I attended my first Carnevale in 1996, and was amazed to see a city decorated with the most imaginatively-costumed participants; they roamed the frigid streets by day, posing for photos for anyone with a camera, and seeking refuge and cioccolato caldo inside the Florian, or any 18th-century throwback in the vicinity if they couldn’t abide waiting in line. They reveled by night, sweeping across the Piazza facendo il loro effetto, creating impromptu musicales, and attending celebratory dinners and masked balls (of varying degrees of decadence) in luminous palazzi. “They work all year on their costumes,” said one Carnevale aficionado, and it showed. Even wandering the streets in your own, more modest mask or costume, it didn’t take much imagination to get the feel of what delirious Venice must have been like in centuries past.
Like so many things these days, Carnevale’s just not the same. The famous and otherwise well-endowed rent stupendous costumes to wear to prestigious, expensive, commercialized balls. We donned our own fanciful costumes, rather impressed with ourselves, but found we were in the distinct minority in giro, it was only when we attended some party or other that we found ourselves once again in the company of fantastic strangers. We missed the old days (except for the cold).
In any case, it’s tranquil city the day after martedì grasso and the end of the festivities, and Venice has another year to decide what sort of party it will throw l’anno prossimo. I do hope more folks opt for going incognito. It’s what makes Carnevale, Carnevale…isn’t it?