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Carnival in Venice: The Historic Parade

“Carnevale is back, you better start polishing off your mask.”

On a mid-January Sunday, chilled Venetians wake up with one thought on their minds. The only thought powerful enough to lure them into leaving their beds and braving the cold, windy calli: frittelle! Never mind whether you prefer all time classics, veneziana, alla crema or allo zabaione, or if the fritoe of your dreams are filled with pistachio or chocolate spreads, a warm frittela – or a handful of them – can mean one thing and one thing only: Carnevale is coming. If our dear frittelle have kept our spirits and our sugar levels high throughout the last couple of lonely winters, this year the custard tastes more heavenly than usual. Heaven with a side of freedom, a promise of a candy-coated future.

Indeed, the pandemic made Venice’s mayor shut down Carnevale 2020 ahead of schedule. I remember clearly the last instance of festivities, a dj set at the Rialto Market. In the midst of a wild night of dancing, when no one seemed able to recognise any of their disguised friends under their masks, I stopped, amused, to observe a dinosaur and a clown quietly enjoying a cigarette break on the banks of the Grand Canal. Little did any of us know, that night would hold our last Carnevale for years to come. For Carnevale’s essence lies in escapism, in the endless possibilities of a cigarette break from reality.

Taking on the traditions of the Roman festival of the Saturnalia and the Greek Dionysia, Carnevale has been a Venetian institution since 1296, when the Senate of the Serenissima declared the day before the beginning of Lent a national holiday. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, combined with the anonymity generously granted by masks, resulted in week-long sanctification of boundless transgression. The masks served as a tool of fleeting, yet aphrodisiac, democratisation. For seven days, the Dogi watched, as aristocrats and commoners blended, in a liberating dance that quickly became the secret pillar of Venetian political stability.

Reality has been so incredibly tangible, these past couple of years, that the Venice Carnival has gone MIA, completely cancelling the 2021 edition. A year has gone by and the pandemic seems to be more and more forgiving, allowing a much-needed Carnival to flood back into the streets of Venice, giving us a timid sneak peek into the future. A much agonised future which the 2022 Venice Carnival puts center stage. “Remember the future” is the title chosen by the festival’s art director Massimo Checchetto for this year’s edition, inspired by Salvador Dali’s words: “and most of all I remember the future”.

Even though the bull hunts and battles on bridges of the Renaissance are long gone, and the acrobatic displays such as the ‘Flight of the Angel’ have been cancelled from this year’s program, some elements of the golden tradition have stayed. Remembering the endless regate and mobile theaters that used to colour the canals during the Dogi’s times, this year’s edition opened with the boat show “Venezia lux futura”, which on Sunday set fire to the sky over the Grand Canal. If you hurry, you might be able to catch “Venezia Wonder Time”, the street art shows that will breath new life into the streets of the city from February 20th. If you are lucky enough, you might catch an Arlecchino or two hurring to a ball in a palazzo. My advice? Follow them. You might as well end up at the next Ballo del Doge.