The Carnival in Venice is one of of the most beautiful carnivals not only in Italy, but in the whole world.
Unfortunately this year, the 2021, it will be a virtual event, due to covid-19 emergency. Nevertheless there are some people wearing the traditional costumes around, so I might go one of these days.
Luckily I have been there more than once and I have a few pictures and information about the Carnival that I would like to share with you.
Its fame comes mainly from the beautiful masks and costumes that wander around the calli and campi during this time of the year.
We usually link masks and costumes to carnival (and Halloween), a time of parties and change, we dress up to be somebody else for a few hours.
But in Venice it hasn’t always been this way…
History of Carnival in Venice
Carnival has very old origins, it probably derives from the Saturnali in Ancient Rome, a time at the end of the month of December when civil rules were temporarly suspended.
It was time of banquets and subversion of the social order: for a few days slaves were free and a princeps was elected and dressed with a mask and bright colors.
A few centuries later, when Venice was administered by the Serenissima Republic, wearing masks and costumes was popular and an ordinary affair.
At the time masks were used to hide one’s identity during illegal meetings or activities.
For instance, the mask was used to go to casino or brothels.
Hidden under the tabarro (a mantel) were often carried arms.
For this reason in 1269 the use of masks and costumes was legally forbidden, allowed only during Carnival.
Bauta (the cocked hat with a mask that was open at the bottom and permitted to eat and talk) and tabarro could be worn at official parties and on national holidays.
In the meantime the Carnival (that lasted from Christmas to Mardi Gras) and Venetian masks became more and more important, and in 1436 was established the statute of mascherari, the artisans that create the masks.
Carnival continued to be a time of transgression, where you could do anything, with the anonymity given by the mask.
In 1776 married women were forced to wear bauta and tabarro to go to the theatre.
In 1700, when Carnival was at its highest, new costumes became popular, those coming from the Commedia dell’arte theatre pieces, and they continue to be among the most popular: Pulcinella, Colombina, Arlecchino, Pantalone.
From 1797, with the end of the Republic of Venice and the invasion of Napoleon first and the Austrian Empire later, the Carnival was suspended and prohibited. Masks could only be worn at private parties.
Carnival was organised again only recently, in 1979.
The carnival today
Nowadays curious and enthusiastic from all over the world come to Venice not only to see the beautiful costumes, but also to wear them.
It is possible to buy or rent a costume in the few ateliers that can still be found in Venice.
Around town you can see many stalls selling cheap masks, but true Venetian masks are made in papier-maché, not plastic, and cost from 30 euro up (they are artisanal works).
Some of the costumes you can see in Venice during the Carnival are traditional, with the white mask and the rich headgear.
Others are inspired by movie characters or exotic cultures.
Carnival is one of my favorite times to visit Venice; during about two weeks you can see costumes on gondolas, prizes are given to the best masks and all type of events are organized.
And don’t forget the frittella, an equally important protagonist of the Carnival in Venice.
Venice during the Carnival is particularly busy and sometimes it’s difficult to move around, but I think it deserves a visit at least once in a lifetime.
The smell, the decay, the jineteros: my experience in La Havana
La Havana is a very interesting and curious town. It has a special charme, but it is also suffocating, with collapsing buildings and a population constantly trying to trick you.
The first aspect of La Havana that comes to mind is its smell. Of Gasoline. Pollution. Asphyxiation. You can smell gasoline everywhere: on the streets, in the form of the black smoke puffed out from the vintage American cars – that have become the symbol of Cuba and made its fortune, but that also suffocate you. On the buses, it’s the gas that comes in from the holes in the floor. In your bedroom, when even on the 5th floor you are awaken in the middle of the night by a terrible smell of gasoline and you have to shut the window and turn the air-con on even if you don’t like it.
The decay. It looks like the town might break into pieces at any time. There’s an area around the four squares of Old Havana that has been restored and is really pretty. One block away everything is falling down. From the rooftop terraces of the “case particular” (the accommodation in private families typical of Cuba) and some hotels you can see everything, and the decadence is even more visible. The walls facing the streets sometimes have been fixed and painted, but at the back everything is grey and you can see the holes in the walls, the missing walls, the collapsed walls.
