Carnevale and spontaneity.
The words, I thought, were almost synonymous. Maybe this was naive of me; maybe whatever I'd read about popular festivals of the past, those periods in so many cultures when the usual order of things was turned upside down, had given me a very wrong idea of what to expect.
I had the mistaken notion that during Carnevale I could show up practically any time at Piazza San Marco and find something going on. They'd built a giant stage in front of the Ala Napoleonica, on which was promised a daily bill of performances, but whenever I managed to get to the Piazza the only thing I ever saw were the same few commercials running in a seemingly infinite loop on the stage's massive Jumbotron tv.
Granted, the various billboards that now deface the Piazza make it seem more like Times Square than the world's grandest drawing room, but I'm not sure the introduction of a big-screen tv was the best way to reintroduce a note of domesticity into the space--regardless of how much, we are told, Italians love to watch their tvs.
So Lesson #1 (which perhaps everyone but me already knew): If you come to Carnevale be sure to get a thorough schedule of events and plan accordingly!
Otherwise on a Friday night in what you (like me) might imagine would be the very thick of Carnevale chaos you'll find yourself roaming through a scene in the Piazza and Piazzetta that resembles nothing so much as a car or boat show: one of those periodic expos held in large convention centers where milling crowds wander desultorily amid various exhibitors, snapping the occasional picture, looking for the next sight of interest.
Don't get me wrong, there are sights of interest: folks concealed in some very elaborate costumes, as well-constructed and flashy and eye-catching as some Alfa Romeo or Jaguar or Ford car-of-the-future prototype poised on its own private stage. But equally as idle.
The scheduled events I attended I did enjoy: even something as quiet as one of the guided tours of L'Archivo di Stato di Venezia near I Frari. And the Carnevale dei Ragazzi, open daily for the full run of Carnevale in the main exhibition hall of the Biennale, was really marvelous. Each room in the large hall was devoted to a different creative theme or activity, and they ranged from high-tech interactive installations to limitless supplies of paper, glue, scissors, pencils and colored markers, as well as a main stage with live performances. This was the place to go for spontaneity.