I walked around Piazza San Marco yesterday to have a look at the people in costumes and the many more people with cameras who photograph them. It was a beautiful afternoon and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, the people with cameras perhaps even more than those in costumes, as far I could tell. For the enjoyment of the unmasked folks with cameras was evident, while those completely concealed behind masks and other elaborate ornamentation, well, who knows how they were feeling? I assume they were also having fun.
Some of the people in costume know other people in costume, and it added to the sense of festiveness to see groups of them running into each other and chatting in their various guises, speaking German or French or English.
It wasn't till I left the Piazza and was on my way elsewhere that I was struck by how much this most Venetian of festivities is, for the most part, a foreign affair, especially in and around Piazza San Marco. Which is fine, as I think most of the people who come to Venice for Carnevale are the best kind of visitors Venice could ask for: people who stay overnight in the city, and think about the city and its customs, and have a real affection for both, rather than those 75% of the city's visitors who merely tramp through the city for just a few hours, doing more damage en masse than their scant expenditures in the city pay for.
But as pleasant as the whole scene was, something about it unsettled me a bit--I didn't know what. Then it hit me: Never before had I found myself thinking of the Piazza San Marco so much as a convention center. One of those vast empty spaces in which events are staged: cat shows, or dog shows, or car or boat or (in America) gun(!) shows, or annual meetings of divorce lawyers or accountants or computer salesmen.
Perhaps this sense of things is unavoidable in a city in which the vast majority of city's shrinking population of residents no longer participates in festivities in the Piazza. It reminded me of something the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in 1858 about a festival he witnessed in Florence, after experiencing Carnevale in Rome:
Of course this is not the fault of the visiting revelers in and around Piazza San Marco, and it's not up to them to do anything about it. In fact, one might easily say they are doing all they can for the city by staying in the city and bringing costumed life into it.But the Feast of St John [in Florence], like the Carnival, is but a meagre semblance of festivity, kept alive factitiously, and dying a lingering death of centuries. It takes the exuberant mind and heart of a people to keep its holidays alive.
No, it's not the visitors' fault, but those with power in the city and the region who themselves seem to prefer a convention center to a city.
But forgive me for going on about such things again. My sense of things is no doubt influenced by the fact that our son needs to see an optometrist and to do so he must travel to Mestre. With only "half of a hospital" in Venice itself (as my physician puts it), even the most basic medical needs often require a trip to the mainland.
Of course, why would one ever expect to find an optometrist in a convention center?
|Photographers--lots of them--are ever-present at Carnevale, like this one (which is not me) reflected in the glass of Florian|