Tuesday, March 22, 2011


By: Dawn Elardo
Earlier this month the Venice Carnival kicked off with its usual Venetian bang.  We caught up with Roberto Bano, a native Italian, who was fortunate to attend the festivities and capture the event with his photography.  We asked him to share his stories, as well as his impressions about the spectacular festival (to accompany all his fabulous photos featured here): the happenings, the ins and outs--so we can keep you in the cultural global know. 

(Ciao Robi!) Where in Italy are you from?
Hi. I'm from a small town near Bergamo in Italy, a nice city 50km far from  Milan and 200km from Venice.

What do you do?
I'm an architect, with the hobby of photography (let's take it less seriously, maybe "taking pictures" expresses better what my skills are), and tourism.

What brought you to Venice Carnival 2011? Have you been there before?
I must admit that my opinion in describing Venice can't be considered as impartial, since I think I'm affected by a kind of devotion towards this city and [by the richness of its past legacy].
So that I'll make an effort to talk only about the Carnival and not about the city itself.  
I've been to Venice before, not as many times as the city deserves, but this was the very first time for me to get there for Carnival. (You know, living near a place, you always think you can go there whenever you want, [but you never end up going...]).

Suggested Interactive-Media Listening While Having a Venetian Read: Vivaldi, Juditha Triumphans – Excerpts by Panphonic
What brought me to Venice this year was on one hand, the curiosity to see what is to me one of the most wonderful cities in the world [though the lens of Carnival, which is among others, one of the things that gives Venice worldwide fame]. I was also curious to discover the peculiar and historical traditions of old Italian territory and how they are continued within the Venetian custom--with their "festa" and "sagra" castles, an so on, and my curiosity is also due to my rising interest in incoming tourism, sparked last month--collaborating with my friend, Umberto (the traveler consultant in this journey to Venice). He knows Venice as well as Rome very well.

What are your favorite features at the Venice Carnival?
Carnival in Venice has always been a cultural event: Back in the 15th century, it could last up to six months, which coincided with the theatrical season--sixteen theaters [with daily on going shows], making the cultural vivacity of the city quite evident.  So this year at the center of Piazza San Marco, they installed a stage for shows, circuses, balls and concerts; and last but not least, it's where they announce the winners of the best costumes.

Carnival 2011 was dedicated to women: "Ottocento, Da Senso a Sissi, la città delle donne" (17Th Century, from Senso [Lucchino Visconti's movie] to [Princess] Sissi, the city of women). It lasted for three weeks until march the 8th, "Il Martedì Grasso"--organizing it so that the last day ended on "Women's Day." (Pictured right: some of the women who attended).

The show took to the streets of Venice--where everyone, from common people to V.I.P.s, took part. Carnival, was as much for people-watching, as it was for hiding behind a mask--to stay in character in a dream location. And of course, a world of never-ending nights with exclusive and fashionable and glamorous parties and masked balls, took place in the top hotels--where invitations are subjected to significant money “offers” and for aristocracy.

But my most favorite part of the Carnival was exactly what I expected--an idea of the city sculpted in my mind: During the festival, Venice looked as how I've always imagined it--a city lived by 16th century people, where its citizens moved by gondolas, as if time had stopped centuries ago.

The entire production of Carnival is lead by a theme (making it different from other carnivals)--usually related to a historical age. And the majority of costumes worn respected that. As the artistic director of the Carnival, Davide Rampello, says: “To define a theme means to invite people psychologically to visit that atmosphere." The sophisticated costumes and masks, many of which hand-crafted (and very expensive) were stunning. The superb masks , that could look inexpressive--were lit up by the colorful dresses and made animated by the eyes that lay behind them--or sometimes by ironic and sad smiles, which obscured one's expression.

Every character wanted their photographs taken, almost like there was a competition amongst them to find the best places to act out their dramatic scene (see right). This way they stood out--giving the photographers a suitable background. (Anyway, taking photos of people in costume without tourists appearing in the background is not an easy task).

Finally, one of my favorite parts is the slow and silent slipping of the gondolas with their lights shining over the water at dusk. It really makes you think that something magic is happening: it delivers you to another world.  The whole event is so extraordinary that at times it felt like you were in a movie set. (That's how it felt for me all the time ).

What would you recommend
to do and not to do at the Venice Carnival?
In general, for first timers, the only thing I could recommend is to get there by train and to stay in the city more than one day. If staying in Venice for the night is too expensive, consider spending the night in Padova, Treviso, Vicenza or Verona--these cities are very well connected by train or bus, and are all full of artistic sites.

You could also see the island of Venice, including where the famous glasses are produced, in about three days. I suggest booking a hotel, and staying at least for the night to wait for the calm, (and this will already be a show inside the show). Walk slowly, and take your time to see every single street, piazza or church that interest you. Respect the workers, and pardon the stores and restaurant keepers who may not smile at you: It doesn't mean they will not treat you right. 

I also suggest prior to your arrival to Venice, to try to get in the right mood: Read some Shakespeare, Goldoni, and about Marco Polo and La Serenissima; listen to Vivaldi, Rondò Veneziano, and why not, Loreena McKennitt. You'll jump into the right atmosphere.

Any other advice for those who want to attend for next time? 
I think it would be a good idea to spend a Sunday and a Monday in Venice: a full day of events (full of people) and then the next day spent with calm. If you're going to spend the night, remember to book in advance. You must also keep in mind that Carnival varies from year to year depending on when Easter falls under.

If you get there by train on a weekend, get to the station at least half an hour before the train leaves, so you can get in comfortably.

Was it everything you expected? And what was most unexpected?

It was definitely what I expected. But what was most unexpected, is the fact that everyone perfectly embodied their characters: people wearing king's dresses, acted like they really were kings. And in general, all the people masked, acted like completely involved--with a subtle wish to show themselves--in a way that could look narcissist, but somehow measured.

In three words: Carnival in Venice is elegant, austere and silent. But this doesn't mean it won't be funny too!

Would you go again?
I can't wait for the next year!

All images were taken by Roberto Bano. And one of the guys behind the masks is the architect himself. See if you can guess which one!

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