For the past few weeks, the streets have been filled with confetti and it wasn’t unusual to see a child or an adult walking along the sidewalk in full costume. In Italy, the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras (or Carnevale as it’s called in Italy) are a time for pranks, dressing up in silly costumes, and just having fun. According to Italians, Carnevale is the time to be as wild and inappropriate as you’d like before going in to the season of Lent.
I decided I wanted to experience the true Carnevale atmosphere, so I booked a train to Viareggio, a small beach town with the largest Carnevale parade in Italy. When I arrived at noon, the streets were already packed with people in extremely over-the-top costumes and young children running around with bags of confetti throwing it at each other. I walked around to enjoy the atmosphere, but I definitely felt out of place without a costume or a mask. The streets were filled with vendors selling Carnevale souvenirs and snack foods, such as hot dogs and French fries. It felt very similar to the atmosphere of a State fair in the U.S.
At three in the afternoon, the parade started with a couple of cannon blasts. The huge floats moved around in a loop very slowly because there were people running around in the streets – it didn’t seem like you were suppose to stay in one spot during the parade, but rather you were expected to move around with the floats. Within just a few minutes I was covered in confetti as each float that passed shot confetti into the crowd. Each float was just as amazing as the next with huge moving parts, blaring music, and their own dance crews.
What I found shocking was the fact that each float was very obviously a statement of political criticism toward the Italian government. Rather than being happy and bright, most of the floats were dark and almost scary as they depicted political satire. One float even had the President of the Republic of Italy hanging from a noose off the back! When I asked one of my professors about this the next day, he said that the Italians treat Viareggio’s Carnevale as a way to be as politically incorrect as they can be before the season of Lent. It was interesting, but I felt with all of the political satire, that it wasn’t really a family event.
As I walked back to the train station to head back to Florence, I got the chance to buy some of the baked Italian goods, which are only sold during the Carnevale season – a variety of fried sweets. My favorite so far is Frappe, which is similar to a baked churro that is flattened and covered in powdered sugar. It’s going to be hard going into the season of Lent and not being able to buy some of my favorite Italian sweets.