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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [546] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

Suddenly, tangerine flames engulf a metal demon. The charring creature juxtaposes a series of heavenly balls of blue fire that lick at the night sky. My mask and black veil frame the fiery spectacle of serpents, dragons, marionettes, and knights. Thankfully, gli attori have everything under control for the annual celebration of Carnevale.

For two weeks before Lent, Venice becomes home to hundreds of flag-throwers, masqueraders, and thousands of tourists. Some people are there to celebrate the passage of winter into spring, others to enjoy a plethora of vices before forty days of almsgiving, prayers, and fasting; and many are there just to see what all the fuss is about. Other than indulging in the passions of the flesh before the austerity of Lent, Carnevale was also an excuse for the lower classes to mingle unfettered with aristocrats by concealing their identity. Disguise allowed the fool to be celebrated and role reversal explored, but the mask above all, became a social equalizer.

Walking amongst the spectators at Campo Santa Margherita, my eyes adjust to reveal the blush and cream pastel houses. The buildings surrounding the Campo look both exotic and in a state of decay. The delicate colors contrast the grey and crumbling framework resulting from so many days of flood. Prominent perishable matter sits alongside an unprecedented exuberance for life, making this quaint Italian square feel eerily enchanting.

The thick aroma of mulled wine and Castagnole fill the foggy Venetian air. The scent is warming amidst a harsh February chill. As I make my way through the crowd, I am overwhelmed by the roving masses adorned with extravagant and rich garb. A woman clad in lavender floral silk strolls casually by. Her fabric is accented with gold trim and jade jewels that glint as light brushes her soft finger upon them. The Bauta she proudly wears on her face is a rich plum color, accenting the cloak of sage orchids that sits comfortably on her head. The static facial expression of her mask has been stuck that way for eternity, still under Medusa’s spell.

Quickly, my attention diverts to the infamous Medico della Peste – The Plague Doctor, who still wears very traditional dress. The most prominent feature - a hollow beak grimly jutting out of the mask to provide substantial space for aromatic herbs and spices (once used to conceal the scent of decomposing corpses). During Carnevale, Venice is abounding with these characters, providing a foreboding reminder of our mortality.

A loud thunderbolt deflects my attention back to the fiery spectacle before me. Everyone eagerly watches as balls of flames pulverize in air and fall to the ground in splashes of water. The crowd cheers, “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo a Vale!” - At Carnival, anything goes. Venice becomes a surreal city in which a mask allows its wearer to submit to their romantic, carnal, and criminal desires. For two weeks of every year, the impossible truly does seem palpably real.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

Comments

1

i love the descriptive tone that sweeps throughout Stephanie's story. I have always wanted to go to Venice and I get a bit of a glimpse of what I have missed out on.
thanks for the trip!

  sands Mar 30, 2011 5:23 PM

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