On our first morning we went to the rooftop terrace of our casa particular. We were jet-lagged, so despite the tiredness at 6 am we were awake. It was lovely though, because we witnessed the sun rise on the roofs of La Havana. And slowly the town also woke up. The air is stuff even in winter (we were there in the month of December, 2015), so most doors and windows are always open and life happens mostly on the terraces or in the streets. And you can look at it while it happens. One man looking out of the window while brushing his teeth; a lady taking some water from the tank to do the laundry on her terrace; a girl sitting in front of her entrance door on a rocking chair with her baby, she turns the TV on and starts breastfeeding her baby. On the lower floor a mum combs her daughter’s hair; once she’s done, the girl watches tv with her siblings until mum says it’s time to go to school.
Jineteros are expert in tricking the tourists; they are very good in convincing the naive foreigners to buy rubbish or to stay in a casa particular or eat in a restaurant where they get a good commission (5 or 10 USD over a 20 USD price).
During our first day in La Havana we completely fell for it. Well, they are real experts like I haven’t found anywhere else and they are very good at recognizing the new arrivals. Just a few minutes after we got into the street, we had already bought some cigars. “Today it’s the only day of the month when families are allowed to sell cigars, and they are cheaper than in the factories”. Ok. Done, Thank you. I’m not easily fooled around normally, but this guy was particularly skillful, with his smiles, his jokes, the positive presence. Of course the next day was “the only day” too. I don’t know of what quality these cigars are, because who understands anything about cigars? I don’t even smoke!
In the afternoon an apparently nice girl approaches us, asks where we come from, smiles, laughs, invites us to Che Guevara’s favorite café (by chance just next to her house) to drink a mojito that will cost us 4 CUC (about 4 euro – 4,50 USD, when at the cafeteria of a 4 star hotel it costs 3 – probably its price for Cubans in a place like this one is less than one CUC), so 12 euro gone (because of course you don’t even need to mention it, but we had to pay for her mojito too; which we didn’t mind, but didn’t like to pay more too). Then to the shop to buy powder milk for the baby (first she asked for 5 packets for about 12 CUC, fortunately at the end she was happy with 2 packets only) because she doesn’t work, the State gives her something every month, but it’s not enough, in two weeks it’s all gone.
And you don’t mind buying the milk because it’s better than giving her money that she might use to buy 10 mojitos more (but actually Cubans’ favorite drink is Cuba Libre, mojito is for tourists). No, the milk for the baby is a good and useful thing. But as soon as we waved good bye I remembered I had read somewhere that they ask for powder milk (because it’s easier to convince people to give that then money), and then they resell it. Mmm…
The following day we “casually” met another couple along the Malecon (the seaside promenade) in La Havana, very nice as usual; the guy talks to Luca in a mix of Spanish and Italian; the girl tells me how great Cuba is with its free education (everyone is graduated, but no one can speak English properly…??), free health system (but if you go to a pharmacy you might not find anything to cure your fever), free security (but everyone lives like in a cage, with grating at doors and windows even on the fifth floor). They took us to a place where an artist sells his work to raise money for a school for autistic children (thanks but I’m not interested) – where you can drink the “negron”, an amazing cocktail that you can find only here (sorry but I’m not thirsty) – and here everything is so expensive, could you buy some powder milk for my baby? (sorry but you’re late for this).
The first time you’re approached you’re happy, you think “how nice these Cuban people are” (and the guy you’re talking to repeats it himself, as to confirm it). Then you realize that the only Cubans that approach you are those that want to trick you. So even if you don’t want to, your attitude changes, you become defensive and your holiday takes a different hue.
Despite the disappointment, I decided to spend three more nights in La Havana at the end of our stay in Cuba. Because, despite its faults, I have never seen a town as fascinating as La Havana.
In these days of big changes, my thoughts go back to Cuba.
It’s been a peculiar place to visit, full of surprises, bad and good, of disappointments, but surely it is a place like no others and incredibly photogenic.
