It’s that time of year around the world. Only a few days left to be naughty and then it’s time for forty days of fasting and prayer and being nice to people. New Orleans has Mardi Gras. Rio de Janeiro throws a huge party with dancing girls in a stadium built just for the purpose. In Italy, there’s Carnevale.
Most folks might be thinking oh yeah, Carnival of Venice. The carnevale in Venice is the most famous, I would say. I would love to go to carnevale there, just to see all of the unbelievably ornate costumes with the stoic-faced masks. I think I saw a Rick Steves video on it once, where they followed around an Italian couple getting ready for the festivities. It looked pretty amazing. When I think of carnevale, I think of that.
Well, the rest of Italy does carnevale, too. It just so happens that the best carnevale in Sicily is right on our doorstep, in Acireale. Ash Wednesday was only a couple days away, so of course we had to go.
We ended up going with a good friend of mine here. She picked us up midafternoon and we made the short drive up the coast to town. We parked the car and walked into the centro, the main street.
What we found was not quite what I was expecting. I figured everyone would be in costume, the same fancy elaborate ones with masks. I had forgotten what part of Italy I was in. Most folks were in costume, but the costumes weren’t very… shall we say classy.
They were clever, for sure. But for the most part, it just seemed like their halloween.
All the costumed folks seemed more than willing to take pictures. Most folks stayed in character, like Snow White and the Evil Queen.
For those who didn’t have a costume, there was silly string, bags of confetti, whistles, and air horns for sale. Children and adults alike made liberal use of the air horns and whistles, and we saw many silly string fights break out. The street was completely filled with crazy. It was pretty unbelievable. And a little unapproachable.
We made our way down to piazza duomo to where the start of the parade was. We’d been left pretty much unscathed, and found ourselves standing around, thinking “What now?”
I know what now…
Game on. Best two euros I’ve ever spent.
I also wound up buying a wig, because why not? It’s carnevale.
OH! So, side story on the funky hair. I’d seen some folks wearing the red-white-green Italy wigs, and decided I had to have one (first mistake). So, as I was buying an armload of confetti, I scoped out one of the vendors who had them. I walked up with a big dumb grin on my face (second mistake) and the guy pointed at the hair. My face must have lit up, because he grabbed it and put it on my head (third mistake). I asked him quanto e? (fourth mistake). He says five euro. I think hey, that’s not a bad price (what the heck, self, really?) and give him a ten. He gives me change, and as I’m walking away, I hear shouts of CINQUE EURO!!! CINQUE EURO!!! Somehow, I think I just got suckered into helping someone win a contest.
A contest of who can sell a wig to the biggest sucker with the deepest pockets. Oh well, I had to have it.
So anyway, back to the fun stuff. Suddenly, carnevale was really, really fun! I figured anyone else holding a bag of confetti was fair game, and started throwing. My friend had a bag too, and she made a game of ambushing people and then running away, which was awesome when they turned around and saw me holding a bag of confetti with a confused look on my face.
Let’s just say, I got silly stringed. A lot.
Also, Pro Tip: cute little girls that throw confetti on everybody are decidedly NOT fair game. They’re always near a big, surly Italian dad who Does. Not. Want. You. To. Mess. With. His. Kid. You’ve been warned.
So there’s more to carnevale than just throwing as much confetti in other peoples’ faces as you can. There was a long procession of “allegorical floats”, which were interesting for two reasons:
One, I mean holy crap! Where do they get the time to build these things. They light up, and move, and they look really, really good!
And really, really creepy!
Two, what does all this mean? Some of them I get, like the Greek one. I mean, we’ve all been a little pissed at Greece the past few years, and a Greek-themed float named “Tidal Wave” with a bunch of idiotic-looking caricatures makes some sense. I’m sure most of the EU has had their fair share of Greek fiscal refugees.
But what do I make of this one? Uncle Sam, talking on his cellphone while riding a wooden horse, while Lady Italy looks on?
…and an Ewok on fire, riding shotgun with Guy Fawkes on a tank.
The floats are unbelievably ornate, they all move, and they all play really loud music. Like, loud enough that it blurred my vision. That made it really hard to take pictures, so, you know, you’re welcome. They were all towed by tractors that looked like they just came off the farm, so it made this guy seem all that more awesome:
Also, during the procession, I took this picture, which was a really lucky shot. I took it paparazzo-style, one arm stretched straight up:
We made our way to the north end of town and found a bunch of awesome carnival rides. They had one of those things that you run through and the floor wobbles and there’s punching bags, funny mirrors, and a spinny tunnel. I have no idea what it’s called, but I remember when I was little they were always 80’s-Hair-Band themed.
Bumper cars? That just seems unfair. Like any other country in the world playing Basketball against the US unfair. These people train for this every time they get behind the wheel!
Also, the world’s most unsafe go-karts. This is about the bare minimum of equipment you can put on it and still call it a go-kart. No seatbelts, no helmets, no way am I getting on this.
But the best thing – the best thing – was Future Dance. This is just like the Gravitron, but it tilts, spins fast, stops randomly, and bounces up and down. There’s loud music, and a smoke generator. Again, no seat belts. It’s like if you played king-of-the-mountain on the world’s craziest merry-go-round.
One guy was a total stud and posed for some pictures for me. I’m not sure he knew about it though…
So that’s carnevale. Some of the most fun I have ever had.