Feb 152010
Authors: Sara Michael

Today heralds the tradition held sacred by college students and New Orleanians as the biggest hoopla of them all: a day and night of revelry, decadent in shades of violet, emerald and gold.

It’s that Mardi Gras time of year.

Junior biochemistry major Brooke Bell took at trip to Venice last Friday to explore the revelry of the Italian Carnivale.
Bell is currently abroad in Italy, studying in Florence at the Apicius International School of Hospitality.

Stepping into the city, Bell said she had no idea what to expect.

“The streets were alive and packed,” she said, describing her descent through the narrow, “eerie” streets into the main of the city.

“Luckily, all crowds lead to Piazza San Marco ­–– the hub of it all.”

The Venetian equivalent of a New Orleans Mardi Gras, Carnivale runs for two weeks before Lent, with the final day today, Fat Tuesday.

Carnivale was officially begun in 1296, when the Senate of the Republic issued an edict declaring the day before Lent as a public holiday, and has since expanded into the festivities of today.

The festival is regarded as a time without inhibitions, where the entire city erupts in color and carousing. Masks are traditionally worn as a symbol that, during this time, one is free to be whomever they chose, hiding their true faces and beings behind some of the most ornate masks in the world.

Joining in, Bell and some friends visited shops where the famous masks are made by hand to get their own before heading down to the Piazza. She described the experience as “totally necessary and worth the extra Euros.”

The Piazza, she said, was “exploding with people,” complete with cameras and masks, surrounded by landmarks like St. Mark’s Clock, the golden winged lions and the Basilica on the horizon.

“You could spin and see a sea of easily 75,000 or more people,” she said. “It was to the point where the bar on the Piazza could charge 15 Euro for a shot of espresso and people would pay it.”

The crowds gathered around the costumed people –– costumes so intricate that, she said, “a bee on the flower of a 5-foot train would not be overlooked.”

Woven with metallic and bold colors, Bell said the costumes were either Renaissance or from another planet.

“It made me feel like I was born in the wrong generation,” she said.

The masks provoked a strange emotion, she said, with the romantic mystery behind the full-face garb.

“When you took pictures, you couldn’t help but wonder if they were smiling or just scowling,” she said. But, she added, with the amount of time spent on the costumes, the wearers clearly loved the attention.

The food, too, was not to be outdone. Bell said her favorite was “fratellini” –– freshly made doughnuts.

“I got mine with Nutella and devoured it still hot,” she said.

The celebration continued well into the night, with different genres of music filling the piazzas around the city, coupled with drinking and dancing into the early hours, especially on the Rialto bridge.

Bell also said that she talked to someone who said that they had been to Carnivale for the past 27 years, and that this year was the biggest ever. She said she felt privileged to have partaken.

“Venice is an awesomely evil city,” she said. “It makes you want to do bad things in a good way. Perfect for the essence of Carnivale.”

Staff writer Sara Michael can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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