Tuesday was the last day of Carnevale - and my last chance to wear one of
the getups that were now all bunched up on the bottom of my suitcase. I looked
at them with dismay. I couldn't imagine venturing out in anything so light
weight and there was certainly no way I could layer enough clothing underneath
one of my costumes to keep warm. I finally admitted that I would freeze to
death in my thin little ensembles. So, attired in almost everything else I
brought, I headed for the Piazza San Marco.
My Venetian friends had invited me to come to Venice
for Carnevale, saying I could use the studio apartment kept for family and
friends. This was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I arranged my schedule to be
in Venice the last week of
Carnevale. Then, as an added treat, stop off in Paris
for the weekend before heading home.
I queried everyone I knew who had actually been to Venice
at Carnevale time. One of the unanimous facts learned was that Venice
is cold in February. I was advised to wear my warmest clothing and take along
some chemical pocket warmers. I thought I knew what cold was but, it turns out
I had a lot to learn.
Planning what to take was fun. I have a trunk filled with wonderful costumes
and, after trying them all on, decided to take my Pierrot and Midnight Sky
ensembles. Both are made of silk and tulle and therefore easy to pack. It never
occurred to me they wouldn't be warm enough. I thought adding my long underwear
with a few pocket warmers tucked here and there would be sufficient. After all,
I reasoned, I am almost never cold.
It was early evening when I arrived at Marco
My friend Nereo was waiting at customs and whisked me out to his car and sped
off toward Venezia. After leaving the car at the autopark, we hopped aboard a
Vaporetto headed down the Canale Grande. I was so excited at once again being
in Venice I didn't feel anything
but a delicious tingling sensation. Ah, I thought, La Serenissima, I've come
My other friends, Carol and Marilena, were waiting in the main house, so I
popped into the studio just long enough to unload my bags and freshen up. It
wasn't until much later, after we wandered the streets and alleyways, drank red
wine and ate panini at a friends wine bar, danced in one of the small campi
with other Carnevale revelers, and drank several shots of grappa, that I found
myself back in the studio and freezing. I had forgotten to leave the heater on
and the place was frigid. The studio is located on the ground floor of the
palazzo and has stone walls and tiled floors. There is a canal just outside and
the waters' damp cold seemed to penetrate everything. When I stayed there last
September, the weather was hot and humid and the studio an oasis of cool
relief. The freezing cold came as an unwelcome surprise.
I looked at my silk pajamas with dismay. How would those skimpy things keep me
warm? So, I layered a T-shirt, the p.j.'s, my travel robe and a pair of socks,
then crawled into bed and pulled the heavy blanket up to my chin. I lay there
shivering for a while then, warm at last, fell asleep watching the exquisite
reflections of water playing on the old wooden beams of the ceiling.
I awoke to the comforting sounds of bells chiming from the church across the
canal. I hopped out of bed just long enough to turn up the heater but long
enough to realize it was still nippy and the tiled floor was icy cold.
Ultimately the thought of a hot, strong coffee bribed me out of my cozy nest.
I was dressed and ready when Carol came down to see if I was awake. She said it
was very cold out and I should be sure to dress warmly. Of course I had already
figured that out, but obediently pulled on an additional sweater.
When we stepped outside, an icy gust of wind whipped around the corner and
through all my layers of clothing and down into my bones. We decided if we
walked rapidly we wouldn't feel the cold as much. Once at the Piazza San Marco
we forgot about being chilly and lost ourselves in the crowds. We scurried
around like paparazzi snapping photos of the gorgeous costumed characters
posing among the merrymakers.
We bought some Fritole and Galani, the delicious treats available only during
Carnevale. Fritole are little round balls with small pieces of dried fruit and
pine nuts inside, fried then abundantly sprinkled with granulated sugar. Galani
are fried strips of sweet dough, lavishly dusted with powdered sugar. We washed
them down with hot spiced wine.
The thought about wearing one of my cute costumes later in the day, after
lunch, was quickly squelched when I poked my nose out the window and saw it had
begun to mist. The air felt even colder than it had that morning.
