Saturday, February 18, 2012

Venezia Carnevale fascinating, and the city itself is just as appealing

The legs on this costume are fake.
The person's real legs are under
the egg.
Thursday, February 16
Living in San Salvatore last year, we were only 50 minutes from Viareggio and were able to view the amazing animated floats of the city’s Carvevale in February. Now we are only 30 minutes by train from Venezia, and so we are off on the 8:30 a.m. train to take in the other of Italys two most famous Carnevale celebrations.

I continue to marvel at the bargain prices we can obtain on Italy's regionale trains. We purchase round trip tickets for 3.50 euro each and arrive at 9 a.m. sharp. Since the corso mascherto, the parade of masks, is not scheduled until 11 a.m., we decide to hop a traghetto for the island of Murano, famous since at least the 10th century for its exquisite glass artists. A one-way boat ride to Murano is 6.50 euro, and although one could probably get away with using the same ticket to get back to the train station, we end up buying a return ticket as well.
This is one of the options if you don't have a
mask or costume.

Lucy has been to Murano before, but this is my first time. Previously she was able to watch a glass blowing artist for free, but now we are asked to pay 3 euro to watch at one of the shops. We decline, as we saw a demonstration in Venezia some years ago. Today, we are content to stroll the nearly empty sidewalks and watch as the Muranesi go about their daily business. Murano is much like Venezia, except the buildings are not as large and the sidewalks are less traveled. No gondolas here—the diverse boats and barges going to and fro in the canals are carrying fisherman, construction workers, mail and bundles of cargo. After we feast our eyes watching canals, boats and people, we stop for some gelato and then catch a boat to Piazza San Marco, the heart of Carnevale.

Look carefully and you
can see this lady's real
eyes just below her left
Viareggio has the most spectacular floats we have ever seen, but in keeping with the long history of Carnevale in Venezia, the focus here is on elaborate individual costumes. The Venezia celebration dates back to at least the 1100s, and Carneval become an official city holiday in 1296. Masks have been the trademark, and it is said that it is a time when the rich and poor rub shoulders because the masks hide people’s identities.

Lucy enjoys her wine and
frittella in front of the
fountain of wine.
Revelers who neglect to bring their costumes can purchase masks on site, or else they can have trucco, face makeup, applied by local artists. The parade of masks is not a formal parade, as far as we can see. People just mill about the piazza adorned with everything from simple masks to intricately designed full-length costumes. Those with the best costumes are besieged by tourists asking them to pose for photos. We see an old lady who is very short but has a costume which extends her height an additional two feet. We know she is short because we can just see her weathered face peeking out through the midriff of the costume of a fair young maiden. Lucy comments that this is a time when people can be who they want to be.

Italians start participating in
Carnevale at a young age.
We buy a glass of wine and frittella at the fountain of wine. Behind the booth, a fountain spouts a deep red liquid, but the actual wine we drink is poured from a bottle. A stage at the end of the piazza has musicians, dancers, actors and acrobats performing, and after a while the master of ceremonies and his assistants round up a dozen of the most interesting costumes and bring them up on stage for judging. The winner for the day is dressed as Marie Antoinette, accompanied by Il Re Sole, King Louis XVI.

Tourists love to pose with
the costumed characters.
And the winner is . . . Marie Antoniette, along with the Sun King, Louis XVI.

We take a train home at about 3 p.m. Overall, we would say that though the costumes were beautiful and interesting, the floats in Viareggio make last year’s Carnevale far more memorable and impressive. But given that Venezia itself is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, I would be hard pressed if asked to recommend one over the other.
That's Lucy on the left and Paul on the right. Yeah, sure.

King Neptune and his bride attracted a lot of attention.
Lady acrobat applies her makeup while
being held aloft.


  1. Wonderful pictures - beautiful weather - thanks for sharing this with us during another of our winter storms - rain, wind. Miss you

  2. and how the heck do acrobats do it?? I can't even do a hand stand in yoga yet.


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