In Life, the Universe, and Everything, Douglas Adams came up with the idea of an orbiting cocktail party that had been running for so many years the partygoers were now the great-great-great-great-grandchildren of the original guests. Carnevale, which once stretched to six months of the year, must have seemed a bit like that.
It fell into decline from the 19th century onwards and was ultimately banned by Mussolini, never much of a party animal. It was re-introduced in 1979, but nowadays it's a rather more manageable week-and-a-bit.
We've yet to meet an adult Venetian who can get particularly enthused by Carnevale. This is, admittedly, based on the possibly not-statistically-significant sampling of four people. Carnevale, they say, was once a local event for local people, who would meet up, in costume, for music, dancing, eating, and drinking. Nowadays, the complaint goes, it's not for Venetians anymore, the city is too crowded, and who would want to spend all that time making a costume just to be mistaken for a tourist?
And costumed people are everywhere. Sometimes, this is quite effective (a pair of cloaked and masked figures seen in an otherwise deserted calle is a pleasingly spooky image) and sometimes less so (a woman in normal clothes, save for a sparkly mask, at a bus stop outside a supermarket in Mestre). One of Caroline's classes turned up in costume for their last lesson before their Carnevale break. On the vaporetto the other evening I found myself standing next to a man dressed as Napoleon; something
that, in Venetian terms, is akin to going to a Scotland - England game
whilst dressed as the Duke of Cumberland.
It's interesting, yes, but it's not really all that enjoyable. Piazza San Marco, near-deserted except for a few street sweepers and commuters a few days previously, has once again become a seething, near-impassable, mass of humanity. The vaporetto services are becoming hard work. Just walking the streets is less of a pleasure than seven days ago. If there is a parallel, it's probably with Edinburgh's Hogmanay, which, in the space of a few years, turned into a
mass tourist spectacle that made the centre of town a no-go area for
Perhaps I'm being unfair. I suppose it must be quite exciting if you have an interest in costume. If you like tricorn hats there is clearly no better place to be in February. But it's not really our thing.