In 2016 the first cruise from Florida disembarked in Havana after many years. Americans can now get individual visa to visit Cuba (before they could only visit on a tour). This of course will increase the tourist flow to Cuba and will bring some changes.
When I visited in December 2015 it felt a bit fake, as if there were 2 levels of life in Cuba: there’s the Cuban life and the touristic life; these two levels are separated and very rarely overlap. Cubans have their restaurants, their cafes, their taxis, their buses, even their hotels, and quite often (like the Casas Particular) tourists can not enjoy them.
While I was traveling in Cuba I was a bit disappointed because of the cheating and the sense of “falseness” I felt looking at the beautiful areas of La Havana with the charming cafes and the amazing buildings, well restored for tourists to admire, when the rest of the town is falling apart (I have talked about it in my post about La Havana).
But now I can only remember the beauty I have seen. A walk on the Malecon in the evening is alone worth the flight: the view of the sun setting behind the skyline is breathtaking; locals and tourists meet here to chat and to flirt, and between one kiss and the other they try to avoid the big waves flooding the sidewalk; meanwhile the old american cars drive on the avenue that runs along the sea. It’s a postcard that I will bring with me for a long time.
Of course the rest of Cuba also has some spectacular sights. I remember fondly the lush vegetation of Vinales and the ox-pulled plows. The kid dancing in a garden in Trinidad, oblivious of the public she has attracted. The fishermen life and laid-back atmosphere of Baracoa. The welcoming attitude of our Cuban-Italian hosts in Cienfuegos.The charm and the colors of Sancti Spiritu, like Trinidad, but much more authentic. The young Cubans working at the resorts in Guardalavaca, relaxing and dancing on the beach before their shift starts. The Cubans skyping with their family abroad in the few spots where there is wifi.
I don’t know how this opening will affect the other world feeling you have traveling on this island. I hope Cuba won’t change much, otherwise it will lose all its allure.
A few years ago I traveled to Iran with my boyfriend. When I told family and friends where we were going, many asked if we were crazy, to go to such a dangerous country. I guess it’s the media who give the impression that Iran is dangerous.
Well, a few years after we went, there was some politial turmoil, and for this reason I recommend to check the latest advice from your Country Foreign Affair Ministry for updates on how the political situation is, because it might change. But normally Iran is not dangerous at all. When we went, in 2015, it was one of the safest places I’ve traveled to, and it’s so charming it’s a shame it’s not more popular.
Here are the 5 things that I liked most about Iran.
Things to love about Iran: the urban architecture
There are some places in Iran like no others I’ve seen before.
Like Kashan, not far from Tehran, with its amazing traditional houses, many of which are open to public or have been converted to guesthouses or boutique hotels. They all have large courtyards surrounded by rooms, roofs everyone walks on, fountains and mosaics.
There’s an hammam in Kashan, a Turkish bath, maybe the most beautiful in the whole country, with peculiar little domes on the roof, made with majolica and tiles. The inside of the hammam is also beautiful, definitely worth a visit.
Another town that I particularly liked was Yazd. Its old town is made of clay and straw. Amazing. You could walk for days in its tiny alleys, framed by high walls that hide what is behind them, so it’s always a surprise when a door is open and you can see behind the wall a courtyard, a shop or a beautiful house.
Things to love about Iran: the mosques
Mosques could probably be included in the beautiful architecture of Iran, but they deserve a spot on their own because they are special.
First of all, most of them are open to no-muslims and to women, which is not allowed everywhere.
They are intricately decorated, imposing and fascinating. Every town has one or more important mosques. Maybe the best are in Isfahan, at Imam Square, one of the largest and most beautiful squares I’ve ever seen.
Things to love about Iran: the bazaar
The bazaar are huge shopping centers all developed at street level (or on two levels maximum), that follow one or more streets, usually covered by roofs or drapes, where locals go shopping and where you can find the most curious things.
Colorful spices, beautifully sewn carpets, dried fruit of all types, wedding dresses and tea houses.
Furthermore, they are like labyrinths, with streets crossing and leading you to a mosque or an hammam, where you can meet men coming out after their daily bath or doing their ablution before their prayers.