It rained off and on all the next day, so once again I decided not to wear a
costume as we ventured out to the P. S. Marco. The elaborate costumed
characters were even more fantastic than the day before. They roamed from one
end of the Piazza to the other, pausing to pose for photos as they made their
promenade. I took rolls and rolls of film, running from one incredible
masquerader to the next like a shark at a feeding frenzy.
Late that night I was awakened by the sound of sirens warning of an impending
aqua alta or high tide. The men of the palazzo and the neighboring houses could
be heard leaving their homes and heading off somewhere, their deep, melodic
voices echoing along the calle. My curiosity was great but when I jumped from
my bed to look out the window I was immediately frozen and so hopped back into
my nice warm refuge. Even my normal nosiness couldn't bribe me to get up, get
dressed and go out to investigate what the men were doing and where they were
going. However, I did check several times during the night to make sure the
high water wasn't coming into the studio. The next day I learned the men had
gone to start the pumps in the basement of the church across the canal so it wouldn't
The fourth day, Sunday, we didn't go near the P. S. Marco. We heard on the news
that police had closed all entrances to Venice
because of overcrowding. We avoided the traditional tourist places and instead
went to visit friends and enjoyed a wonderful lunch and relaxed afternoon
listening to music far from the maddening crowds.
Monday found us once again in the midst of the other photographers snapping
away to our hearts content. Naturally I didn't have on my costume. Looking at
the big, elaborate costumes worn by everyone else, I felt certain they were
either fur or down lined. And undoubtedly, pocket warmers were tucked in under
all those robes, hoops and capes.
Finally it was the last day of Carnevale and there I was, back at the P. S.
Marco. I felt like I knew some of the characters from having photographed them
during the last few days. There was an amazing assortment of finery, laces,
velvets, metallics, feathers, glitter, spangles and furs. The masks and
headdresses were fantastic. The sun made a short but very weak appearance late
in the day, then slid behind the Chiesa Della Saluté and was gone. The cold
settled around us like a shroud and still the costumed characters paraded,
preened, paused and posed for photographers. Music from the cafes mixed with
the laughter of the children as they ran happily through the crowds tossing
bright colored confetti. The temperature dropped as the evening mist and fog
began to form, turning the Piazza into a magical, mystical fantasy.
And then it was over.
On Ash Wednesday I wandered the streets cold and alone. It was gray and foggy
as I made my way through the P. S. Marco. Gone were the revelers and fantastic
costumes. Gone were the hordes of people. Gone were the Fritole and Galani. The
band stands were empty. The Piazza nearly deserted. The only sounds were those
of the sweepers cleaning up and the soft cooing of pigeons scavenging through
the debris looking for abandoned tidbits of anything edible.
The Florian Caffè was nearby so I paused for a warming cup of tea. Looking
around I was surprised that not even a spangle or a small feather remained from
the extravagant masqueraders who posed there only yesterday.
I stopped at a small mask studio to buy some souvenirs. The shop keeper was a
friendly young guy who told me all about how the masks are made. When we
stepped outside to see something in the window, he complained about the cold.
He said it felt colder this year than he remembered and I laughed and told him
I had never been colder in my life! Then, as I reached into my pocket for money,
I felt something warm. On impulse I pulled out my pocket warmer and placed it
into his hand. His eyes lit up with amazement and pleasure. He was so
fascinated by it that I wound up giving him both my treasured little warmers.
He, in return, gave me a lovely miniature mask.
Leaving Venice is always sad and I
tried not to cry as the Vaporetto chugged toward the autopark because I knew
the tears would freeze onto my cheeks. Later, as the plane flew over La
Serenissima I blew a kiss then settled back, cozy and warm, for the short
flight to Paris.
A weekend in Paris! What a treat!
Ah…to wander the little streets and hang out at terrace cafes. Yes, I thought,
this would be a perfect ending to my holiday. It never occurred to me that it
was going to be winter there too and that Paris
is farther north than Venice.
It was snowing when I arrived in Paris.