Thursday, January 31, 2013

Carnival in Italy

By Patricia Winton

Christmas decorations—always on display in Italy until at least January 6—have barely been packed away. Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) still hangs by his rope ladder from a few balconies. Twinkling lights linger on lampposts here and there, but Italians, adults and children alike, are already preparing for the next celebration—Carnevale

Pope Benedict figure at 2008 Viarregio Parade
This pre-Lenten ritual offers adults ample opportunities to carouse in Venice or Viareggio. In Venice, adults dress in elaborate costumes and parade among the canals wearing hand-crafted masks. Venetian mask-makers enjoy a rarefied status, and their products are sold year round in alluring shops that invite residents and tourists alike to spend money. In Viareggio, parade floats mirror the artistry of Venetian masks. Originating in 1873, the Viareggio parade, which snakes along the sea, features giant caricatures of politicians, entertainers, and other famous people. No one is immune to being targeted. In both cities, adults party, dance, and drink.

That goes for other cities as well, but across lo stivale, the boot, children reign at carnival time. Until recently, Halloween didn’t figure in Italian celebrations, so Carnevale provided children a chance to dress up. Shops catering to children display elaborate costumes, and searching for just the right one is as intensive as shopping for the first day of school. But these costumes are not held for just one day. For the next couple of weeks, principesse (princesses) and pirati (pirates), Cappucetto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood) and Ragno (Spiderman) will make their way to school, walk along the sidewalk, and play in the piazzas. Even babies get into the act as bumblebees and Teletubbies, though Tinky-Winky is known here as “Twinkle.”

Photo by pierofix via Photopin
Shops have stocked up on bags of confetti (called coriandoli, “coriander”) which little costumed creatures cast at passersby as they charge down the street. That’s the most innocuous of their weapons. Packs of festoni (streamers) hail from almost every shop. Children fling these tightly rolled paper strands along the pavement, too. It’s not uncommon to encounter Tinker Bell, or other characters, with these paper ribbons in her hair. The gutters are full of them on the festival wanes. Streamers are not only the realm of children, however; adults play with them, too. A couple of years ago, I went to a relatively staid event at a restaurant just before Martedì Grasso. While we waited for desert, the hostess distributed festoni, and we tossed them around the room like children—and we weren’t even in costume!

Carnevale in Venice
But the most nefarious weapon in the children’s carnival arsenal is Silly String. When little tykes are given a can by doting parents, they run around giggling with glee, squirting at anything that moves. It wouldn’t be so bad it they just targeted each other, but they often choose to ambush unsuspecting me. The stuff sticks to the sidewalks, and as Easter approaches, hapless doorkeepers are out with brooms trying to get the stuff up. During the solemn Lenten period, the colored tendrils clinging to the sidewalk gradually wear away from the footsteps grinding them. By the time Spring is in full swing, they have been forgotten. Fortunately, Silly String disappears with Lent, not to reappear until the following year.

Even on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, children appear in their Carnevale finery, usually swathed in scarves and woolen hats to stave off the cold. And underneath those costumes, they’ll be bundled in sweaters and undervests. They carry their favorite weapons and battle it out in the piazzas after church.

I’m looking forward to watching the children in costume again this year. It’s a rite that proves Spring is indeed on the way.

Be sure to follow me at Novel Adventurers on alternate Thursdays. Next week I'm writing about shopping. 


Carla King said...

Your posts are always so lively and fun to read. I love Christmas and listen to classical Christmas music almost every day. It comforts my autistic brain. :) And our live Christmas tree is still up. We're thinking of keeping it up year round but changing the ornaments throughout the year. The tree has already grown about eight inches, so it'll be fun to see if we can still use by next Christmas before planting it outside.

Patricia Winton said...

Thanks, Carla, for the kind words. Your Christmas tree project sounds like fun. Take pictures as you go through the year. It will be a lovely thing to have in the future. And the tree has grown eight inches in a month! Amazing.