Friday, March 11, 2011

A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale!*

*At Carnival time anything goes!

Tuesday (Martedi grasso) was the final day of Carnevale throughout Italy - well except in Milano where they use the Ambrosian liturgical calender so it lasts until Saturday, those Milanese are such party animals. But for the rest of Italy it was the last hurrah before the strictures of the Lenten observance took hold. Traditionally at midnight on Tuesday the festivities ended and with the coming of Mercoledi delle Ceneri (Ash Wednesday) the 40 day fast begins.

The organizers of this year's Carnevale in Venezia were trying to get away from the 18th century theme that has predominated in the past and go more towards the 19th in celebration of this year's anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Quite a few people were decked out in post-Napoleonic costumes but there were still the rugged (!) individualists who used their imagination! The gentleman at the top is a Louis XIV incarnation of "Once Upon A Time"; while the next ladies had stepped out of a local pasterica window; it was hard to figure out who was trying to look the prettiest of that couple in the bottom photo.

Viareggio but it is celebrated throughout the country in big cities and small towns. Festivities vary from region to region and in many cases from town to town. Putignano is known for its parade of big heads; Ivrea, just north of Torino, celebrates with a reenactment of a 12th century insurrection using oranges as ammunition; throughout Campania it is celebrated with a mixture of the fantastical and the traditional. The small town of Pontelandolfo has its cheese tumbling tournament; equestrian events are the centre piece in the Sardinian village of Oristano; and in the hillside town of Castignano a gigantic bonfire signals the end of the party.

Equally fantastical were these three ladies (????) posed in the archways of Cafe Florian in the arcade at San Marco. Many people wore the traditional domino, tricorne and masks while for others a mask was the only disguise needed. Needless to say the vendors were everywhere and doing record business.

And everywhere there are the traditional foods, both main dishes and sweets. Most of the dishes were created to both clear the household pantry in the days before refrigeration and for one last glorious feast before the fast began. In the south there's Migliaccio di polenta made with corn meal, sausage and grated cheese. Cooks in the Emilia-Romagna region produce a rich Pasticcio di Maccheroni or Macaroni Pie replete with sweetbreads, chicken giblets and, for the wealthy, truffles. And every Napoletano family has its "secret" recipe, handed down from nonna to nonna, for the "best" Lasagne di Carnevale in Napoli if not the world - though my friend Marco assures me that his mother's is not only the best but the only authentic one.

But the real treats of Carnevale are the simple pastries - fritters that were meant to use up the flour, lard and oil that would be avoided for the next 40 days. The Lombardi Chiacchere, Tuscan Cenci and Roman Frappe may sound different but they are essential fried strips of dough dusted with powdered sugar. Venice has its donut holes, in Sardegna they lace the fritters with saffron and in other regions they are dipped in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Our Isabelle posing with two of the ladies parading through San Marco on Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately my gluten-intolerance restricts the number of dolci di carnevale that I can consume but I will admit that on our trip up to Venice for the last weekend of Carnevale I went off my diet - big time! Now I had always said I would never go to Venice during the annual pre-Lenten hullabaloo - I have an aversion to crowds of both the size and kind that throng the streets for the event. However our guest Isabelle wanted to see the city built on water and I am pleased to say she loved it though she did find the crowds as bothersome as I did, a wise child!

Isabelle didn't have a costume - to say rentals were astronomical is an understatement - but had chosen a very elegant and festive mask evoking the spirit of Carnevale.
I'm also pleased to say we had a good bit of fun. Though Carnevale in La Serenissima has a highly artificial flavour in small doses it can be great fun. And Venice? Well, particularly in the areas away from San Marco, it is still one of the most magical places in the world.

Many thanks to GB and his contributors at Italian Notebook for many of the links to photo essays on many of the celebrations here in Italy.
11 marzo - San Constantino

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Glad you had fun! Isabelle's mask is very beautiful.