Drums, laughter and squeals of pleasure saturated the square. Confetti and the brilliant lights of fireworks filled the night with smoke and flashes of color. It was a time of sweets, oranges, masquerade balls, Commedia Dell Arte and opera at its most lavish. Everywhere there were entertainments and amusements. Jugglers, astrologers, puppet shows, strolling musicians, portable menageries of wild animals and booths offering anything and everything possible were set up across the piazza.
There was little time for sleep, particularly during the last week Fat Week, of Carnival. Even into the 19th century, long past what some consider the Carnivals glory days, visitors to Venice continued to exhaust themselves in this final week before Lent and ritual deprivation. Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), the English poet wrote in 1818:
I have hardly had a wink of sleep this week pastWe are in the agonies of the Carnivals last days and I must be up all night, as well as tomorrow. I have had some curious masking adventures this Carnival; but as they are not yet over, I shall not say on. I will work the mine of my youth to the last veins of the ore and then good night. I have lived, and am content.
Carnival in Venice it is the heart, the soul and the very key to understanding the city. All of this is symbolized by a common object a mask.
Whether Carnival with its masks and masquerades was merely another form of the ancient Romans Bread and Circuses, or whether the city, itself, was (or even is) a metaphor for a Carnival, is a matter of opinion. Was Carnival simply an illusion or an ancient ritual through which the city promised its citizens an acceptable escape from reality? Was it a mere commercial venture to fleece the visitors?
Visitors to Venice during Carnival and they flocked to the city on this day in droves, delighted in the experience. They adored the sound, the pageantry and the overall bizarreness of the encounter with the unusual. They marveled at what John Evelyn (1620-1706). The diarist and gardener called folly and universal madness.
Carnival time in Venice was unlike the same festival in any other European city at the time. It had no equal even throughout Italy and France. Not until Mardi Gras in Americas New Orleans or Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil were so many strangers greeted so joyously in a modern city and then exposed to such lavish and paganesque ritualistic celebrations of a Christian festival. And still, today, Carnival in Venice draws celebrators of all types to join in the fun.
This is the story of Venice, of its growth, its beauty and its strength to endure. Its main focus is on its symbiotic relationship with Carnival and its ambiguous and often controversial symbol the mask.
Posted by Venetian Mask Society on 9/8/2012