Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Celebrating a wet Italian Carnevale
Sunday, March 13
We live only thirty-five minutes from Viareggio, the location of one of the most famous Carnevale celebrations in Italy, and as the final Sunday of Carnevale approaches, we cannot resist the lure of the flesh. After going to church, no less, we decide to indulge ourselves and hop on the train to sample the revelry. Okay, that sounds a lot more salacious than it really is meant to be, but it does have some basis in history, at least.
Carnevale, or carnival in English, is celebrated in countries with Roman Catholic traditions and the “carne” part of the name does mean flesh or meat. During Lent, 40 days before Easter, Catholics traditionally abstained from eating rich foods such as meat, sweets, fats and dairy foods. So just before Lent, all rich foods had to be disposed of in some way, so why not have a big community party to get rid of them? This is thought to be how Carnevale originated, and the one in Venice was once the most famous, although now there is a bigger one in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Venice is still number one in Italy, at least by reputation, but some say Viareggio has surpassed it with a fantastic corso mascherato, or parade with masks. The floats are of immense size, three or four stories tall, and they are masterpieces of creative splendor befitting a country that is already famous for its art. Floats depict notable current or historic personalities and events, and they are animated both with sophisticated internal technology and live actors aboard in costume.
Unfortunately for us, we know this only by watching online videos, because after walking around in the rain for an hour and a half, we hear an announcement on the loudspeakers: Because of bad weather, il corso mascherato e annulato, canceled. We go back to the ticket booth and get our 30 euro refunded, and we do manage to snap some nice pictures of some of the carnevale celebrants, who are singing and marching in their own mini-parade.
Now we are faced with a difficult choice for our return trip. We have spent most of our time under our umbrellas and so we are mildly damp. We could wait an extra two hours and catch a train all the way to San Salvatore, or we could take a train right now that only goes as far as Altopascio, which would require a twenty-five-minute bike ride home. It has been raining off and on all day, so we could be in for a wet ride, but even if we wait for the San Salvatore train, we will still have an eight-minute bike ride home from that station. At the moment, it is not raining, and we decide to head out now and ride back from Altopascio. Alas, the closer we get, the harder it is raining, and we arrive home quite soaked, but one of the benefits of staying in a modern agriturismo is a shower with abundant hot water, so we are quickly revived. I suppose one could say that this is our worst day since we have been here, but we enjoyed watching the people, both the masked and unmasked, and we are still quite contented. Besides, this gives us something new to look forward to next year.
Here is where you can watch a nice video of last year’s Carnevale in Viareggio: