Venice Carnevale

"A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale". It means: anything goes at carnevale. It is rarely said aloud, for the words would be wasted, redundant. Before Lent, before Ash Wednesday, before Easter, there is Mardi Gras - and nowhere is the party more boisterous than Carnevale in Venice Italy. There are lavish parades, luxuriant masquerade balls, and spontaneous parties in the streets as the celebration lasts for almost two weeks. Costumes and masks abound, both ornate and simple. The point is not always the gaudiness of the fabric or the construction of the Carnevale masks, but the anonymity they provide the bearer with. With your mask on, you are pardoned your sins. With the mask on, anything goes.

Time becomes elastic and untrustworthy during Carnevale in Venice Italy. Stand around anywhere long enough, and it becomes a party. A roving band sets up next to a makeshift table of free food. Within minutes there will be revelers in dark capes - suddenly the party has found you. Confetti is everywhere, cascading towards the ground by the handful, resting in piazza corners next to sleeping backpackers, in the surrounding canals of the Adriatic, lying quietly beneath the occasional snowfall. The mountains in the background give the festivities a majestic, regal sheen at twilight, but the scenery is merely a footnote to the party enveloping you. The crowds are intense, immeasurable, and they seem to be participating as subjects in a study of sleep deprivation. By the third or fourth day, you wonder how long this can continue everyday, from mid-morning until well into the small hours after midnight. But the enthusiasm of Carnevale in Venice is heightened with each passing day, and will grow at exponential rates until the great bells of San Francesco della Vigna, signaling the commencement of Ash Wednesday, end the merrymaking.

The roots of Venice Carnevale lie midway through the 12th century, when a festival was held the day before Ash Wednesday to commemorate a vital Venetian military victory. The celebration became an annual tradition, developing until 1268, when the first Venice Carnevale masks were said to have been donned. The masks shielded the wearers not only from their sins, but also from displaying their social status, thrusting the city into an egalitarian frenzy every year until 1797, when the conquering Napoleon disbanded the festivities.

But the spirit of Venice Carnevale would rise again. The city resuscitated the festival in 1980 in hopes of boosting the tourist-based economy during the quiet winter months. Its return has been welcomed by most of the city, though it is a little more sedate than its heyday. Though millions descend on the city each year, many are there to merely gawk, not participate. Some participate halfheartedly, with a few swift strokes of make up hastily scrawled on their face by one of the ubiquitous make up artists found throughout the piazzas. Some buy a cheap mask from a nearby merchant"s cart, hoping no one will notice the sweatshirt and jeans they are wearing below. But how many in the city really care? During Carnevale in Venice Italy, the focus is on fun, on movement, on the release of inhibitions in a roaring atmosphere that happens only once a year, or for many - only once in a lifetime.

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