Friday, February 27, 2009

End of Carnivale

So Carnivale ended Wednesday so I thought it would be interesting to look up the history of Carnivale. It does have an interesting history here in Italy. I hope you enjoy the history lesson.

Carnevale (or Carnivale, or Carnavale, alternate spellings you may find), is a festival which can trace its roots back to the Roman Saturnalia, a festival held in mid-December to honor the god Saturn with feasting, gift giving and role reversal. As often happened with such festivals, Catholics found a way to work the festival into their own liturgical year.

One commonly accepted derivation of the word "carnival" is the Latin "carne vale" or "farewell to meat." Carnival was the final hurrah as winter headed towards spring, and the long Lenten season of fasting and abstinence. It was, perhaps, not only a last chance to indulge the passions of the flesh, but an opportunity to consume any meat which had been put up for winter that might not stay fresh enough for consumption until spring brought the end of Lent and Easter.

Because of its ties to the liturgical calendar, Carnivale varies in length. It can be considered to begin with the feast of Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas) on January 6, and always ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The Lenten season is the 40 days before Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Confused yet? Don't worry about it. In 2003 Lent starts on Wednesday, March 5, which means the last day of Carnivale is Shrove Tuesday, March 4. (If you've never heard of Shrove Tuesday, perhaps you've heard of "Fat Tuesday" -- also known in French as Mardi Gras, or in Italian as Martedi Grasso. Is it all becoming clear now?)

Carnivale is celebrated with enthusiasm around the world; in the US the celebration in New Orleans is best known. In Brazil, Carnivale in Rio is famous (or infamous) for its wild abandon. Many cities in Italy have maintained or revived their traditions of Carnivale; especially well-known among them are Venice and Florence.

While Carnivale has a rich history and ancient roots in Italy, the festival remains a vital and contemporary celebration. A simple web search will reveal many images of celebrants in both historical and contemporary costumes. One of the common elements found throughout the tradition has remained the Carnivale mask.

Masks and Mummery
Venice (and many Italian cities) in the Middle Ages and Renaissance had a long tradition of mask-wearing among the nobility while engaging in activities of a questionable nature -- gambling, drinking, not to mention romantic and sexual rendezvous. Their activities were so outrageous that laws were passed to restrict the wearing of masks to certain times of year. One of those times was Carnivale.
Masks were also worn by the lower classes to allow them to mix unfettered with the aristocrats in such situations. The mask, after all, was a great equalizer in a social setting. This was especially common in Carnivale, with its traditions of role reversal and celebration of the fool.
One of the most common masked images of Venice and Carnivale is the Bautta -- a costume consisting of a white mask called the volto which covers 1/2 to 3/4 of the face, worn with a voluminous black veil and/or cloak, topped with a black tricorn hat. The bautta is particularly popular because it permits eating, drinking (and kissing) while disguising the features.

Another traditional mask, worn only by women (only by patrician women in the 18th century), is the moretta, a black oval mask that is held in place not with a band or string, but by a button on the inside of the mask that is held clenched between the teeth of the wearer.

Another popular traditional Carnivale role was the Gnaga -- men dressed as women, "imitating their ways but using much more vulgar speech." (In other words, what in the UK and US would be called "campy" drag.) Often the gnaghe (plural of gnaga) pretended to be nannies; they would therefore be accompanied by children or other grown men dressed as boys and girls -- or even babes in diapers.Cross-dress costumes are still very popular in the contemporary Carnivale celebrations.

Many other costumes are taken from the commedia dell'arte -- Arlecchino (Harlequin), Pantalone, Capitono, Brighella, Colombina, etc.

Another peculiarly popular and interesting character is "El Medico dea Peaste", the Plague Doctor.His costume originally served several functions -- first, in the time of plague, it was a disguise to hide the identity of a physician who by visiting plague victims might be exposed to contagion. The tunic was of pure linen or waxed cloth to protect him, and finally, he always had his trusty staff with which he removed the clothes of plague-victims, thinking that in this way the terrible epidemic would not bring him any harm.

And of course, contemporary Carnivale-goers may occasionally break with tradition and do something more topical than time-tested.

