Monday, March 2, 2009

Viareggio Carnivale

5:00 PM February 25

John and I met up with several of the girls and a large group from NYU in front of the train station on Sunday for a school sponsored trip to Viareggio, a sleepy Tuscan seaside town known for its celebration of Carnivale. In case you’ve been wondering, Carnivale, much like Mardis Gras, is an excuse to have a blowout Halloween-esque party before Lent. In Italy, it has become so popular, especially with tourists, that they’ve expanded it to all “five weekends in February—that’s Italy for you: don’t try to make sense of it. (For more on what makes Italy special, check out this video) Carnivale is most notable in Venice, but Viareggio is known for attracting a more Italian local crowd. The main event is a parade of paper-pulp floats depicting caricatures of politicians and other celebrities, which roll through the boardwalk area.

Although we met in front of the train station, we took a school-chartered bus. We made great time, until about five kilometers outside of the city, traffic came to a complete halt. We sat there for at least a half-an-hour without moving. Many of us wanted to get out and walk into town, but we sat it out. While we waited, we did get to take in some spectacular scenery, as we were perched on a hill covered in olive trees overlooking the great plain of seaside marshes and small towns lining the water’s edge. When we finally got moving, it became apparent what the problem was: this small town could only be accessed by a four-lane highway (two lanes each way) and that had been reduced to one in each direction later on due to construction. With so many guests coming, a massive bottleneck built up, but the traffic was likely halted because of an accident in the one-lane portion. Actually, knowing Italy, I’m surprised it didn’t take longer to clean up the traffic mess.

When we finally got there, we tried to meet up with friends who hadn’t signed up in time to make the list for the school trip. They took the train down, but entered the event on the opposite side of the “boardwalk.” The so-called “boardwalk” was actually a closed off stretch of shops on a street just off the waterfront. After stuggling for almost an hour to unite the group and find a place to eat, we conceded that we would split up in the crowds that day and settled for what appeared to be a local doughnut for food. It was a simple fried dough ring with an abundance of granulated sugar covering the outside, which was relatively unimpressive. They also had a cream-filled doughnut puff which I found more pleasing.

After our meal, we went for a walk on the beach, and I was disappointed that no one was willing to take their shoes off with me. It just seems like human nature to walk barefooted on the beach, and I had a great time reconnecting with the sand. It was my favorite part of the day, and I even dipped my feet in the cool sixty-or-so degree water for a bit.

We reached the grandstands for the parade a little after 2:00, when they were supposed to start. In true Italian fashion, they did not begin until 3:00 though. There was a concert going on at a big stage just behind us, but that didn’t stop the first float from blasting their own music simultaneously as we waited for the parade to begin.

A typical Viareggio float consists of at least one giant manually-moving object in a politically themed design with a group of costumed supporters dancing on board. I wish I knew more about the issues in Italian politics so I might have picked up on the satire, but I did recognize what seemed to be some representation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on every-other float. In between floats, smaller groups carried sculpted figures down the street following similar themes. There was one marching band, but they were barely audible. A single trumpeter aboard one float was at least twice as loud as the marching band.

We left the parade around 4:15 while it was still in progress in order to catch the bus, which was supposed to depart around 5:00. To get around the crowds, we walked again on the beach just as sunset was beginning. It was a nice day, and I found it fascinating how much Viareggio reminded me of the Jersey Shore and its seedy seaside character.

I got some great pictures of the mountains at sunset from the slow bus ride out of the city, but I couldn’t capture the spectacular view we got of sunset over the marshes, as I was on the wrong side of the bus.

When we got back to Florence, we went to the restaurant which Adam, John, and I had tried our second night here on Piazza San Lorenzo. I was about to get lasagna, remembering that John’s was excellent last time, when I saw an great-looking calzone leave the kitchen for another table, so I went with that. It was definitely a fine meal, but nothing special in comparison to all of the great food we’ve been eating. The girls then went home and John and I capped the night with Adam, enjoying our tiramisu and Amaro.

I didn’t feel I could appropriately capture the parade in still photography, so I experimented for the first time with the video setting on my camera. Below is a little montage I've made of the event.

Featured Music:
Earth, Wind & Fire. "Happy Feeling." That's The Way Of The World. 1975.
Williams, John. "Engome." The Magic Box. 2001.
Bridges, Adrian. "Adam's Lost Groove." Alone Together. 2007.
Queen. "Seaside Rendezvous." A Night At The Opera. 1975.

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