They are definitely one of the first places to visit when in a new town.
Things to love about Iran: the food
I guess not everyone is open to foreign food like I am. I love to taste different dishes, the strangest the best, and Iran is amazing in the kitchen.
The bread, that we were given at every meal, breakfast included, is amazing. Usually freshly baked, the most popular is a long, flat, soft bread.
We tried many dishes we don’t even know what they were. But one in particular we enjoyed and we try to replicate at home from time to time: the dizi. It’s a ram soup cooked with chickpeas and more stuff, and we had it every time we could. Eggplants were also particularly good in Iran, with tomato and I don’t know what else, they were a delicious vegan main dish.
We also ate a lot of fresh onion and cucumber, that we loved.
Most times we were offered tea when arriving at a new gueshouse. Nice tradition. Served with a lot of sugar and dates.
Best things about Iran: the hospitality
I kept this as last because it was what impressed us most: local people’s hospitality.
We are not used to something like this. Foreigners are truly welcome guests anywhere in Iran. We were invited to people’s houses many times.
We will always remember when we were in Shiraz, taking a picture of a door that I liked, and the owner of the house that was going back home in that moment invited us in. He offered us bread and cheese, everything he had at home, we sat on the floor and really enjoyed the food and the company, even though nor him or his son could speak English.
I miss that.
Iran is definitely a place to visit, it has a lot to offer, it is easy to travel to and around, you can get a visa at the airport if staying less than 15 days, so nothing is stopping you (unless you are a US or Israel citizen, or from a few other countries) and I encourage you to visit, you won’t regret it.
2.08pm We are at the Abbasi Tea House, where a coffee costs 80.000 Ril (2 euro) + 23% tax, while for lunch we paid 10.000 Ril (about 2.50 euro) for two delicious dizi and two chai in a tiny place at the bazaar.
The Abbasi Tea House is part of a luxury hotel, with a restroom that is continuosly kept clean. And there’s wifi. It’s one of the main reasons why we come here.
This morning we started the day off at the Masjed-e Jameh, the largest mosque in Iran. It’s amazing, with majolica and bricks perfectly mixed together. After that we walked through the bazaar, we bought some spices, and we ended at Imam Square; later we came here at the Abbasi for toilet and refurbishments. It’s a teahouse for foreigners and rich Iranians .
I love to walk through the bazaar. It’s a gallery with shops on both sides that develops along many tiny streets, it’s easy to get lost too; the main street basically connects Imam Square to Masjed-e Jameh.
Now we’re going to Jolfa, the Armen quarter, and to see the bridges on the Zayandeh, the river in Isfahan.
3pm We had a little snack made with hot corn with chips, mushrooms, majo, salt, pepper and spices. Not my favorite, the mix was too weird for me.
7pm We are at a restaurant opposite our hotel. We are having two chickens with rice. Coming here we stopped at the Abbasi again, to go to the toilet (without having drinks this time). It’s like a relaxing place for foreigners. The sofas along the corridor were occupied by us two and two Chinese guys, all busy checking emails and Instagram (the only Social Media currently allowed in this country).
I loved the bridges and the Armenian area, with churches, small squares, and coffee shops everywhere. Different from the usual Iran. All the coffee you want (not so easy to find), and made the Italian way!
During the three days we spent in Isfahan we visited a lot: Masjed-e Jameh, Zayandeh, Jolfa, Kakh-e Chehel Sotun, a palace with a beautiful garden where we met some female students on a school trip, that enjoyed talking to us for a bit. But at the end of the day we always went back to Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square, the huge main square in Isfahan, probably one of the most beautiful in the world. Truly impressive.
From Isfahan we took a night bus directly to Tehran airport, so we didn’t have to go back to the capital and then to the airport, that is not so well connected. It was a scary trip because the chauffer was driving like crazy, as usual, but we made it safe and sound.
I have always loved traveling, since I was in my mother's womb. I love to see new places, meet new cultures, eat the food of the world. Recently I discovered that pictures can sometimes show more than I can do in words.
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