Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The carnival is over

I walked back through Campo Sant'Angelo last Tuesday to find a team of workers taking down the Carnevale Altro stage, and removing the ominously large loudspeakers. I felt a strange urge to give them a hug, or at least to give them a hand. Just to be absolutely sure.

The harsh weather has passed now, although it didn't seem to deter the hardier Carnival-goers. Caroline saw another Napoleon on the vaporetto, stoically sitting on his own outside, gazing into the horizontal snow as if contemplating the retreat from Moscow.

It was a brisk day on the altana. The dome of the Salute is almost invisible in the snow.

It's been a strangely unsatisfying few weeks, all told. The schools get time off for Carnevale, and half my students are either off sick on on holiday, so there's not been much work to detain us; but a combination of the weather and the crowds has kept us indoors, sulking and eating fritelle.

Ah yes, fritelle. Or, "what they don't tell you about the Italian diet". I'm aware that I've probably been a bit grumpy about the whole Carnevale experience, but there is at least one good thing that's come out of it, and that's the discovery of these little doughnuts. They come in various forms, from the traditional unfilled Fritelle Veneziane, to varieties filled with pastry cream or zabaglione. When they're good, they're very, very good indeed. And when they're bad, well, they're still pretty good. They're only supposed to be available during Carnevale. Fortunately, perhaps, as, short of giving away free cigarettes, it's harder to think of a greater risk to public health.

We became a bit obsessed with them. No venture outside was complete without a visit to a new shop to work our way through their selection. They were everywhere. One of my students told me my life would not be complete unless I bought them from Rosa Salva in Mestre. Choir practice typically ended with huge trays of them being unwrapped, and the popping of prosecco corks. I was considering creating a league table of them on a dedicated spreadsheet. Well, like I said, it's been a quiet few weeks.

And so, Carnevale has come to an end and, sadly, so has our supply of doughnuts. We felt strangely bereft for the first few days, but that was probably just our bodies adjusting to the sudden lack of sugar. They're clearly from Satan's very own deep-fat fryer but they improved the carnival experience for us no end. Some Venetians leave the city for the whole festive period, but that seems a little excessive: next year we might just stock up on fritelle, soundproof the flat as best we can, and stay indoors for the whole eleven days.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


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 locals.

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.