Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

The Venetian Carnival 2017 begins in just 3 days, running from February 11-28! Though I will not be attending the glorious festivities in person, I can still reminisce upon my past attendance and cherish Carnival from afar. Perusing photos from when my costumer mother Lita and I attended in 2005 (a trip that inspired my book Venice), I was treated once again to the sight of remarkable raiment…

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What I have always found fascinating about the mask and costume culture of the Carnival (namely throughout Venice’s illustrious history), is the anonymity it gives the individual and the new guise it may offer them. It empowers one to cast away social pressures, and become whoever or whatever they wish. The pauper mingled freely with the aristocrat, the infirm beamed with good health, and the old were filled with youth once more…

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Here was a pearly queen with her court of incandescent unicorns and magical beings. They glittered in the sun while their glimmering attire swirled in the breeze. During the Carnival, anyone can transform themselves, moving even into an otherworldly realm…

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What exotic rulers, from a distant palace filled with riches, shine like gold itself just beneath this marbled portico?

When researching this culture of mask from Venice’s history, one discovers that the majority of coverings translated into commonly known characters. This sometimes still holds true today…

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As you amble through Venice during the Carnival, inquire with the exquisitely attired and ask them who they are. Unique characters may reveal themselves (some with a wink to history and tradition). Only, don’t be offended if many remain mute. The right of anonymity belongs to the masked, and some don’t prefer to even share the vibration of their voices…

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Many don the brightest colors, covered in drifting sheer fabric and an eddy of soft feathers. Mysterious tropical birds, descending upon the city to outshine the average sea bird of the lagoon…

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And many couples (sometimes even groups) display themselves in carefully created, matching garments. I dare say, this pair would have had a hard time losing one another in the crowd! They remind me of the wind and water that are as much a part of Venice, as its majestic palazzi are…

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Wouldn’t it be fascinating to add up all of the hours spent creating such works of wearable art each season? The numbers would be telling of the passion a great many patrons put into their costumes. I thank them for keeping the magic and tradition of the Venetian Carnival, alive!

Here’s to the 2017 Carnevale di Venezia and to the city and people of Venice! Here’s also to remembering to add a bit of wonder and magic to each of your days, whether or not it be a festival day!

A Beautiful Clutter

The mask shops in Venice are filled with a beautiful clutter…CIMG0886.JPG

The disguises, the puppets, the paper dolls staged in boxes, the mirrors…CIMG0883.JPG

There are lamps, wall hangings and sconces…smooth leather gloves, lace and pearls, soft embroidered pillows too…

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Ornate headpieces, gowns, feathered wings and crowns, sumptuous accessories and glorious scenes that move one’s imagination…CIMG0953.JPG

You are in this gondola heading toward a masked ball during Venice’s Carnevale. Which of the masks in that beautiful clutter are you wearing? In Venice, the choice is yours!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

Grab your mask and make merry!

All who enter the Bristol Renaissance Faire will gravitate to those themes that interest them the most. If you like action and the clanging of steel you’ll head down to the joust and watch knights swing a sword at one another. If you dream of tiptoeing through an enchanted forest, you’re going to fly over to fairyland. If you like military history, you won’t miss the reenactments by the Guilde of St. Michael. As for me, I love everything at the faire! But this season, as my interactive novel Venice approached its release, that city’s history may have affected my brain a little! And so, though Bristol, England isn’t Venice, Italy…well, I’m pretty sure I spied a Venetian or two! Just another reason why I think the faire in magical!

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Oh my! What is this Venetian plague doctor doing in Bristol? I hope we’ll all escape the pestilence! Awesome mask!

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This is Lord Fopulence from right out of the 18th century. He’d fit right in at the Venetian Carnival!

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These two look like roaming Venetians to me!

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Puppeteer Gabriel Q would captivate crowds in Piazza San Marco during the Carnevale! Check out this puppet builder-costumer-performer’s site…look for those traditional Venetian masks, they’re true art!

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The powder, the blush, that beauty mark! All she needs is a towering wig and she’ll be ready for a ball at Carnival. Fabulous!

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He’s ready to sail the Adriatic Sea and defend La Serenissima!

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And here’s to At Your Service, a commedia dell’arte troupe! Venice wants to know what you’re doing in Bristol?! Their masks, their traditional commedia characters, their truly hilarious acts…fantastico!

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Furthermore, At Your Service is affiliated with Piccolo Theater in Evanston, IL. Piccolo Theater focuses on the art of comedy to both entertain and bring together the local community. They even have comedic youth camps and classes. Be sure to check out this season’s performances!

A Passage From Venice…

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The scene captures the essence of something otherworldly; the cautious stir of a minuet long forgotten, clinking crystal and the warm press of a perfumed crowd, flickering light and laughter unbidden. The masks are a category of amazement all their own, artistic creations of every conceivable face type. There are thousands of shimmering sequins, scenes of night and day, animals wild and demure and many fully painted faces with long lashes, glossy lips and tears of glass. Some are half, secreting just the eyes and others are complete, disguising one’s visage entirely. There is soft velvet and shiny tin, paper mache and coarse fabric, carved wood and delicate lace. This is the house of the mask, a museum of disguise both past and present. Here are all convened: libertines and lovers, ghosts born of the dark and angels exuding the light. Walking slowly along the edge of the ballroom, your spirits high and your chest heavy with excitement, you take in the splendor of the costumes of this night. The wigs are monumental in all of their glorious fashions. Men and women alike aspiring to the heavens with their cottony bouffants adorned with garish and magical additions: tinsel, stuffed birds, miniature model ships, bows, lace, gaudy gems. Each face is powdered and vainly made up with beauty marks, arched brows, penciled lips and rosy cheeks. And, how could one begin to enumerate the dresses: haughty, desirous, glorious and bold. Some women host panniers so wide, they expand the length of six persons side by side. Yet each of these ladies continues to move in every way elegantly, to your delight. All around are tight corsets, silky ribbons, strung pearls, tall heels and beautiful stitchwork that only could be found presently. The men are refined with expertly tailored tricorne hats, calf-flaunting breeches, lacy linen shirts, cravats and brassy buttons closing up fitted vests and fashionable jackets. The sight already bursting with extravagance and every unique detail, how can you be even more delighted with each passing entertainer? There is the court jester and his beloved dog donned in a belled collar; his merry yelps bring a jingle. A trio of women garbed as glittered wood nymphs clad in ethereal wings (blue, pink and purple) tiptoe about. There are characters of every sort: a magician, a storyteller, a fire handler and a gypsy who reads palms…