party time: carnevale

Carnevale 2014 Update: Carnival at Cascine Park | March 1-2, 4

Jugglers, acrobats, magicians and more will line Cascine Park from 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. There are walkways and pavilions filled with entertaining workshops, tasty food carts, and even a few clowns. Safe to say there’s something to keep both adults and tikes happy. If you can’t make it this weekend, the carnival will also be open on Fat Tuesday, March 4, from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. For all the details, visit here.

Meg and I embarked on our Italian adventure in January of 2011. After a month of holing up in our unheated apartments and selling our souls to grad school, we decided that we had earned ourselves, if only for one crazy night, some bona fide Italian fun. Lucky for us, that light bulb moment came just in time for Carnevale.  Ballgowns, St. Mark’s Square, mysterious masked strangers with smoldering eyes. Our imaginations ran wild! But then, as it always does, reality struck. €90 each for a roundtrip train ticket? €100 for our hotel room? Venice is flooding? Fat Tuesday is a school night? In an instant the internet had deflated our fantasy.  But hold on, before you let that depressing little anecdote get you down, remind yourself of the same thing that Meg and I did – you’re in Italy during Carnevale. You’re in ITALY during  CARNEVALE! Trust us, the fun will find you. All you need is a costume, a buddy, and no inhibitions about throwing confetti in a stranger’s face!

photo by hannah

Carnevale, what exactly are we talking about here? Maybe you’ve heard it referred to as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or just Carnival, but no matter which way you spin it, it’s all the same. It is a period before the liturgical season of Lent to indulge, celebrate and just go nuts. If you’re Catholic you’re familiar with the tradition of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent as a small sacrifice to remember a much bigger sacrifice. Centuries ago, Italians refrained from meat all season, so the weeks leading up to Lent was the time to protein load – and thus the word origin of our holiday, Carne (meat) levare (to remove). Get it? So other than convincing a cute Italian to buy you a bistecca alla fiorentina, how will you celebrate?

How about by playing a little dress-up.  A mask is probably the first accessory to come to mind (it was ours too). While the mask is a classic option don’t let that limit you. Centuries ago during Carnevale laws were suspended for a few weeks of good ol’ fashion social disorder. No wonder people disguised themselves! They didn’t want their debaucherous deeds tied to their reputation once the party was over. Today, the same holds true. While a mask is great, Italians are a bit more laissez faire with their disguises. Pretty much anything will do. Meg and I settled on wearing neon and classic Carnevale masks, and as it turns out, we looked like a couple of stiffs! So for this one I would say, think Halloween meets Bosch meets your most “what the heck was that” dreams.

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Italian bambini especially take advantage of these weeks, terrorizing Florence dressed as their favorite super heroes, princesses, and pretty much whatever their tiny Italian minds dream up. Don’t be alarmed to see rogue children in full costume this next week wherever you go – Gusta Pizza, Zara, heck, even church!

All decked out? What to do now? Although many wait until Fat Tuesday to go out, why not take a cue from the Italians and start this weekend. We recommend kicking things off at the party in Piazza Ognissanti this Sunday. The fun starts at 2 PM and will feature flag throwers (who can get enough of them!), crazy costumes, confetti wars, and even the burning of a mannequin and dispersal of its ashes into the Arno…that list got weird fast didn’t it?

If you want to try some different festivals feel free to roam around Tuscany. Find a list of nearby celebrations here.

*Off the books Meg and I personally recommend the festivities in Viareggio. Although the parades are no longer free, it is truly a once in a lifetime experience to see your wildest dreams come to life (yes, it is equal parts terrifying and delightful).

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Ok, so your Venetian masked ball fantasy may not pan out exactly as planned. But as you are quick to find out, Italians know how to do Carnevale right, and wherever you are in the country, you are sure to make it out of this week with at least a few stories for the grandkids. So here’s to masks, meat, and some real Italian fun! Be safe and have fun!

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One comment

  1. […] one of Italy’s most celebrated events begins this month. There will be happenings held around Florence, but Venice (and, to a lesser extent, Viareggio) take the Easter cake when it comes to costumed […]

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