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Confetti and Carnevale

Mel Flanagan | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

This year, my weekend before Ash Wednesday was not occupied with deciding what to give up for Lent as it usually is. Instead, I spent it celebrating Carnevale, an annual 10-day festival that culminates on Fat Tuesday and features parades, masquerade balls and entertainment.

I traveled to Venice, the site of one of the world’s largest and most popular Carnevale events, for the last weekend of the festival before Lent began. Because of the impending Ash Wednesday, we were expecting huge crowds and crazy parties until dawn. As a result, we were slightly disappointed when we arrived in Venice at 4 a.m. on Friday morning and the city looked completely deserted. Nevertheless, we navigated ourselves to our hostel and slept for a few hours before we began our day’s activities.

When we woke up later on Friday, we felt more of the festival atmosphere we were expecting. We passed a square that was heavily decorated and held tents filled with food and souvenirs, as well as an ice skating rink that had been constructed just for the few weeks of Carnevale. We chose to spend most of Friday on Burano, a small island off the coast of Venice famous for its brightly colored houses. We wandered along the canals and admired the picturesque homes, as well as the lacework and glass that Burano is known for.

On Saturday we fully immersed ourselves in the spirit of Carnevale. We woke up early and headed to San Marco Square, the main square of Venice and the heart of the festival. The crowd was enormous – a square that would normally take five minutes to cross took at least thirty. Our first stop was the Fontana del Vino, a fountain next to San Marco Basilica that spurted red wine instead of water. With our drinks in hand, we stood back and observed the mass of people.

Before Carnevale, I had assumed the most dedicated revelers would simply wear elaborate masks. I could not have been more wrong. Hundreds of people dressed from head to toe in crazy and beautiful costumes stood alone, in pairs or in groups at random places throughout the square. There were couples wearing complete Victorian or Renaissance garb, women dressed in colorful silk dresses and matching headpieces and groups of people who looked like they just walked out of a circus. And all of them were wearing masks. Some wore only eye masks, other chose solid color masks that covered their mouths as well and still others had decorated masks that encircled their heads and displayed multiple faces. Unfortunately many people also wore my least favorite type of mask, one with a long and creepy bird beak.

For a long time we debated whether the stationary characters were employed by the city of Venice for the festival or whether they simply loved Carnevale and wanted to embrace its final days. Either way, the characters stood silently for hours, allowing the crowds to pause and snap photos with them. After seeing the beautiful masks worn by everyone in the square, we were driven to find masks of our own, and we each picked out different colors and styles.

After dinner and a tranquil gondola ride through the canals of the city, we traveled to a square known for its nightlife to celebrate our last night in Venice. The deserted city of our first night was nowhere to be seen. Revelers in costumes still wandered the square, which was packed with people spilling out of the many bars. There was confetti everywhere, both on the ground and still being thrown in the air at random times by passersby. As a result, we woke up with an additional Carnevale souvenir, hundreds of confetti pieces on our clothes, in our bags and tangled in our hair. Although we enjoyed the morning surprise, I’m not so sure our hostel owner did.