Thursday, February 27, 2014

Carnevale di Venezia!

It's Carnevale time in Venice, so here's a quick history of this crazy annual event. In Italian, Carnevale means "farewell to meat" or "meat is gone." The Catholic Lent obligated people to fast during the period up to Ash Wednesday. All meats, butter and eggs had to be used up, so this religious formality gave Venetians a good excuse to have one heck of a party. Carnevale starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday—day before Ash Wednesday—also known as Mardi Gras. The international carnival is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1268, when the use of masks were first documented. The masks were used to shield the identity and social status of the wearer, so no differentiation could be made between the commoners and the nobility. So they all mingled together while making merry—visiting brothels, theaters, cafes and wine shops, or they would gamble, see exotic animals, rope walkers or jugglers.

 Carnevale di Venezia is an extravaganza not to be missed! The mascheran (mask makers) have been busy constructing festive and mysterious masks, and the sarte (seamstresses) have been busy sewing elaborate costumes.

Medico della Peste (Plague Doctor) mask

One popular costume at the Venice Carnevale is this ominous looking bird-beaked, plague doctor's mask. Venice was hit many times by the plague, and in those horrible days of the Black Death medicine was more folklore than science. Proper physicians had a habit of fleeing cities once the disease hit, and to the rescue came plague doctors, were normally much less-qualified. They thought the bad smells from the disease were the main cause of infection, so to protect the them from the awful smells—miasma—the plague docs wore masks with beak-like protrusions on them which would be filled with aromatics like flowers and herbs, spices, or even a vinegar soaked sponge. They also covered their eyes with glasses, which is a very steam punk look! So think of the weird looking beaked masks as an early respirator or gas mask. And now, it's just fun and festive.

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