The word carnival, said carnovale in Tuscany, comes from the Latin carnem levare, an expression used in the middle ages which marked the beginning of the Lenten fast. A time of the year during which one was not allowed to eat meat (carne in Latin). But like many other festivals of our calendar, it derives from an ancient roman cult the Saturnalia, a pagan rites of fertility which were celebrated in honour of the god Saturn. During those celebrations everything was allowed, even disguising and change of rules. Carnivals were modified substantially because of its magic and ritual nature with Christianity, but it still was tolerated by the clergy. During the 15th and 16th century some traditions were recaptured and the use of masks and public fancies spread all over the country. The Venice Carnival is the largest and most important Venetian festival, an appreciated cocktail of tradition, entertainment, history and transgression in a unique city, a festival that attracts thousands of people from around the world each year. The Carnival has very old origins. It is a festival that celebrates the passage from winter into spring, a time when seemingly anything is possible, including the illusion where the most humble of classes become the most powerful by wearing masks on their faces. The official start of the Venice Carnival dates back to 1296, when the Senate of the Republic made the Carnival official with an edict declaring the day before Lent a public holiday. After an interruption lasting almost two centuries, the tradition of Carnival was rediscovered by the Municipality in 1980 and since then it has taken place every year with success. The 2009 edition, which will go on from February 13 to 24, will be called "Sensation, 6 senses for 6 districts" and will accompany visitors in the discovery of city's charming atmospheres, passing through the districts with a constant appeal to the senses, an invitation to immerse yourself fully into the emotional experience that only the Venice Carnival can give. A program rich with opportunities and fun for all ages, from the Contest for the best mask for children in St. Mark's Square, to the musical programs provided by ALL MUSIC in Santa Margherita and the Medieval and seventh-century music Concerts in Campo San Barnaba, to the reenactment of historical parades at St. Mark. The Carnival of Massafra is considered one of the more important of the Puglia. This because, with the exception of the other carnivals, the majority of the masked course is not barred, and citizens and the participates directly all' animation and to the fun, stimulated from the choreographies and the scenography of the wagons and the allegorical groups that parade along the main course of the country.

'Semel in anno licet insanire', 'madness is permissible once a year' - this ancient Roman saying seems particularly suitable for Fano, the home of one of the most famous carnivals in Italy. There are more than a month of festivities, when the streets of the city and its inhabitants abandon their daily routines and throw themselves into a flurry of festivity and processions. The Fano Carnival takes place with no expense spared and everyone joins in the festive atmosphere with gay abandon. It certainly has a long history. Not many people know that Fano Carnival began in medieval times, or more accurately, so the story goes, on the occasion of the reconciliation between two respectable families of the time, the Del Casseros and the Da Carignanos. But history and tradition are not the only important characteristics of the Carnival which tens of thousands of people come to see. The Fano Carnival is the world's "sweetest" carnival and the only one where you can watch and take part in a no-holes-barred battle fought with... yes, chocolates ! Hundreds of kilos of sweets, caramels and chocolates are showered from allegorical floats onto the crowds of spectators, who join in, young and old alike, throwing their "ammunition" at each other and even as far as the crowds on the opposite side of the procession. The procession ends with a magnificent show of illuminations, a festival of light and colour along approximately two kilometres, creating a fantasy of extraordinary shadows. In the words of the Fano Carnival slogan: bello da vedere, dolce da gustare, or beautiful to see, sweet to try. The Carnival also acts as a centre for cultural and popular tradition. The Papière Mâche School teaches youngsters the art of working with papière mâche while the city has a rich popular music heritage - the "Musica Arabita" band, described by writers such as Guido Piovene and Curzio Malaparte, has been playing since 1922 using bizarre improvised instruments created from every sort of object. In the year 2000, the city of Fano abolished entrance charges, allowing everyone to take part in the Carnival free of charge and thus once again making it a celebration by the people for the people. Also the grand evening masked veglione transforms the entire old town centre into a place of festivity. Added to this are two other major traditional events on Shrove Tuesday and Thursday which follow the same guiding principles and have brought unprecedented success to the whole Carnival.
I thought this was all very interesting and educational.


The Christensen Family said...

Thank you for all that info. very interesting. I learned something new today.

Anonymous said...