Country of the month: Italy
“Semel in anno licet insanire” [Once a year, going mad is allowed] says an ancient Latin adagio, and the time has come to do just that, as Italy prepares for the celebration of Carnival.
People from all over the world will crowd its streets, some covered in flamboyant costumes, some only allured by the atmosphere of the famous street parades. If you happen to be an expat in Italy this month – lucky you! – here is what you can’t miss!
The Venetian Carnevale
The Carnival of Venice is arguably the most famous carnival in the world, along with Cologne and Rio de Janeiro. The opening party on 23rd January is the first unmissable event. Watch the parade of boats floating along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the wonderful San Marco basin, arguably one of the most famous landmarks Venice has to offer.
As an added bonus, this year food and wine itineraries have been organised for those who want to experience the real Venetian lifestyle.
Festa delle Marie
This celebration is among the most famous that take place during the Carnival. In the high Middle Ages, all the young couples who were due to get married that year gathered in the church of San Pietro in Castello, and the twelve poorest couples were blessed.
In 973 AC, Saracen pirates attacked the city and the population miraculously managed to save all the children. From that moment, a celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary was instituted, and although it was later cancelled, it has recently been revived as a historic heritage. This year, the ceremony will take place on the 30th of January: the Doge (the chief magistrate of Venice) won’t be there to meet the girls, but maybe you will, and you won’t regret it.
“Everyone lies, but give them a mask and they will be sincere,” Oscar Wilde
What makes the Carnevale so recognisable abroad are the masks. Diverse masks of every type are visible, some grotesque, some delicate in their white majesty.
You can admire the art of the craftsmen producing their masterpieces during the Art and Trades displays on the 30th of January. Later this day the first round of the Best Costume Award is held.
If you treat yourself and splurge your money on wigs and feathers, maybe the prize will be yours!
Il volo dell’angelo – The flight of the angel
Arguably the most famous event taking place during the kermesse, this “flight” is now the re-enactment of a historical ceremony. Historically, a guest of Venice would fly down a rope from the St Mark’s bell tower right up to the Doge, to pay his homage to the leader of the city. This year, the “angel” will be Irene Rizzi, last year’s winner of the “Festa delle Marie” beauty contest. Be there… or be square!
The Carnival of Viareggio
If you already are in Italy, and want to enjoy the Carnival atmosphere some more, I strongly suggest that you pay a visit to Viareggio. It is a wonderful city located on the Tyrrhenian side of Italy, a hundred miles west of Florence.
It may be even more appealing during the summer, given how beautiful the Lido is, and how close it is to other major Italian seaside destinations like Camaiore or Forte dei Marmi. During the Carnival, Viareggio blossoms in a rainbow of masks and costumes.
The specialty of the place, however, are the Parade Floats: every year the most famous names of the Italian and international showbiz are caricatured on these floats, and stroll through the streets entertaining the crowds.
It’s beautiful and unforgettable: your best bet, if you are looking for an authentic, off-the-tourist-trail Carnival-themed experience!