Italian Carnivale: A Chance to Enjoy the Finer Things in Life
As is the American way, Americans always want their products shinier, faster, more efficient, and consequently, as there are exorbitant numbers of us, mass-manufactured. We live in a world of over-sized sports utility vehicles and a constant craving for the latest technology. In our strife to rapidly acquire such objects representative of success, we’ve overlooked the fact that receiving a service or product faster doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. Of those nations that comprise the Western world, Italy, in particular, promotes the notion of quality over quantity in both business and pleasure.
Italy relishes its ability to produce its goods, celebrate its significant events, and essentially, live free of a highly commercial attitude. In its larger cities, Italy’s tourist industry may foster capitalist ventures such as the occasional Vatican key chain or Carnivale di Venezia t-shirt. However, Italians have little interest in incorporating American ideals into their day-to-day life; steadfast in tradition, Italy still values the finer things in life and the ‘beauty of doing nothing’ over all else. This lack of fervent emulation makes it a most refreshing vacation destination.
To the best of most tourists’ knowledge, a vacation in Italy is about the food, wine, fashion, art, and architecture, and I am in total agreement. However, as I mentioned above, the vacation is, to an even greater degree, about the attitude. The greatest examples of the Italian inclination to escalate common existence to a level of opulence are first the country’s piazze, or central squares, and second, the lavish festivals that take place within them.
I suggest that upon visiting any town in Italy, you first seek out the main piazza. (Don’t at major meals in the restaurants or shop in the stores located on the piazzas, as they are most likely tourist traps). The piazza is a meeting place, an area where residents and visitors congregate to share ideas, a bottle of wine, and in spring, what promises to be a beautiful evening.
To the best of most tourists’ knowledge, a vacation in Italy is about the food, wine, fashion, art, and architecture, and I am in total agreement.
Unfortunately, the closest American counterpart is the food court at your local shopping mall which, as a result of American culture, does not usually envelope you in breathtaking Renaissance architecture or romantic-minded people.
Also, as the night progresses, the very young and the very old slowly disappear from the piazza. You’ll then find that those in between get a little louder, the wine bottles and large glasses of Birra Moretti become more plentiful, and the aroma of those smoking may get a little sweeter as a dense European hash is rolled in with their tobacco. Whatever your pleasure, the piazza is a good place to meet locals and start your Italian evenings.
Italy’s festivals are a further extension of the country’s indulgent spirit, most notably, its Carnivale, a Catholic period of revelry that precedes Lent, much like our own Mardi Gras. Though there’s a shortage of scantily-clad, plastic bead-seeking drunkards in the streets of Venice during Carnival, those within the city’s limits carouse in an equally frenetic, sensuous, Dionysian manner. Costumes reminiscent of the Renaissance era, accompanied by the famously lavish Venetian masks, are adorned and dramatic entertainment events flood the canals. This year, the Carnivale di Venezia is opening on January 23rd with a show entitled Festa Venetiana sull’Acqua—Venetian Celebration on the Water, that is. Highly decorated boats evoking the colors of traditional Venetian fabrics and paintings will take over the Rio di Canneragio; so imagine the insane Mardi Gras floats we see annually, only on water.
This tradition, upheld in Catholic countries throughout the world, is a magical time in Venice that once broke the rules of social class and identity to allow the average man to engage in luxurious jubilation. The result: a week of debauchery that occurs annually around the same time as our own Mardi Gras season.
Author Italo Calvino captured this revelry when he wrote: “From its squares to its palaces, from the historical places celebrating Venetian greatness to the inaccessible places that guard the memory of a civilization made of a culture and glamour: there is a journey to relive the spirit and times of great Carnivals past… it is a city which shows its soul during Carnival.”
Though there are magnificently posh balls that occur within the walls of Venice’s architectural feats, one must be within the elite social sphere in order to attend. As far as I’m concerned, the true Carnival goes on in the streets and piazzas. During the days throughout these two celebratory weeks, musicians, street performers, storytellers, fire-eaters, and dancers gather in the squares to both entertain and rejoice in this time of letting it all go. Wine flows freely and emotions stir as the night-time activities begin. Though costumes become more extravagant as years pass, veteran Carnival players are still seen in traditional “Bauta”—black cloak, black tricorn, and white plaster painted masks. These disguises allowed Venetians to break laws and remain anonymous during the weeks leading up to Lent. Today, they are the symbols of the occult Venetian fantasy. Celebrations and masquerade “balls” occur nightly in the piazzas, so don your most luxurious gear and don’t be afraid to delve into the underworld: there are no rules during Carnival.
The advantages of vacationing in Italy exist because of various experiences, and these do not begin and end with the food and the art. Basically,, there’s an overwhelming sense of indulging in life that one feels almost the second they step off the plane. Also, the $5 bottle of Sangiovese that you may purchase at any Tuscan grocery will probably surpass $30 imports you’re forced to buy at your local supermarket. Trains are cheap and fun, and many high-speed trains are offered to and between the major cities. Buses are alternatives that allow you an even closer look at the Italian countryside. Any diversion from your itinerary will not disappoint, and if you go to Italy, take an understanding of emphatic nationalist pride and a healthy appetite for decadence.