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—Alessio Viscardi (Chapter 15: Cloak and Mask)—
The sky is rapidly darkening towards pitch black against the brilliant two thirds of a moon. It’s the ninth night of Carnevale—my first night—and the streets of Venice are flooded with people. Tourists from all over the world use their cameras to light up the dusky old brick fondamente along the sides of the rios and canals. Mingled in with the diverse international audience in full regalia are medieval kings and queens, dogi and dogaressi, Charlemagnes and Cleopatras. Couples pose for the cameras in traditional porcelain volto masks sheened in gold leaf gilding, arrayed from head to toe in elaborate Chinese silk costumes.
This is Carnevale di Venezia, a serene annual season of theatrical revelry and masked liberty before the grand finale on the night preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent—two and a half weeks a demon, six weeks a saint. Carnevale is all about aesthetic beauty and civilized pretenses. It’s a dimension above most other places, as I’ve heard. Shrovetide in the UK and Ireland is all about pub-hopping yourself into absolute destitution. Switzerland’s Rabadan isn’t much better, just a little more enthusiastic about its cocaine subculture. And American Mardi Gras, of course, is the cheap knock-off sum of all world carnivals. In this city, prestigious balls are held in some of the oldest palazzi in Italy at almost a thousand euro an invitation.