In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras krewe parades begin marching early in the year. They start slowly at first, once a week or so in January, and as Lent approaches they slowly ramp up to several each day. Thousands of tourists are lured to NOLA each year to party and play during the two-month lead up to Fat Tuesday. Its origins, traced to medieval Europe, passed through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries, on to the French House of the Bourbons, and followed to the colonies.
Plant this lore in the racial mixing bowl that is ‘merica, and three hundred years later, voilà. After consuming our morning hot chocolate and beignets, we walk out of the French Quarter, and make our slow way up St. Charles Avenue. It is three hours before show time, and already, the route is half-full with spectators. We choose an open spot and climb to the top of the bleachers, which line the broad street. We are here to celebrate with the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, or watch the Bacchus, or Rex, or Endymion parades. Soon it will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, so we celebrate while we can.
In Venice, Italy, thousands of tourists come to see and take part in Carnival. For a time we return to 18th century Venice, where the eerie yet beautiful Venetian masks, eye you from the city’s alleyways. Wearing masks has always been more than just simple fun for the Venetians; it is still a strongly felt tradition with deep cultural roots. (I think of the masked ball scene from Romeo and Juliette.)
I am drawn to these extravagant costumes and the mystique of hiding behind a silent persona. From time to time the category “Carnevale di Venezia” will pop up here. There’s plenty of information on-line about the history of these masks and costumes. Perhaps I’ll explore more in future posts, but for now, study this excellent example.
Today’s music video: “Cry Love” by John Hiatt