Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Behind The Mask

I don't recall a period in my life when Mardi Gras was not celebrated in my family in one way or another.

As a young child, I remember being in costume and masked, going from house to house requesting "treats" from friends and family. It was a time of carnival prior to the beginning of the fourty-day Catholic lenten season, CAREME a time of fast and penitance. We also celebrated Petit Careme, on the Thursday of the third full week of the lenten season.... a day to take a break from the lenten obligations.

Moving to America, we quickly integrated our Canadian customs into the Mardi Gras season. This is the second year in a row I'm unable to celebrate in New Orleans, but there is a rather large festival and parade in a neighboring town which I will attend and at work, my co-workers, clients and friends will celebrate by wearing the purple, green and gold Mardi Gras beads which I have shipped anually from New Orleans.

Surpassing pre-lenten celebrations throughout the world in elegance and sophistication would be the Carnavale di Venezia. Many of the following photographs were taken this week.... not by me, unfortunately.

The Venetian Carnival is one of the oldest and most enchanting festivals in Europe.
Nobody knows when the Venetians actually started wearing masks, even though in Venice, Carnival officially began on Boxing Day December 26, and reached its climax on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

In the 18th century dressing up and anonymous games with masks were an inseparable part of the Venetian daily life and society. Carnival seemed to go on almost all year long, or so it must have appeared to the visitors to the city.

The Venetian fashion of wearing masks brought with it many advantages and freedoms, which must have seemed close to paradise for many foreign visitors.

Ordinary citizens dressed in costume made of expensive fabric could feel like wealthy noblemen. Rich and poor celebrated together throughout the city and the astute Senate, which recognized this as an escape valve for social unrest, pronounced that no one wearing a mask was superior to any another.

The "mask" became an outlet for many to depart from the mainstream life they were leading. The mask invents the new personality to outward view and lets you behave in a different way.

During Carnival St. Mark Square became the centre of celebration, but also the "campi" (little square) and the main thoroughfares were thronged with people dancing, singing and playing games. St. Mark Square, described as the world's greatest dining room, was like a huge open-air ballroom and near the entrance of the square a floating stage appears through the lagoon mist.

The final day "Martedi Grasso" or Shrove Tuesday, was the climatic day of the Carnival, when processions wandered up and down the Grand Canal. Hundreds of fairy lights and lanterns are reflected in the waters of the canals and Venice itself became a unique great stage.

With the fall of the Venetian Republic at the end of the 18th century, the use and tradition of masks gradually began to decline, until they disappeared altogether.

In 1979, a group of young Venetians interested in theatre and culture had the idea of reviving the Carnival in Venice.
Now the visitors that crowd Venice in the last week before the beginning of Lent reach a figure of more than 500.000 and the traditional spirit of the Carnival pervades again throughout the city.

The division between reality and illusion, between past and present; never very clearly defined in Venice at any time, indistinguishably merge.


ConnieJane said...

Beautiful images Don.

leone said...

They do look so beautiful but I always have a deep rooted fear about those kind of elegant looking masked people. My childhood memories are slightly different to yours and I remember watching more than one murder/horror movie where the perpetrator was wearing a mask!! The image still lingers somewhere in the child's mind of an adult.......

RIC said...

Thank you so very much, dear Don, for your very nice comments! I hope to be back next week! Now I'm at a friend's house...
Wonderful photos!
Wish you a great Mardi Gras!

Jon-Marc said...

Those pictures (as well as the history) are awesome! Triple loved them!


"T" said...

Excellent job with the pictures. I love them.

So beautiful and colorful and in a way, haunting.