Mardi Gras Madness but Not in Marin

So it’s Valentine’s Day this weekend. What about Carnival? What about King Cake, Mardi Gras beads, masquerade balls and Zydeco in the street? Next week is Fat Tuesday, followed by Ash Wednesday, February 17th, which is when Lent begins –– that season of deprivation. (What are you giving up, by the way?)

Carnival has pretty much been pre-empted this year by the big Hallmark, See’s Candies, floral industry holiday on February 14th which falls right in the middle of it all. Not that I don’t like cards and flowers and little blue boxes, but it’s also Mardi Gras in New Orleans February 17; Carnevale in Venice, Italy, January 31 – February 17; and Carnival in Rio de Janiero February 13-17.

As far as I know, not much is happening in Marin County on the Mardi Gras/Carnival front unless you head to The Fenix in San Rafael for the 24th annual “Rhythmtown-Jive; Mardi Gras Mambofest” tomorrow night, where the stage will be packed with musicians playing rhythm and blues. It all starts at 8 p.m. at 919 Fourth Street in San Rafael and the cover is only $15.

Meanwhile, in other corners of the world, costumed revelers have been parading in the streets for over a week. In Venice, where Carnival (Carnevale in Italian) all started centuries ago (they say 1268), the celebration may not be as decadent or as hedonistic as it once was, but it still conjures intrigue and romance in dark, narrow alleyways along murky canals in an ancient city.

The temperature in Venice is frigid right now (35 degrees and grey, with aqua alta looming this weekend), but the mood in the streets is festive and not at all chilly – it is street theater at its best; high Italian drama. The piazzas and campos are swollen with camera-slinging tourists captivated by the grand and entertaining display, making for a mob scene in San Marco — but one that is tolerated by the locals only for the immense economic impact it has.

Pop-up mask shops abound, capes and plumed tri-cornered hats sweep through the twisted Venetian streets; revelers in riveting 18th century, museum-quality costumes are on every corner posing with others in fantasia and commedia dell’arte inspired attire. There are elegant, exclusive soirees all weekend where no one is allowed without a costume, and just as many street parties that rage all night where anything is allowed, but the allure is the same at both. Who knows who lurks behind that mask and therefore why behave?

This Marin Magazine blogger is in Venice shadowing New York Times and USA Today Best Selling author Ciji Ware who is based in Sausalito and is in Italy completing research for her twelfth novel which is set in Venezia during Carnevale. On Valentine’s Day, we are attending a masquerade event that Vanity Fair calls “the most lavish, refined and unique ball in the world.” It promises to be off the charts. Stay tuned.

The Latin origin of the word Carnevale is carne vale – or farewell to meat. A reference to the fact that, in highly religious days gone by, the devout gave up meat and other indulgences during the season of Lent. Next year, before you give up anything, consider crossing the pond for a real Carnival celebration. Carnevale in Venice is a once in a lifetime experience, in fact it’s a sociological phenomenon not to be missed in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Posting from Venezia….with and without costume.