Thursday, March 10, 2011

Venetian Mardi Gras

Carnevale in Venice has always been associated with upturning expectations. Laws were excused for a couple of weeks of fun, people wore masks to disguise class or cultural distinctions, and the lower and upper class alike roamed the streets and openly criticized and caricature anything and everything. In light of this, it is quite a folly to come to Venice bound with certain expectations of the festival, thinking it genteel and restraint compared to the raucous that typically characterize New Orleans or Sao Paolo's celebrations. I came with such preconceptions, and was expecting a night of mask-wearers roaming the streets enacting the dream-like atmosphere promised by the brochures.

There is a lot of that sure, but walk away from the lagoon and San Marco and things become different. The alleys get more crowded and the atmosphere becomes more like a street party. There are makeshift dance parties around drummers and bands and the occasional portable bar. Unlike the usual rococo gowns associated with the festival, the costumes are more hand-made: men in women's underwear and fairy wings, holding toilet plungers; big groups wearing painter overalls with top hats; cyclists in glowing helmets. a fellow partier, who was (sadly) very popular with the ladies, was wearing a Berlusconi mask and a shirt that said "Maniaco Sessuale". He was mobbed everywhere we went, followed by the chant "Silvio, Silvio! Va' fa' un culo!" There is no unity in anything--whatever you can get together is what you wore that night.

There were those famous costume balls I'm sure. But down in the streets it got too crowded to think about those. Honestly, I have never seen Italians like this: an out and out street party, binge drinking, and dancing...everywhere! Usually discrete, it seemed like for a day every Italian decided to be Spanish. Around the Rialto, the traditional home of the best nightlife in Venice, one rounded a corner and a DJ set was happening and Big Bird was headlining. Students from Padova, Bologna, and Ferrara were everywhere, making for a hip and overindulgent crowd too young to give a damn. Crowded, sweaty (even in sub-30s cold), loud, and dizzying...very, very far indeed from the promises of a "restrained" Venetian Carnevale.

The night of course gets very weird and surreal in a place like this. The more intoxicated the crowd (and the stronger the smell of marijuana) became, things got weirder and weirder. Every beginning to a narration of the night's events seems like the beginning of a joke."So an angel, an Indian, and a sexy nurse gets into a car driven by the devil"..."we almost hit a transvestite Tina Turner walking down the road"...It's just weird, or may be its just impossible to describe. Or maybe its just not meant for descriptions. You see a mad doctor, santa, and Tom Brady peeing in the Grand Canal...does one even bother to ask, "why?"

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