flensing the finances of the rogue whale which is the ACTV. Not so great for pictures.

Taking pictures is the main Carnival activity. In Rio, people dance. Here, they stand still.

If you're not taking pictures, you're probably posing for them. Some people even organize themselves to pose for pay, which is prohibited by the same ordinance which forbids begging, to which it bears an amazing resemblance. But so many people can't resist the urge to have their friends snap a picture of them with somebody in costume who is asking for money that it goes on. This pair could make 500 euros a day with their little basket.

Civil unrest. It was inevitable. In the tiny hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, police and Carabinieri were called to Piazzale Roma to deal with a nascent riot.  Hundreds of tired, cold, inebriated revelers had accumulated there expecting to find buses which could take them to the mainland.  Well yes, there were a few — so few that the masses essentially assaulted them, while the taxi drivers had to deal with many infuriated people who considered the fares to be a ripoff. (Considering how exorbitant the fares are on a normal day, there’s no telling what the drivers were asking on a Carnival night.) After an hour or two of hard labor, calm was restored, mainly by more buses being brought into service.

“Venice on some occasions demonstrates an alarming lack of direction and coordination,” editor and reporter Davide Scalzotto remarked in an opinion piece the next day. “If this is a city that wants to be considered [as a candidate for] European Capital of Culture, they’d better think it over. That in 2011 one of the world capitals of tourism can’t manage to connect the city on the water with the mainland 24 hours a day is verging on the incredible.  First they invite tends of thousands of people to a party and bring lots of money to the ‘touristic categories,’ then they abandon them in the middle of the street to work it out for themselves.”

But there are also plenty of people who are happy to pose with your pal for free. I understand doing it for money, but I don't really understand this. It's not like they send you a print for your scrapbook.

No special trains. This was a departure from past years and obviously creates more logistical misery for the revelers.  Negotiations between the city and Trenitalia sputtered and died because nobody could reach an agreement on who would pay the bill for the extra service.  Of course we already know that no ghe xe schei.  Certainly not here, and evidently not at Trenitalia, either. Perhaps it’s under the potted palm.

The Grand Foyer:  Now this was something new. When the partyers finally got to the Piazza San Marco, they discovered that 3/4 of the area had been closed off to form a sort of VIP area called the “Grand Foyer.”  Depending on the day, the cost of a ticket to enter this realm ranged from 5 to 100 euros, and was offered as a very special way to enjoy proximity to the stage for the show(s) and some other perks.  (Like seats on risers to watch the concert, or bags of confetti for 2.50). The organizers made no secret of their idea that this was intended as another way to make some of that missing schei, but so few people availed themselves of this opportunity– considering that they could see the show just as well from outside the fence — that eventually they let people in for free.  (Does this remind you of anything? Peace and love, man.)

It’s true that you could dress up in an expensive rented costume (at least 200 euros) and attend a really glamorous party, like the one given at the Palazzo Pisani-Moretta on the Grand Canal. Tickets to that cost a mere 700 euros.

All the professional photographers on the hunt don't even pretend to be interested in partying.

Or you could buy a mask and walk around taking pictures of people in masks and costumes.  Or you could skip buying a mask and just walk around taking pictures. This seems to be what most people prefer.

We ran into a friend as we walked home Monday morning, and we indulged in a few choruses of a song which by now one knows all too well, the title of which could be “This isn’t Carnival, this is madness.”  “People will do anything just to make money.”  “Carnival is dead.  Every year they just put more lipstick on the corpse.”

Naturally the city and its various Carnival-not-organizing components have already begun the spin. Speaking of how the Grand Foyer was working out, Piero Rosa Salva, the head of Venezia Eventi e Marketing, tranquilly described it as a sort of creative work-in-progress, an experiment.  You can’t call an experiment a mistake, because, well, you’re experimenting.  I myself can’t find a way to take seriously a project which could be labeled, “Let’s charge people lots of money for something they can get for free.”  (Actually, I haven’t even tried to take it seriously.) But they’re still trying to understand why it didn’t work — so they can make it work better next time. Meanwhile, the private partners (Expo Venice and Attiva), which signed a three-year agreement with the city to share the cost of the stage, among other things, are probably already wondering what they were thinking.

Me, I’m always wondering what they were thinking.

I have the uncanny sensation that even the masks are wondering what we could possibly be thinking.

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