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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memories of Carnevale in Venice

It's well known that Italians know how to party and the Carnival is one of the biggest events of the year. It’s almost time to celebrate it, so I would like to share with you some history of this traditional and very popular event from Venice.
I’ve been celebrating Carnevale since I was a child. As long as I can remember, and even before that since I have so many pictures of me as a baby dressed up for this event, Carnevale has been part of my life. So many happy memories of it, so many parties with music and family and friends together …of course all dressed up for the event!!
Il Carnevale in Venice is nowadays a major event that brings to Venice thousands and thousands of tourists. The Venice Carnival, which revives the traditional masked balls and elaborate costumes of the 18th century, is the highlight of the city's year. St Mark's square, the theatres, and the famous “campi” burst into life with musical, theatrical, acrobatic and dance performances.

With a two-week series of processions, masquerades, traditional ceremonies, music and all-round festivities among the canals, squares and palaces of this ancient city, the Venice Carnival is one of the most celebrated and fascinating events in Europe. The whole city is filled with musicians, acrobats, theatre troupes and revelers from all over the world, and for those with a more aristocratic bent, there are dozens of masked balls, brunches in period costume and gala dinners to attend. And a lot of private parties too.

The carnival, with its attendant tradition of mask wearing, has existed in some form or another since the 13th century. The masks themselves - along with the traditional bauto (hood and cape), tabarro (cloak) and tricorn hat - were favored because they conferred complete anonymity on their wearers. Some of them are pieces of art, so beautiful and elegant.

Since Venice is a very small city, build on water, like a labyrinth of small streets and canals, well for sure it’s very crowed during the Carnevale while thousands of people try to walk around! It has been estimated that 30,000 visitors coming to the city in one day are enough to make serious pedestrian traffic jams, and on Fat Saturday and Sunday over 120,000 regularly come. You can imagine the madness!! But it’s worth to be there at least once in your life.

The Carnival in Venice was probably born in 1162 A.D., as a celebration for the victory of the "Repubblica della Serenissima", the name of the State of Venice in those times, in the war against Ulrico, Patriarch of Aquileia. St.Mark's Square was – as still is nowadays, the heart of the feast. One of the most ancient traditions was the “Flight Of The Angel”, the opening of the Carnival: a tightrope walker reached the seat of the Doge (the governor) from St.Mark's Bell Tower. Every year a famous person has the honor to do this stunt!!

By the seventeenth century the Carnival of Venice, had become a regular attraction for tourists from Northern Europe – especially the so-called Grand Tourists: young aristocratic men who spent a year or more visiting the cultural attractions of Italy. More then 30,000 visitors would come to the city during the week before Ash Wednesday, along with around 10,000 prostitutes. It would seem that Grand Tourists came to the Carnival of Venice to (in ascending order of interest) dress in costume, see the opera, gamble and frequent the prostitutes. By the mid-eighteenth century the contribution of the Grand Tourists to the Venetian economy was so great that Venice could no longer afford to ban or restrict the festivities without risk of bankruptcy.
But when the Republic fell in 1797, Carnival was soon banned, and it remained forbidden throughout the Austrian occupation (1815-66). With reunification of Italy, however, an attempt was made to bring Carnival back. But under those Fascist laws that forbade wearing a mask in public, for the next half century, the Carnival of Venice was a dress-up event for children’s parties only.

The Carnival came back in early February 1979, when, some parents and civic leaders in Venice decided to sponsor a more formal festival to substitute for the parties of teenagers, which many thought were getting too rowdy. I still remember the Carnevale of 1980: the weather was fantastic and the Venetian put together a great celebration for Carnevale, with music and a spectacular ball in the St. Mark ‘s Square. And slowly the Carnival tradition was born again and slowly the tourists came back.
By 1981, or 1983-84 at the latest, The Carnival of Venice had largely mutated to be A Carnival in Venice, with the city and its citizens playing an increasingly passive and background role for the tens, and then hundreds of thousands of tourists who showed up – more every year. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the numbers could actually be frightening—around 800,000 for the entire 2002 Carnival season (now expanded to around three weeks) and nearly a million by 2004.

This is the history of the Carnevale. On a fun and personal way I can say that the high energy of the thousands of happy people walking around is contagious. And when the night come, the music and the sounds that you have heard around for the whole day start to slowly dime and the romantic and magic beauty of Venice comes back: it’s a surreal and almost magical feeling.  Venice at night is like heaven, it’s like the quiet after the storm…and after a day of the madness of Carnevale, when Venice goes back to her timeless beauty…it feels like time stand still for her. No cars, no boats, only a few people around, some masks walking back home! So quiet and so beautiful!!
I hope you can experience all of this one day!! You will never forget it!!
Stay tune for my next week blog to hear more about “Shoes” and more tips from “When in Italy Do As The Italians do”.

Love to you all,
When in Italy do as the Italians do:
Italian Usage Error: Dining in the “Prison” of a restaurant.

During the spring and summer, when the weather turns warm and families eat outside on terraces, decks, and porches, you can read any cooking magazine and for sure you can find an article about dining "al fresco." There are even restaurants throughout the United States named Al Fresco (or worse, Alfresco). On your next trip to Italy, though, when you arrive at that highly-recommended “trattoria” or “ristorante” in the city that you are visiting for lunch ”pranzo” and have to decide between dining indoors versus outside on the terrace overlooking a Piazza or a beautiful panorama, the hostess, “la cameriera”, will probably laugh if you ask to dine "al fresco." That's because, strictly speaking, the term means "in the cooler"—similar to the English slang term that means to be in jail or prison. Instead, use the term "all'aperto" or "all’ aria aperta" or even "fuori."

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