Carnevale di Venezia
There is something quite satisfying about following through on a promise you make to yourself. About four years ago, I visited Venice for a few days (apologies for the layout of that link, it was an entry written on a different blogging platform in another life, and has gotten a little jumbled on reincarnation). As I said at the time, the famous city of water and glass was pleasant to walk around, and a very unique experience, but I felt it was kind of run down, and poorly maintained. One thing which really got my attention, however, were the masks. In so many of the stores, masks were being made and sold in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They ranged from relatively simple domino or masquerade-style masks, through to highly decorative full-face masks with all sorts of feathers, flowers and appendages bursting out of them.
One thing which all the masks seemed to carry was an air of elegance and mystique. They almost never carried any form of expression, and when I realised that their main function was in the annual February Carnevale, I decided it was something I would definitely have to come back and experience one day.
Historically, the population of the city would take this annual opportunity to shroud themselves in anonymity, and wander the streets participating in all sorts of hedonistic activity. This was a time to remove class distinctions by hiding the face (although one would suspect that the truly lower-class would not have had masks at all), and enjoy yourself before the reflective season of Lent began.
Over time, the period given over to the Carnevale functions increased, until it was in action for about 6 months of the year. Then, Napoleon turned up and in 1797 gave Venice to Austria (taking the horses from San Marco’s Basilica with him for his Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris), and the Carnevale fell into steady decline. It was revived in the late 1970s, and has blossomed once again.
Now, for a week the canals and alleyways of the island are walked by a large number of anonymous aristocrats from around the world once again, mostly hidden from view entirely by their large, outrageously colourful outfits, and despite the ridiculous number of tourists in the main areas (nowhere near as many of whom as I would like are even bothering to put a mask on), for a few days the place really feels like it has once again embraced the magic and nobility of ages past. It’s a great time to put on a costume yourself, and stroll about in the gorgeous weather, mingling with people whose faces you will never know.