Updated on 02 March 2019
Can these two and a half weeks of celebrating Carnival in Venice become an opportunity for Venetians to reconnect with history, culinary traditions and ancient crafts? A Carnival giving back some Venetian-Ness to this event by involving the Venetians?
For years, I felt we weren’t really joining in the festivities around town, standing aloof like spectators while avoiding the noisy crowds making it impossible for us, and for them, to move around town. This was sad and odd compared to what Nonna told me about how Carnival had been celebrated in 1979, for the first time in vesti ufficiali (officially) after the fall of the Republic in 1797. And Venetians had loved their Carnival then.
In February 1979, a group of actors from Teatro La Fenice, wearing original masks and black coats like Venetians did during the times of the Venetian Republic, were knocking on doors and asking passers-by to dance and follow them around town. At first, Venetians didn’t give much attention to this black spectacle during a particularly dark, wet and gloomy February, when they were hiding at home to get out of the way of the bora winds.
But then, the children joined the actors, hesitatingly at first and after a while, Venetians recalled ancient family stories of times long past. All of a sudden, they also went out into the cold, wearing self-made white or black, simple masks, stopping for hours on end in the cafes drinking hot chocolate. Read more about these humble beginnings of Carnival and how much Venetians loved it, and in particular in this post in which I tell my personal Carnival adventures as a child.
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Lo spettacolo "VeCircOnda" a cura di @wavents_venice apre ufficialmente il #CarnevaleVenezia2018 🎪 Qui sul Rio de Cannaregio ha inizio la #FestaVeneziana 🎉 #veneziaunica #venezia #venice #venise #venicecarnival #carnival #tradizioni #Cannaregio #veneziadavivere #circo #circus #fellini #show #amazingshow #liveshow #performance
What made Venetians change their mind to at least participate in their Carnival again, in 2015? I think the decisive piece of help came from the culinary side. You see, in February 2015, Venetians simply created their own Carnival. It started with the award for la miglior fritola – the best fritola pastry. Venetians flocked to the pastry stores that all participated enthusiastically, and churned out fresh frittelles three times a day. Everybody was eating frittelles, and nothing else, it seemed. Bakers, pastry store owners and Venetians all became fritola experts, and each and every lunch break and pre-dinner drink was spent in the pastry stores, tasting and comparing fritole. The quality of ingredients, the right farina (flour), whether the dough was fluffy enough and crispy at the same time. Were the fritole flavored raisins or perhaps with a hint of apricot liquor? Coated with flavored cherry sugar? And then, we shared our findings and scores in a Facebook Group, which soon made us exchange recipes for fritole straight from our great-grandmothers’ recipe journals. It was really fun and in my opinion, the first and decisive step to reconcile Venetians with their Carnival. You could feel so much enthusiasm and it felt just right when Venetians engage themselves for their own city and culture.
It happened over food in 2015 and then again in 2016, over food, arts and crafts. Piazza San Marco was turned into a lively artist’s lab, drawing Venetians during the week and tourists on the weekend. For the first time in a long time, Venetians and tourists enjoyed Carnival in the very same spot, though perhaps not at the same time. And then, Carnival ended on a grand and emotional note, which always accompanies the flying of the Venetian Flag called El Volo del Léon. I’m telling more about this first program in my Carnival in Venice e-guide here.
Carnival Theme #1 – Culinary Lessons from the Republic of Venice
Did you know that those frittelles I described above actually became the Venetian Dolce di Stato, the National Sweet Dish? The competitions of 2015 have certainly contributed to rediscovering so many ancient recipes stored away in attics and pantries for decades and longer. Just imagine, in the 16th century, Venice even had an association of fritoleri – fritole pastry chefs. In 2015, we were close to reviving that association as well.. If you would like to enjoy a particularly luxurious treat, you could taste your frittelle in the Grandi Caffé on the PIazza, or at Amo inside the Fondaco dei Tedeschi managed by the Alajmo Family who also own Caffé Quadri.
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Our Marias are enjoying typical carnival deserts, fritole e galani, at the bar cafeteria of splendid AMO Restaurant located inside the atrium of the recently-remodeled T Fondaco dei Tedeschi luxury department store. The restaurant was founded by the Alajmo family, already owners of the Grancaffè & Ristorante Quadri in Venice, 'Le Calandre' in Padua and 'Caffè Stern' in Paris. The interiors were designed by the famous local designer Philippe Starck. You should see how beautiful are the marble pavements and the glass chandelier (designed by Aristide Najean) in the cafeteria or the bar and the black marble tables in the restaurants. Everything is just so charming! @amovenice @alajmobros
Carnival Theme #2 – Exploring Fashion and Style.
We know very little about the authentic Venetian fashion style of the past.. Even during Carnival, less than five per cent, or so, of the costumes you can see around, would have been worn by the Venetians during the times of the Republic. This is also the case because the color code of the past is not applied in our times. Still, there are fine ateliers in town creating beautiful, and sometimes, historical, gowns, such as the ateliers of Pietro Longhi and Antonia Sautter, who organizes the Ballo del Doge.
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🎭 Sono tanti i modi per divertirsi a Carnevale, ma il primo è sicuramente mascherarsi. L’abbiamo provato per voi grazie al nostro staff che ha fatto visita all’Atelier Pietro Longhi. . 🎭 There are many ways to enjoy Carnival, but dressing up is the best one! Our staff experienced it thanks to Atelier Pietro Longhi. #CarnevaleVenezia2018 #VeniceCarnival2018 #venicecarnival #carnival #carnevale #lavidaesuncarnaval #costumes #mask #carnivalmask #Venezia #veneziaunica #igersvenezia #ig_venezia #Venice #Venise #Venedig #shooting
Carnival Theme #3 – Exploring Venetian Arts and Crafts.
Take a look at the artists exhibition in the Piazza which captured the hearts of Venetians in the last two years. Since the Carnival edition 2016, Piazza San Marco turns in a stage for the city’s artisans. Even a gondola was brought to Piazza San Marco and everyone was invited to watch the gondola makers (squeraroli) at work.
So this is a Carnival for all of us wishing to get to know Venice better. If you can’t be in Venice, take a look at my e-book dedicated to the secrets of Carnival in Venice, past and present, which includes a history, fashion, and food guide :)