Tuscany, Carnival in Viareggio Carnival is the very old festival that precedes Lent and is traditionally a time for partying and making whoopee. Viareggio’s carnival dates back to 1873 when some young men, all frequenters of the same casino, decided to organise a procession of carriages on Shrove Tuesday evening, with the passengers in fancy dress. It was such a success that it was repente the following year, and, in a sense, every year thereafter (except for the periods of two World wars) growing ever more ambitious and elaborate.
By the end of the 19th century, carriages had been moine by carts drawn by horses oxen, with tableaux made of jute, wood, iron and plaster of Paris, very heavy and therefore very small by today’s standards. These had subjects such as The Little Zulus, The Triumph of the match in honour of the newly invented Cerini maches with wax sticks, and The Goddess of Flowers in praise of unspoilt nature, with prizes awarded for originality, design and ingenuity.
It wasn’t long before Viareggio’s local government began to appreciate the financial advantage of these parades wich attracted people from the surrounding villages as well as foreign tourists, all with money to spend. Public funding of the event began in 1910.
Two principal factors changed the rather earnest character of the event into the wonderfully exhilarating funfest that it is now.
The first was the use of paier-machè, introduced in 1925. This meant that enormous, hollow, lightweight figures could be made and animated by people with ropes and pulleys. The workshops where the’re made are in the purpose-built Cittadella del Carnevale, a multi purpose building opened in 2001 wich now also has a Carnival Museum.
The second was the increasing emphasis on satire and grotesquerie. No public figure, beh e President of the United States or the Pope, is exempt, Indeed, these two are amongst the main targets-what will the designers do with Barack Obama next year, I wonder? This year’s image is almost benign.
In a perverse way, however, being the the object of this savagery i san honour ( or at least a distinction of some kind) and politicians and other kent faces come to the opening Carnival to see how the paier-machè wizards have dealt with them. Before the event begins, the designers’ sketches are published with explanations of their message. The title of the one at the top of the page is “The cow licks and licks.. she ate the calf!!!”
This is the description. “The construction is a biking satire on the economic and political situation in Italy. At the centre of the float i san enormous cow representing our Republic.
She lies sprawled on a huge, wobbly, gilded armchair. She has her tongue hanging out and is guarded by two cavalry officers wearing breastplates. She would love to lick her calf which here represents the italian people, but only a dangling skeleton remains.
There’s nothing left to lick. Today, the builder is warning us, we must pay for everything and life for the people of Italy is down to the bone”.
Carnival doesn’t consist only of the major floats, however. There are smaller floats and lots of lorries carrying associations, school groups and people all dressed up, having fun and/or making a point. Many of the people who come to watch are wearing fancy dress and wigs and carrying spray cans of goo. It’s all so good-natured. There’s also a lot of very loud music.
The setting for the parade is the seaside “passeggiata” where the floats trundle back and forth at walking speed all afternoon till it grows dark. All that commotion and noise under the wide wintry sky, with the sea, the umbrella-less beach, the sagge mountainous backdrop… Magic


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