February 13, 2009

February Indulgence: A masqued ball for Valentine's day

February is the month of carnivals all around the world. You have the big carnival in Rio, mardi gras in New Orleans, the winter carnival in Quebec City, and the masqued carnival of Venice. Is this a mere coincidence? Of course not! Carnivals always end before Lent starts. If you’re catholic you know what Lent means: no party, prayer and penitence, fasting and abstinence. So, if you know that Lent is coming, then the carnival season is your last chance for partying!

The carnevale di Venezia was first mentioned in an official document as early as 1094, and it was officially established in 1296. Back in those times, the carnival lasted from Christmas until the day before Ash Wednesday (Shrove Tuesday or mardi gras... mardi means Tuesday in French). Because the idea was to have a holiday where everything was allowed, the use of masks became extremely popular. If you’re disguised, no one knows who you are, or what is your social status, political views, religion or gender. The masters could be servants. And the servants could be masters. However, the masks gave people a little too much freedom. It wasn’t unusual for men to dress like nuns, so they could enter convents and play with the poor sisters. The carnival of Venice has been from the beginning a big theater, where every person in Venice becomes a protagonist in the most extravagant play. A play, with the most splendorous scene: piazza San Marco. However Casanova is the only A-listed star of this play. Casanova made the carnival of Venice an international event, because the carnival was the ultimate expression of his extremely passionate adventures. Not long after Casanova’s time, Napoleon took Venice and put an end to the carnival, in part because Napoleon wanted to avoid disguised spies. It wasn’t until 1979 that the carnival experienced its glamorous revival.

Although – and at the same time because of – the lavish balls, excessive behavior, furtive romances and sinful encounters, Venice is probably one of the most romantic cities in the world. And the fact that the carnival of Venice is celebrated every February makes Venice the perfect destination for a very romantic Valentine’s Day escape… if you can afford it, because during carnival everything is booked, and overpriced! It was totally by chance that the first time I was in Venice was for carnival. I was there in February and I knew that carnival was held in that month, but I didn’t know it was starting on the day after I came! It was such a wonderful experience! However my hotel was frugal, I had to share my gondola ride with 6 Japanese girls because of the price of the ride, and my ‘excesses’ were extremely parsimonious. Still, it was full of magic!


What do Italians eat for the abstinence-free carnival season? The answer is quite obvious once you know it. Italians indulge themselves in sinfully deep-fried food! You can try my castagnole recipe!

Posted by Daziano at 8:35 PM |  
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