Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ladies (& Lords) in Waiting: Fancy Dress Ball in Dorsoduro


Everyone knows that now is the time to come to Venice if you're interested in seeing costumes, but I'd like to add that it's also the time to come if you're interested in seeing cameras. Of course there are always people with cameras in Venice--is there any place in the world so photographed?--but during Carnevale you can hardly walk 100 yards without bumping into somebody's telephoto lens. It's like a convention of photographers, or a trade show of digital single lens reflex cameras.

In fact, there are far far more people wearing cameras around Venice these days than there are people wearing costumes. I've even seen some people wearing two cameras at once--whereas I've yet to spot anyone wearing two costumes at once.

I've enjoyed looking at the cameras, and the people who wear them and use them, almost as much as I've enjoyed looking at the costumes. And with so many photographers of every sort--professionals, semi-professionals, skilled enthusiasts--shooting the people in costumes, I've felt no need to do so myself.

But last night I had no choice. I walked out the door of a friend's apartment building and smack into a mass of elaborately-costumed revelers in a small not especially picturesque courtyard off Calle de L'Avogaria (not far from the church of San Sebastiano) that is usually quite deserted. In fact, so modest is the courtyard that it doesn't even appear on cheaper maps of the city. But the back entrance to the garden of Ca' Zenobio is here, and these folks were lined up waiting to get into what looked like a private fancy-dress ball.

It was an entirely different scene than what I'd witnessed in Piazza San Marco: for one thing, I heard only Italian and some French being spoken. When I stepped out the door of my friend's place there were three or four people with cameras fretting around the edges of the party-goers like sparrows around an extravagant picnic, including one guy with a large tripod who'd perhaps been hired by whoever was throwing the party to photograph it. But as there was nothing like the usual number of photographers, and as I had my camera with me and few of the party-goers seemed to notice, I took some photos.

We were not too far from Campo San Barnaba, which, toward the end of the Venetian Republic lent its name to i barnabotti: those impoverished Venetian nobles who had nothing left but their title, could not afford to live in the manner expected of patricians, and lived as cheaply as possible in that particular area. But, as you may be able to tell from the photos, there was nothing impoverished about the "nobles" waiting to get into the party last night.

 




Though photographed in Campo San Barnaba, these are clearly not barnabotti

14 comments:

  1. Sig. Nonloso, I think these are the best Carnevale photos I've ever seen! Lovely to see costumed revellers in a quiet spot of Venice. It must have been pretty cool to come across this elaborately costumed private group.

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    1. Thank you very much, CV; it was quite striking to walk out a door and into this crowd, and it immediately gave me a whole different sense of the possibilities of such balls. Perhaps they are stuffy and dull as can be, but the fact that the wigs were real hair wigs--not the synthetic stuff--and the clothes were tailored of substantial cloth--well, I suppose it suggested the kind of decadence Venice was infamous for at the end of the Republic. Now, whether this is really a good thing, others can decide...

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  2. And, thank you for the spot of history, regarding Campo San Barnaba. I'm happy you stumbled across this scene, and had a camera with you!

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    1. Yvonne, as Bert smartly told me: Do not leave the house and set off into Venice without a camera! Though, I sometimes still do... Campo San Barnaba, in spite of that Leonardo franchise that's taken over the church, remains one of my favorite campi.

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  3. When I see these costumes a book about hippies comes to mind. I've read there that the first hippies were dressed in a multitude of manners: some looked like Sir Walter Raleigh, some dressed like Arabs, there were "American Indians", etc. But later a kind of hippie uniform emerged - jeans, headbands, beads, "Christ-like" hairstyle. The guys who were preaching a boundless creativity in everything began to dress along the accepted
    guidelines - almost like Wall Street types or even the Army.

    I've read that the element of surprise was very much valued in the early decades of the Venetian Carnivale. But now...For me walking a Venetian street and meeting somebody dressed in an attire everyone saw a thousand times in the very same streets is an anticlimax, it's creativity that became it's own opposite.

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    1. I hope I won't offend anyone if I say that generally I don't think anyone should come to Venice expecting a hotbed of creativity. The problems facing the city will require creativity to deal with, but otherwise no one is going to confuse it with, say, Berlin, when it comes to art... It's nice to see creative costumes here during Carnevale--though one that I saw during a costume competition didn't do too well with the crowd--but I also appreciate seeing a well-made costume of whatever sort, traditional or innovative. The costumes on the people in the photos above seemed to be the best made ones I've seen here in that style.

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  4. You've taken a great selection of pictures there. I love the carnevale but it's so rare that I get to see anything like this in the UK. It's a real shame as the costumes are a delight to see.

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    1. Thank you very much, Franklin, I'm glad you liked them. It's even rare to see costumes this elaborate--or at least so many in one place--in Venice. It was a first time for me...

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  5. Merci pour cette ambiance de carnaval, j'ai l'impression d'être avec vous dans la file d'attente, bientôt la porte va s'ouvrir et nous pourrons aller danser ...

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    1. Wow1 the pictures looks excellent. Its looks nice.

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    2. I wish I knew if the party lived up to the costumes!

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  6. These party revelers certainly dressed for the occasion, and apart from the one with the "christmas tree" lights they looked very authentic!! What a scoop!

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    1. Yes, Jo, those christmas lights were probably stretching it, weren't they? At least in terms of historical accuracy. But the scene made me happy that I'd taken to heart the very wise advice of a fellow fan of Venice who told me never to go out in the city without a camera. He was right.

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