Not sure if anyone else is like this, but many events in my life are marked by the food that is eaten. When we travel, I look forward to the local treats we get to consume there above any art we would see in a museum. Seasons are marked by the new foods that show up — like, oh my gosh, make it summer and put an entire watermelon in front of me and I will eat it all myself. And of course, holidays mean specialty foods that you have to indulge in, since they only roll around once a year.
I'm from the Midwest, so Mardi Gras was never much of a thing except for a time that passed before Ash Wednesday, the period of time where I'd have to eat fish for like 5-6 Fridays. But here in Italy, they celebrate what I think of as the Italian version of Mardi Gras — Carnevale! And let me tell you, you'll be converted by the food alone.
Fat Tuesday is no joke in Italy, where the Carnevale foods are basically deep-fried carbs covered in sugar. Pair that with a ton of people walking around in gorgeous costumes and confusing masks, and you've got quite a holiday.
We trekked to Venice last weekend for Carnevale. Many cities, of course, have their own version of the period leading up to Lent (the 40 days before Easter), like New Orleans with Mardi Gras or Carnaval in Brazil. In Venice, people parade around in masks of seriously all types. We weren't sure whether we should dress up to go, but people ranged from decked out in opera-style clothing, to children and teens wearing Halloween costumes, to people just walking around in their plainclothes and a mask. And don't forget your confetti, which litters the streets, making everything seem festive.
There are a lot of traditional Carnevale events, like the flight of the angel over St. Mark's Square, and the Feast of the 12 Marias (which we witnessed and is pictured here). Most of the events happen in St. Mark's Square, which serves as a sort-of hub for the holiday, though you can buy masks all throughout the city and feel the spirit throughout. There are also many private parties that happen, including operas and costumed balls, which sound like they would be an awesome thing to experience at least once! Maybe next year?
WHAT WE DID:
- Bought masks, of course!: You can buy masks in Venice basically any time of the year — it doesn't have to be Carnevale, as it's become sort of an icon for the city. And you can also get them anywhere, as any souvenir shop will have them. But try to look for the higher-quality shops that hand-make their masks (they're easy to spot but not so common). Some nicer masks can be made out of crazy things like leather or metal, but they're commonly made out of papier mâché and hand painted with gorgeous designs. The proper papier mâché should still be pliable and be able to bend to your face. Don't fall for the plastic ones!
- Ate our fill of fattening foods: Yeah, those foods I've been talking about? Two traditional Carnevale foods in Italy are frittelle and crostoli. Frittelle are essentially deep-fat fried sweet dough coated in powdered sugar, and there are a few variations, such as those filled with cream and chocolate, as well as the Venetian style (with raisins) and zabaione (which is egg cream and alcohol with a hint of orange). Crostoli are flat lasagna-shaped sweet, fried crackers that are also covered in powdered sugar and totally melt in your mouth. It's Fat Tuesday for a reason, y'all.
- Attended the Feast of the 12 Marias: If you go to Carnevale, you should try and catch at least one traditional event. For us that day, it was the Feast of the 12 Marias, where they carry 12 identically-dressed young women on wooden carts through the streets of Venice to Saint Mark's Square. Once the Marias arrive, there's a dance and ceremony, and then before the end of Carnevale, one of them is selected as the Maria of the year.
- Booked it to Saint Mark's Square: Most of the Carnevale events happen in Saint Mark's Square, which is the huge plaza you always see in pictures with all the pigeons (the pigeons were mostly gone, but I did see a flock of them eating confetti). In the square, there's a huge wooden structure set up that looks a bit like an old market place, where actors and events take place throughout the weeks of Carnevale. Plus, most of the best-dressed folks hang out in the square, and you can get some pretty fun pictures of their incredibly get-ups.
Photos and text copyright © Katie Currid 2016. All rights reserved.