Carnevale is something that American festival-goers should attend at some point in their lives. It’s the equivalent of Fat Tuesday, but so much more interesting. It’s like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade plus Halloween and incredibly family-oriented. Families dress in similar costumes, toddlers spill sticky fistfuls of confetti from high-up balconies onto the easy-going Carnevale attendees. Everyone’s laid back. There’s no rush to go anywhere. No rush to the beer garden, no rush back to the parking lot to beat traffic on the way home, mostly because there was no beer garden and no parking lot; everyone takes the train to Viareggio, a small Italian seaside town, a two-hour train ride North of Florence.
The main event, perhaps the only event, at Carnevale is the parade. Enormous, Macy’s Parade-esque floats amble down the road with dancers atop and around the floats, hanging on and jumping off. While the Macy’s Parade features Dora the Explorer and Snoopy, Viareggio’s floats, constructed by the community, I assume, are much more creative. One float showed Hillary pulling Bill by the ear, another showed a pig scarfing down sausage strings. The Pope on stilts walked the street in front of a float depicting the Crusades. Harry Potter theme music followed a float on which a castle was built with young wizards and witches popping out of shutters and spraying the audience with silly string and shaving cream. An older, very jovial, man caught on to the mini-sorcerers’ antics and was prepared when the shutters banged open. He was armed with silly string galore. A battle ensued and I have to say, the older man won. He was pretty quick for an old guy.
We could hear the parade as soon as we exited the train station. Viareggio is awesome for many reasons, but I really loved that the town had set up an outdoor speaker system, and Italian pop music vibrated between the streets, fighting for air space with the numerous marching bands in the parade. We wanted to see more of the parade, so we slipped in and out and wove around the big throng of people all headed to the main thoroughfare where the actual carnival would take place.
One of my roommates told me that Viareggians store up their paper and then shred it to made confetti and streamers. This is their recycling, as the paper is collected after the festival and taken to a recycling plant. As we ran towards the event space, confetti fell in bundles on our heads and into our backpacks. It looked like a rainbow was cleaning out its closet.
As we ran, we saw men dressed as ballerinas, women dressed as blue gorillas, Italian babies suited up as giraffes. Wenches, pirates, Elizabethan characters, devils, fairies, lions—we saw it all. It was fantastic. To join in the festivities, we each bought a mask. As we walked the opposite direction that parade was headed, to ensure we saw it all, we were sprayed with silly string and shaving cream, and continually doused with confetti. We each got hit pretty hard a few times by people who thought we looked too clean. That was another great thing about the day—there wasn’t a single person I saw who got bent out of shape when they were attacked with harmless party favors. When the initial shock of finding shaving cream in their ear wore off, a smile always followed close behind.
After a while, I gave up trying to brush off the shaming cream (shaving cream here is really wet, not thick like it is in the states; the consistency is that of a stagnant bubble bath) and pull out the silly string from my hair. We figured that maybe we wouldn’t get as much attention if we had kilos of string and shaving cream adorning ourselves and our packs.
This was not true. J
After two hours of enjoying the parade, taking tons of pictures of the festivities and ourselves (check out the Carnivale pictures on facebook), we headed back to the train station. It was getting later, the Italian babies were conked out in their strollers, we were getting tired. After a full day of trains, costumes, marching bands and carnival floats, we were tired and hungry and ready to be home.
Unfortunately, we didn’t check our return train ticket home. We boarded our train and had to split up because the train was so crowded. Getting on the train was almost a full-blown battle. It was crazy, people pushing shoving through a tiny door. After about an hour of passing stops and none of them looking familiar, I checked my ticket. Our destination was indeed Firenze (Florence), but we needed to transfer at the Pisa station. We found each other, got off, and then waited for the next train. We hopped on as soon as it pulled up, and we didn’t think much of the fact that it left 10 minutes early. Yeah—it was the wrong train. At this point, I was tired, scared, and struggling with some emotions that had surfaced at Carnevale, and I started to cry. We got off, my roommates were amazing and made me laugh, and we found the right train. After another hour and a half, we got home. We stepped in the door of our apartment at midnight. We’d been trying to get home for five hours.
So, lessons learned: 1) Carnevale is awesome. 2) Always check your train ticket to see if you have to transfer trains. 3) Never underestimate the goodness in people. Like your roommates.
Carnevale in Viareggio is a good example for Americans. It’s possible to be laid-back, have fun sober, spend time being goofy with your family and not worry about a thing. Well, except maybe getting home. J But nonetheless, festivals and parades don’t have to be filled with stress, stern expressions and an agenda. It’s ok to walk around, observe, take an embarrassing amount of photos, and enjoy the day for what it is.