Archive for Carnival
Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday. I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point. If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.
But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control. So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich? I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.
I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012). Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi. He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.
And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.” He said he was joking.
“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable. But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”
The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.” I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation. Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.
From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear. So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.
And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers. The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.” Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up. I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.
Now it can be told: My absence from my blog has been almost completely due to my presence elsewhere, viz., the world of Venetian masks. Specifically, those who make them. Well, some of those who make them — it wasn’t easy narrowing the field down to four. All this was for “Craftsmanship” magazine’s winter issue.
Certain chunks of time during that period were co-opted by the incessant unpredictables of daily life: Finding a dentist and replacing a large filling which fell out of a molar; replacing the hot-water heater in our little hovel, which is located in a closet literally three steps from my computer; renewing my passport (half a day, what with getting to and from the airport where the consulate is located); opening a new bank account because of new American laws I won’t bore you with. And so on. Charlotte Bronte and George Sand and Harriet Beecher Stowe never had to put up with all this because they had servants, for which I will never forgive them.
Back to work: From sometime far back in October till three days ago, I was researching, interviewing, and probing the depths of maskdom (history of, reason for, artisans therefrom, techniques, materials, anecdotes, etc.). As usual, I overdid it, which meant that the pressure of the final phases (writing, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting) made my brain feel like a decaying swamp plant being turned into a diamond. The pressure was there, anyway, I can attest to that.
I learned several very interesting things about masks in the process, but two things stand out, and I want you to remember them: First, the best mask-makers are constantly trying new ideas and designs, and second, they do it even though they know the mask probably won’t ever sell. That statement is worth pondering.
I have pondered the one with pleasure and the other with regret, because if you were to judge the range of masks on sale in Venice by looking at what people are wearing out on the street during Carnival, you would conclude that there are about five designs. At most. One of many reasons why I regard Carnival as one of the dullest and most stultifying intervals in the Venetian year is precisely because of the freaking monotony and lack of imagination in the costumes and masks. I can dimly understand the appeal of disguising yourself. But I cannot understand the appeal of disguising yourself to look exactly like hundreds of other disguised people. At what point does the concept of “disguise” fail and become merely “normal”?
So here are some photographs of some masks that are sitting right there in shops (or about to be), and I’d like you to give them some respect because they’re quite likely to stay in the shops. Why? I hear you cry. Because people don’t want to spend money for an original work of art they can also tie onto their head.
If for some reason you want to spend the money but inconveniently don’t have it on you at the moment, at least do something different! You don’t have to be an artist to break out of the mold. You could buy a cheap white mask and stick crumpled-up chewing-gum wrappers on it and spray it with glitter. You could throw the wrappers away and stick the gum directly on it. You could take some Sharpie pens in different colors and write the story of your life all over it. You could make a tunic out of newspaper and wander around blowing a kazoo and yelling “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” and announcing whatever invented headlines you really wish were true. You could do a lot, if you start to think about it.
Here is the link to the story, and I am indulging myself bv adding some photographs that didn’t make it into the story, particularly some masks that are as unlike what you see on the street as mulch is from creme fraiche.
Here is a picture of the world yesterday, when frolic and carousal were the purpose of life:
Lino was telling me about Carnival when he was a lad — or rather, not-Carnival.
“Who celebrated Carnival?” he asked in his characteristically rhetorical way. “It was right after the war and nobody had anything to eat. Everybody was just trying to survive.”
There’s another reason why there was no costumed jollification before Lent. “The government forbade you to wear a mask,” he said. Why? “For fear of reprisals. There was a lot of settling of scores from the war.” He means civilian scores, struggles between Fascists and Socialists on the home front.
“I had two uncles — I can’t remember their names right now,” he went on. “They were really vocal Socialists, and every time the Duce came to Venice, they were put in prison.” Ostensibly for their own protection, but more probably to keep whatever peace could be kept while company was visiting.
But prison didn’t have to be involved in these domestic conflicts. Mussolini’s squads of paramilitary “Blackshirts” (officially known as the Voluntary Militia for National Security) were notorious for taking political dissidents and forcing them to drink large quantities of castor oil. That experience would certainly leave a memory that would call for redress.
“And the Ponte brothers,” he went on. “You remember Bruno Ponte, he worked at the airport with me. My older brother, who was a Socialist, told me that when the brothers went home at night, they walked backwards to their front door, holding machine guns, so nobody would shoot them in the back.”
Carnival? You mean, let’s all dress up like Mozart and walk around the Piazza San Marco so people can take our picture? I’d say people weren’t really in the mood.
Now we have to say a word about today, Ash Wednesday. You might be aware that it is a day of abstinence and penitence, which used to involve a number of practices, most of which no longer survive.
The major custom (apart from going to Mass and having ashes sprinkled on your head) was to abstain from eating meat today. Only fish. Or maybe nothing, if anybody were to feel extremely penitent.
Therefore it has long been the custom for the butcher shops to be closed on Ash Wednesday. A cynical person might interpret that as “They might as well, if they’re not going to have any business.” But in any case, the tradition is still observed in our little lobe of Venice and, I’m guessing/hoping, elsewhere.
Butcher shops, though, are in a steep decline, so this valuable reminder of at least one day a year when they’re not standing there ready to provide T-bone steak is probably going to disappear eventually. After all, the supermarkets are all open and are merrily selling meat of every sort, including tripe.
I see I started with food and I’m ending with food. Maybe this abstinence thing is beginning to affect my brain. I mean, stomach.
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.